This section was written by Mitch Foresman.
What is sustainability?
Sustainability is a much-debated topic across many fields, especially in the hospitality industry. There are many definitions when it comes to the topic. One agreed-upon definition of sustainability is “Meeting our own needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. This definition of sustainability is wide open when it comes to interpretation. How individuals interpret sustainability is influenced by their values, beliefs, and upbringing. This can influence one's view on sustainability and impact how they make decisions regarding sustainability. These decisions can be in the work or home environment.
Three key aspects that makeup sustainability are Economic, Environmental, and Social. These key aspects are what sustainability is built on. Below are just a few of the elements that make up the Economic, Environmental, and Social key aspects of sustainability.
- Profitable enterprises
- Alternative energy sources
- Reduce pollution and waste
- Health care
- Working conditions
One way to see how these aspects work with sustainability is the three-legged stool model. The three key aspects (Economic, Environmental, Social) are the three legs, while sustainability is the base of the stool. If there are any negative or positive effects on any of the “legs”, the “base” (sustainability) will be off-balance. For example, if a hotel company builds a hotel in an environmentally fragile ecosystem the leg of the environment will be shorter, and the economic leg will be longer. So, the stool will not be level. Not enough or too much influence in one or two of the key aspects can offset the balance of sustainability.
"Sustainability Stool" by Mitchell Foresman is licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0
As discussed above, these three aspects are interconnected. We need to look at them as such and not three separate pieces that play into system dynamics. System dynamics is the connection between human systems and natural systems. A change in one system may have consequences in the other. This is also illustrated in the example above.
Sustainability is a process, not an end result. There is no one-time, fix-all solution. The world is changing around us, so the process of sustainability needs to adapt. As shown above, there are many aspects that come into play. Sustainability efforts need to adapt to those ever-changing factors.
Sustainability in Hospitality
Hospitality and tourism have been recognized by the United Nations to help impact all three of these pillars in a positive manner. A unique department within the United Nations has been created to address sustainability within the hospitality and tourism industry. This department has set goals that should be met by 2030. Those goals are listed in the chart below. Note how the Sustainable Development goals encompass all three pillars of sustainability.
However, hospitality and tourism do have their negative aspects as well. They do play a part in degrading sustainability. This can come from waste, destruction of ecosystems, greenhouse gas emissions, unfair working wages, and so on. Stakeholders in this industry need to strongly evaluate how they operate so that they can minimize the negatives impacts while maximizing the positive ones.
Sustainability is a new field of study within the world of tourism.As such, specific jobs are still few and far between. Currently, it is not a unique business sector or discipline. Larger companies are now starting to create a sustainability department to oversee how they operate and can adapt to meet sustainability goals. However, there are still ways to incorporate sustainability within hospitality and tourism in one's career. For example, individuals can create or join a sustainability committee related to their current roles in the industry. The Travel Foundation is a great resource for those interested in getting involved with sustainability efforts.
Sustainable Success Stories
A great example of sustainability within the hospitality industry is the Six Senses Fiji resort. This resort has gone 100% solar and has its own water filtration plant on property. This eliminates the need for single-use plastic bottles. The resort has also moved to reusable containers in their food and beverage operations. This encourages guests to return the containers to be reused. Looking more into their food and beverage operations, Six Senses uses its food waste as compost for their farm and garden, which lowers the amount that goes to landfill. This is a great example of a hotel focusing on the environmental pillar of sustainability.
Another example is the controlled-tourism in Bhutan. This landlocked country, located east of Nepal, has very strict requirements and visitor tariffs. The tariff includes the cost of accommodation, tours, meals, and hiking equipment. Most of the tariff goes to improving Bhutan’s infrastructure. It also helps fund their free healthcare system and education. This is a small example of how tourism is playing a role in the economic and social pillars of sustainability.
Want to learn more? Check out these sustainable tourism resources: