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Sustaining us all


Sarah Duncan, sustainable business advisor, trainer and author of The Ethical Business Book, reports on the key questions raised during HOSPA’s sustainability live tweeting event.

Post the devastating effects of Covid, how do you reconcile much needed revenue growth with implementing sustainability?

Covid has taught us that we are not as in charge of everything as we thought we were and building back with greater resilience is crucial. So it really shouldn’t be an either/or – recovery strategies need to factor in sustainability as part of long-term risk mitigation.

That is essentially what sustainability means: the ability to exist in the future. The most important thing is that this is not seen as a stand-alone, tick-box exercise (or a financial drain) – it should be part of a fundamental switch in how we conduct business.

I’m pleased to see the announcement today (29/9) of the government’s Hospitality Council and the emphasis on ‘building back better’. There are so many challenges right now, and I think it’s important to adopt an holistic cross-sector approach, factoring in both the short + long-term.

Is sustainability compatible with a luxury hospitality proposition?

Absolutely! One could argue that sustainability is easier for luxury brands (and in many sectors they are leading the way).

Ultimately, it’s about understanding what’s important to your guests + their experience (luxury or budget) and finding the greenest + most thoughtful ways of delivering that.

It’s difficult to know where to start with sustainability, what should be the immediate priorities?

Obviously understanding your energy usage + switching to renewables is crucial, plus waste management + mindful procurement (eradicating single use plastics, buying local etc). But don’t forget that you have many ‘humans’ in your business.

Through training and education, you can help everyone understand their impact on the planet + society (at work + home) and create a long-term culture of sustainability throughout every aspect of your business.

How do you avoid being accused of greenwashing?

Be honest + genuine. Avoid the trap of ‘selective transparency’ or ‘symbolic’ corporate environmentalism. Always check the facts and don’t be afraid to admit if something is proving more difficult than you thought or if you got it wrong.

How do the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals relate to a hospitality business?

People often see sustainability as purely an environmental or climate issue. The UN’s 17 SDGs are an excellent foundation for any sustainability strategy as they highlight the importance of both environmental + societal sensitivity. We want to protect a planet that is safe, fair + just for all humans to survive on. I also recommend the GoodLife Goals (personal actions that everyone can take to support the SDG’s) which offer loads of resources to help bring sustainability to life in any business or home. https://sdghub.com/goodlifegoals/

Who is doing ‘sustainability’ well in the hospitality sector?

There is a ‘sustainability in action’ section on the HOSPA toolkit which includes a number of sustainability stories and statements from big operators. As a stand-out example though, I’ve been particularly impressed reading about Whatley Manor under the guidance of Sue Williams – a great example of sustainability being placed at the very heart of the business and filtering through in everything they do.

But there aren’t thousands of examples, which highlights a massive opportunity. HOSPA really wants to share best practices on the toolkit, so please do get in touch and tell us what you are doing (and the resources you have found most useful).

What is the primary driver of the business sustainability agenda?

There are many: the rise is more conscious consumers, employee concern, investor imperative + of course the likelihood of future legislation meaning good corporate behaviour being incentivised and bad behaviour being penalised.


But the companies that really get it right are the ones that recognise that, ultimately, it’s about doing the right thing – being a force for good (to use the BCorp mantra).

What are the biggest barriers to sustainability?

The corporate world’s obsession with growth (at any cost), an attitude of wait and see (which we no longer have the luxury of), and general short-term thinking (putting short-term profit over the long-term needs of society and the planet).

But also many organisations are simply overwhelmed by the complexity of building a more sustainable business and don’t know where to start, so hopefully the toolkit can help with that.

What hospitality implications can we expect from COP26?

I heard Kate Nicholls in a recent interview say “hospitality needs to look beyond single-use plastics” when it comes to the climate crisis. Like all business sectors, hospitality needs to embrace long-term carbon reduction / decarbonisation – in line with government targets.

COP26 will bring these commitments back to the fore, which should in turn put more emphasis + pressure on the corporate agenda (commitment, disclosure + action) – making it more difficult for hospitality operators to ignore.

edie offers a good business guide to COP26: https://www.edie.net/downloads/The-business-guide-to-COP26/577. We will certainly be keeping an eye on developments and reporting on behalf of HOSPA via the toolkit.

How optimistic are you that the hospitality sector can make a positive contribution to protecting a healthy planet for future generations?


Hospitality is about caring and looking after people, so I hope we are in good hands!

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