Why sustainability should be a core subject in hospitality management

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The CEO of Scandic hotels Ronald Nilsson prognosticated in 1994: “Tomorrow’s market is about mutual values. Scandic had been looking inward [as many hotels today do, only focusing on the product and services] instead of outward at the values of the market. The next generations won’t tolerate insensitivity with the environment”. He was right. It might not be so obvious yet for everyone, but the reality is that sustainability is pushing to become a value more in demand.

Carbon FootprintNowadays sustainability is no longer a niche position. It is not only important for “Tree huggers” or activists but is becoming a normal issue to mainstream customers as well. Worldwide-known hotel public companies such as Rezidor, Accor, Marriot, Hilton, not to mention Scandic, have set ambitious targets to reduce environmental impact. These hotel groups strive to accomplish their key performance indicators such as reducing energy and CO2 emissions, reducing water consumption or waste going to landfill. Within a philosophy of Total Quality Management (TQM), sustainability implies continuous improvement in environmental and social actions. Thus, objectives such as zero carbon emissions or zero waste going to landfill, or increasing volunteering hours in community actions, are important targets that align people in these organizations.

Hotels, like any other businesses, should not only operate just for the purpose of maximizing value to its shareholders. As important as they are, profits should not be an end in itself. Certainly, without profits entrepreneurs cannot make the necessary investments to replace their depreciating buildings, equipment, training employees, and expanding the company. However, there are other stakeholders as well. As John Mackey and Raj Sisodia put it: “No complex, evolving, and self-adapting organization can be adequately understood merely though analysing its parts and ignoring the full system. The business is more than just the sum of individual stakeholders. It is also the interrelationship, the interconnection, the shared purposes, and the shared values stakeholders of the business cocreate and coevolve together.” (Johh Mackey and Raj Sisodia, Conscious Capitalism, Harvard Business Review Press, 2013)

stadthalle1In this context, hotel management schools should not limit their teaching only to traditional subjects, and sustainability should be incorporated as a core hospitality course alongside kitchen, service, marketing or accounting. Paul Barron, from the School of Marketing, Tourism and Languages at Napier University pointed out this gap: “Hospitality industry critised educators for over emphasising theoretical concepts and identified deficiencies in certain practical skills. For their part, academics felt that the industry did not make the best use of students, both during their practical training and graduation […] Hospitality practitioners consider it essential that hospitality management educators provide students with a more realistic view of the industry in addition to the technical skills and knowledge essential for careers in the industry.” (Education and Talent Management: Implications for the Hospitality Industry, International Journal of Hospitality Management, 2008).

Indeed, hotel management would not be realistic if it didn’t contemplate the triple bottom line for a sustainable business: (1) the environmental dimension: how can we minimize environmental impacts in our organization? (2) The economic dimension: how can we maximize our economic profit? And (3) the social dimension: how can we maximize the social well-being of all stakeholders?

Sustainability must be definitively seen as a new quality management dimension, a source of innovation and as a new paradigm for the twenty-first century, though it still needs to keep up with other strategic variables such as providing memorable experiences, offering a good product and an outstanding service. And, of course, sustainability still needs to fulfil the classic economic axiom: to offer great value for money.

The interesting thing about hotel companies that are more sustainable is that they are better capable of attracting and retaining talent. As I have noticed in my analysis of such companies, it is not only that jobs are more fulfilling, but also people have a sense of working for a higher purpose. Employees work together with managers to improve and innovate in social and environmental actions.

When hotels are willing to go deeper into their sustainable path, they can find a very powerful tool for better positioning their brands. These hotel groups can also share values with customers and thus increase their brand credibility and recognition. However, though sustainability is about improving company image, it should not be seen as involving only one specific department or consisting only of isolated actions. It must be established as a core value within the company, as a part of its DNA.

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