Sustainability as Competitive Advantage

In an era of space tourism, supersonic commercial flights, the Burj Khalifa and superhotels such as the Emirates Palace, it is clear that what’s possible is limited only by our imagination. What it really comes down to is deciding what it is we want to achieve. The mainstream approach to sustainability, however, still focuses largely on reduction and minimization – often as a passive response to increasing legislation. While efficiency is of course good business practice, the approach as a strategy is very defensive. (This EMG article was featured in Hospitality Business Middle East April 2014 edition)

Take a holistic view

Sustainability leaders turn the traditional model of sustainability completely inside out. Instead of thinking within the set boundaries of their business, they see their organization as an intrinsic part of the greater society and environment in which they operate. This way, their corporate values and ideals have the potential to have a much broader effect, creating opportunities to enhance their impact and reputation on a considerably larger scale.

Be ambitious

Building on their unique strengths and opportunities, sustainability leaders set themselves high targets. Importantly, instead of focusing on reducing negative impacts (‘being less bad’) they focus on ‘doing more good’, in every possible way: economically, but also socially and environmentally.

Imagine buildings that do not need external energy to operate but rather harvest their own, even generating additional income. In a region where air conditioning accounts for a full three quarters of all energy consumption, imagine a building that manages its own temperature without any energy consumption at all. In a time when indoor air quality is on average up to 8 times worse than the outdoor air quality in many major cities, imagine hotels and restaurants with ‘green walls’ that produce oxygen and clean the air, enhancing the well-being of visitors and guests, while parallel to that sequestering carbon.

The examples mentioned above represent just a fraction of the possibilities that exist, all contributing towards increased productivity and profitability.

Implement effectively: Sustainability as competitive advantage

Without exception, leaders in sustainability integrate the principles of sustainability and corporate responsibility systemically and effectively. By securing sustainability practices in standard operating procedures and key performance indicators, they ensure that their goals and ambitions will have a maximum and immediate effect.

Looking at the example of a light bulb from a practical perspective: If the purchasing department of a hotel is stimulated to buy only on price, it will (by default) most likely purchase the cheapest light bulb available, regardless of its attributes. However, if this purchasing department is incentivized to look at the total cost of ownership, the picture becomes very different.

New possibilities arise such as leasing contracts based on ‘usage of light’ where the supplier retains ownership of both the light bulbs and the fittings, replacing them when necessary. This way, the supplier, and its supply chain, are economically incentivized to manufacture durable products made for easy disassembly and ‘upcycling’, as they can serve as valuable raw materials for next generations of products. A good strategy in an era of material scarcity! The hotel, in turn, benefits from a sustainable, high-quality lighting service at a lower total cost of ownership.

Sustainability and corporate responsibility are inherently core to the hospitality business. We all strive to create a safe, healthy and pleasurable living environment, catering for our guests’ needs and desires. By taking this just one step further, we can design a world of hospitality where ladies and gentlemen not just serve ladies and gentlemen, but also bring benefit to society and the environment.

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sustainability as competitive advantage