Teaching old dogs new tricks or how a sustainability officer is worth his/her money.

          Subjectively everyone likes to reminisce back to the days of ones youth. Things appear to have been better, perhaps easier.

          I recall a time around 2001 when I, then a mid level manager in charge of a high revenue outlet in a hotel, tried to convince the top management that my outlet is in need of its own website. I was successful, although I somewhat feel the success was based more on the desire to get rid of my repeated pleading rather than on actual agreement in the necessity or on the understanding of the importance of a website.

          Fast forward to 2016 where after a rush of 15 years every hotel’s organization chart includes positions with designated functions of e commerce, social media and so on.

          As laborious it was to convince management in 2001 that a website is the way forward as tiring is it today, to convey the importance of environmental sustainability considerations.

          May I ask you, dear reader;

          • What org chart position in your hotel/company holds the responsibility for environmental sustainability (ES)?
          • If you are a General Manager, how many times did a subordinate come to your office to plead that he or she wants to drive ES?
          • In management meetings, how often did you hear the request to merge the existing operational management system (OMS) with an environmental management system (EMS)?
          • And finally, in case you experienced some or all of the above requests, how much budget have you allocated for its execution (in US$ or % revenue per month)?


          The term “greenwashing“ is appearing more and more in the media. Green washing is when a company or organization spends more time and money claiming to be “green” through advertising and marketing than actually implementing (measurable) business practices (aka: OMS) that minimize environmental impact[1]. On this basis, many companies see no need to support sustainability initiatives with changes in its formal organizational structure or changes in operational procedures. After all, the necessary permits and licenses are on hand. We are doing good, no?

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          Risk mitigation

          Effective sustainability activities and CSR are about exceeding, what is (presently) required by law and going beyond ordinary compliance. Additionally, environmental sustainability is the mitigation of potential risks and the active application of “getting better is to remain good” (aka: Continuous improvement).

          Sustainability awareness is growing in todays, post-COP21, period. This rising environmental awareness by various stakeholders increases the possibility of stakeholders to express their opinion or ask for relevant data.

          Changing Expectations

          Stakeholders (aka: Customers, partners, investors, insurance providers aso.) are no longer willing to settle for PR messages and advertising slogans. They now expect to see firm commitments, disclosures and sustainability reports as to how the company is meeting their commitments. It may make sense for your purchasing manager to monitor better use of recyclable packaging and for your chief engineer to monitor energy and water usage, but these are internal procedures and do not cover the full spectrum of sustainability topics, like social value created, investment in local community or stakeholder engagement. If your company plans to incorporate sustainable business practices as a core value, it also needs to plan for accountability and transparency.

          Org charts and sustainability

          Organization charts of large corporations have boxes for lots of chiefs — whether it’s chief executive officer (CEO), chief financial officer (CFO) and chief operating officer (COO) to mention a few. These indicate positions of senior responsibility for large areas of the organizations’ day-to-day and strategic operations.

          A growing number of large corporation also feature CSO (Corporate sustainability officer). However, organizations that are making an explicit commitment to more sustainable business practices have not yet granted the same seniority to the person in charge of those sustainability initiatives — but for many organizations, sustainability is seen as being part of other strategic responsibilities such as compliance or environmental health and safety, corporate affairs, marketing, community relations, which precludes the creation of an entirely separate division.

          New tricks

          Of course, putting a CSO or in place in a small organization may seem like you’re trying to run before you can walk, but there is a clear path to follow.

          Compliance is a great place to start. By actively investigating the compliance requirements and what amount of time and resources are invested to maintain compliance against any and all applicable regulations can be a good first step on your path to sustainability. This compliance will involve all departments that are subject to such regulations. In that sense, sustainability acts as a risk management mechanism.

          The next step will be to move beyond basic compliance in a cost efficient way in order to realize financial savings and or to create additional values, while incorporating greater sustainability. This will enable brand differentiation and identification of business opportunities. To gain a strategic advantage, though, would involve a formal transition to sustainability as a core inclusion in all procedures. Products and services that you offer to your customers need to truly reflect your commitment. This typically involves innovation as you start to redesign existing products, services, management and engagement methodologies in addition to expanding your offerings.

          Old or young dogs

          The saying goes that the fish starts to smell at the head.

          One can find pro and con in recent media about the openness of CEO’s towards the inclusion of sustainability[2]. The reader might also recall and weigh in his personal answers to the questions posed at the beginning of this article.

          Based on the professional experience of the author, its perhaps not the age of the dog (aka: experience) that’s important but more the spirit (aka: attitude). Irrespective to age and spirit, it is crucial that the CEO or General Manager provides plentiful support and leadership. Hopefully rooted in understanding and commitment and not for want of fewer intrusions.

          [1] Definition by http://greenwashingindex.com/about-greenwashing/
          [2] Con: http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2016/jan/15/katherine-garrett-cox-ceo-major-corporations-denying-climate-change
          Pro: http://www.mckinsey.com/insights/energy_resources_materials/the_business_of_sustainability_mckinsey_global_survey_results
          Daniel Koeppel

          Daniel is an environmental sustainability specialist with a hospitality background. He is passionate in supporting visionary hotel companies wishing to increase their environmental sustainability know how and solutions. Contact us now for a non-committing assessment!

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