Sustainability reporting exists within the hotel industry, but there are ways to ensure these reports show how hoteliers are making a difference.
It is frequently stated that tourism brings economic development, provides jobs and protects cultural and natural heritage, but beyond the headline figures, the sector has been poor at demonstrating its real effect.
We spend a huge amount of time reporting these days, and sustainability reporting has become mainstream, but does it really demonstrate how a company is adding value or is a sounder investment for the future?
Sustainability reporting often focuses on incremental percentage improvements in environmental performance, but simply stating a 20% reduction in water or energy consumption is meaningless. We may be getting more efficient, but we need context to understand if that is really making a difference. Twenty percent could be good or terrible and can only really be understood by looking at industry benchmarks, for example via the International Tourism Partnership (ITP) and Greenview’s Hotel Footprinting Tool.
Water targets need to consider the local context and be both more focused on areas of high water scarcity and competing uses (such as for sanitation or food production more critical than your swimming pool), and more holistic alternatives by looking beyond simple efficiency to broader water stewardship.
It should also be noted that in many cases, targeted reductions may be outstripped by the growth of a business, meaning that despite greater efficiency, a company is increasing its burden on the planet.
Research conducted by ITP indicates that the hotel sector needs to reduce its absolute emissions by 90% by 2050 to stay within the 2-degree threshold agreed to in the Paris climate agreement. We need to get our heads out of the sand and do a lot of work to decouple business growth from growth in environmental impact.
On the social side, many companies are missing a major opportunity to quantify the effect they have on jobs and local communities. Whilst corporate responsibility reports abound with stories on staff volunteering and community project support, there are rarely numbers or impacts reported alongside.
Leading companies recognize that reporting needs to be more accountable and are aligning their strategies and reporting structures to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), known also as the Global Goals. The framework the SDGs provide has the potential to transform how companies consider their contribution to sustainable development and help them develop responsible business programs and reporting structures in a more strategic and meaningful way.
I for one look forward to much better company reporting in the coming years. At the time of writing, within the hotel sector Marriott International, Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group, InterContinental Hotels Group and NH Hotel Group have seized this opportunity and have already published their commitments towards the SDGs, with many more expected to follow suit in the coming months.
At ITP we strongly believe that the hotel industry can be a force for good and make a positive contribution to the SDGs and to the COP21 climate agreements, and that by working together hotel companies can drive change further and faster than by working on their own. ITP’s vision for 2030 is for sustainable growth and a fairer future for all. To support this vision, ITP has set four goals—called the ITP Goals—on carbon emissions, water, human rights and youth employment as a carefully constructed and practically achievable response to four of the core sustainability issues effecting responsible hospitality providers globally.
The ITP Goals, launched in the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, send a clear call to action to the wider industry about the critical importance of using the SDGs as a focal point to drive responsible business in hospitality.
We believe that the future of sustainability reporting lies in aligning to the SDGs and demonstrating real impact. Because whilst it is incumbent on all businesses to demonstrate social and environmental responsibility, when you are part of one of the world’s fasted growing industries, that responsibility cannot be underestimated.
Fran Hughes is director of the International Tourism Partnership (ITP). She has more than 25 years of experience in the tourism industry and holds a Master’s degree in Environmental Strategy. ITP is a global industry organisation, bringing together the most powerful hotel companies in an alliance focused on a single ambition: to lead the industry through example with clear and quantifiable commitments to improved sustainability.
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