This week world leaders meet in Glasgow to decide how to unanimously tackle the threat that climate change poses to humanity. The backdrop includes a hyper-connected, consumption-dependent and fossil-fuel addicted society – a mindset inherited from the golden years of industrialization and the economic boom at the turn of the century.
The harsh reality is that little progress has been made in terms of sustainability at the international level since the last Paris Summit, mainly because, for decades, green investments have been seen as a cost rather than a source of wealth by countries with the economic capacity to undertake them. Meanwhile, desertification has swept across the world unstoppably and floods have claimed the lives of thousands of people, especially in developing countries.
But the days of looking the other way are over. New generations have awakened and are much more environmentally conscious than their parents or grandparents. Recent studies have shown that 73% of Millennials are willing to pay more for brands with a sustainable ethos and that Generation Z, which is entering the job market as this article is being written, is making more shopping decisions based on sustainable retail than any other generation before. What this implies is that sustainability has become a reliable source of value and that green measures are today a precious asset that can elevate the image and identity of a business, consequently, improving its overall performance.
Unsurprisingly, most of the action on sustainability has come from the private sector rather than from the top. It has been the recurrent daily decisions of ordinary people that have given momentum to green mindsets and made the shift towards sustainable, organic and natural progress possible.
Hospitality has been one of the most innovative sectors when it comes to tackle climate change, perhaps because it has also been one of the most affected by it. After all, tourism is the main economic engine of the paradisiacal archipelagos of Polynesia, the coasts of Italy and Spain or the Tanzanian savannah (pre-pandemic), which in turn are regions at high risk of erosion due to changes in climate conditions.
A green pioneer in hospitality was Sonu Shivdasani, founder of the Six Senses group. Sonu introduced the SLOW LIFE (Sustainable Local Organic Wellness Learning Inspiring Fun Experiences) initiative that gave bonuses to staff for adopting environmentally-friendly practices at work or replacing imported water with mineral water filtered on site, among other measures.
During the last decade, eco-resorts that direct their profits to reforestation, conservation or the schooling of young people in neighbouring communities have proliferated. The same is true for ideas around sustainable cuisine and green design. At the retail level, 0120 has found several brands built around environment friendly ethos. For example, Discarded Spirits in the UK is an innovative distillery whose products are created from ingredients that would otherwise have been wasted such us banana peel of grape skin. Germany-based Elephant Gin donates 15% of its bottle profits to elephant conservation projects in Africa and creating educational and work opportunities for local communities.
All these cases show that locality, community and an upcycling mentality are at the centre of current sustainable strategies.
While these initiatives are great, developing a 100% sustainable brand is a tricky business. It is true that, as more actors within the hospitality industry jump onboard the green boat, a holistic approach to a sustainable reality becomes easier. However, achieving holistic sustainability today is, unfortunately, an ideal rather than a realistic project. Putting these little steps together to create a consistent path is the next challenge.
As branding experts, at 0120 we are aware that the message and values of a brand must not only be reflected in its tangible assets but also in all dimensions of its business, from the mindset of the CEOs and staff to its marketing strategy. A holistic approach to sustainability implies that green measures permeate each of these business dimensions. Mindsets can be shaped through education or experiences, while marketing can benefit from the reinvention of packaging, labelling or design strategies.
Perhaps the most difficult section to “sustainabilize” is that of finance. One of the main dilemmas faced by pro-sustainability businesses is that of profitability. Most of us haven’t got a smart floor that turns our steps into electricity that can later be used to lit up the bar. In the absence of efficient help from government (we can only hope COP26 changes this), we should reinvent the way we finance our sustainability strategies. Green investors, grassroots funding, charity events and grants are some of the most popular ways to go.
Claude Graves, founder of Sumba Foundation, managed to fund his project through donations from guests at his hotel in Indonesia. Guests were kept up to date with monthly reports, through to completion. This kept them linked to the local community and many of them kept returning and donating for the next 10 to 15 years.
Sustainability has thus become a powerful ally against the challenges of tomorrow rather than an option. Adopting an environment-centred “purpose beyond profit” attitude and working towards a holistic approach are not only prudent but smart steps towards a climate-responsible and prosperous future.
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