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“Talking is not enough, we need to do”

Wolfgang Neumann is chairman of the Sustainable Hospitality Alliance. The global organisation developped a tool to help the hospitality industry moving towards a positive impact for the planet. A long road already travelled and numerous challenges ahead.

We had the opportunity to talk together in November 2020 about the Sustainable Hospitality Alliance, what have been the major evolution within the Alliance ever since?

We have achieved a lot and our industry has been hit extremely hard. In November 2020, we had just launched the Sustainable Hospitality Alliance as an independent charity organisation. Though we are 30 years old, we are actually a year and a half young. To make this big step in that context was tough, and it says so much about the Sustainable Hospitality Alliance and its members. Despite the difficult context, we haven’t lost any membership and have even gained new members.

I think our world and our industry realizes that, as difficult as it is, we cannot ignore the fact that we must focus on sustainability. The whole environmental and social agenda has moved up luckily. We have seen it while launching the Pathway to Net Positive Hospitality for the Planet, companies’ CEO, Chairs and leaders realized that talking is not enough, we need to do. In that context, the Alliance has played a significant role.

The Pathway to Net Positive Hospitality took months and months of cooperation across numerous partners from our members to different organizations and experts.

Yes, it is more difficult now than it was two years ago, but we have no choice, no alternative. If you look at the latest reports on those topics the facts are here. Scientists all over the world give us much evidence that we are just borrowing from future generations.

Let’s face that in the hospitality industry we are extremely dependent on our planet, we cannot function if our planet is not maintained in its beauty. I think it took us way too long to realize that sustainability and profitability go hand and hand. We have made the point numerous times that investing in regenerative businesses is good for the bottom line. It increases ultimately the profitability from an operational side. Where sustainable practices are deeply ingrained in the building, it generates superior asset values.

Yes, it takes initially a little bit more capital, but luckily the cost of sustainable business initiatives in investments has come down significantly over the years. Technology has helped us enormously.

I personally don’t understand why some leaders are still sitting on the fence because the legal environment is changing too. Do you want to wait until you are told to do it through a legal framework?

I always talk about responsible leadership, where I realize I have a responsibility as a leader, and we need to respond to the urgency that we are facing. If you look at our employees, they are showing the way. The young generation is so much more demanding and scrutinizing businesses. If you want to attract the young generation, you must act in a consistent and transparent way and really have a track record.

Let’s not forget the social responsibility which is the second leg we are walking with. Our industry offers great opportunities to avoid unemployment, more precisely unemployment for younger generations. We also have a role to play for the respect of human rights.

I believe that for organisations and leaders that realize that their companies have a role to play beyond profitability, it makes a difference for all stakeholders.

You have developed within the Alliance the Pathway to Net Positive Hospitality what is the genesis of that action?

Our field of action is all about partnership and collaboration. The issues we are facing as businesses and as a society are so huge that we cannot face them alone. It is a work done by the industry for the industry and not only for the 30% worldwide hotel brands we represent. We have all the major players in our members but also smaller ones. And we all agreed that we have to go beyond net zero and embrace net positive to be regenerative in the long term.

We also collaborated with numerous experts and universities, with WTTC as part of our work focusing on the starting part.

We came out with tools and programs that are available on our website for free and that can really be used by the hospitality players. It doesn’t matter where you are on this journey, we give you the tools to always better your processes and actions. From the assessment to tangible actions to reach your targets.

Six months ago, the Sustainable Hospitality Alliance launched an affiliated membership. We realized that, though we represent 30% of the hospitality industry in our membership, we are hospitality brands and operators. If you look at the value chain and really want to create net positive impact, you must start at the very beginning of the journey. The very moment when you chose a location, it is exactly when the architect, the investor, the consultant, the brand, the legal consultant… everybody must be involved in that. It shall be a success only by engaging in every part of the value chain. Those various profiles generate a wealth of knowledge and experience.

What bridges do you build between your role within the Sustainable Hospitality Alliance and as a chairman of the board of Hotel School The Hague?

Our journey about sustainability has been very exciting. We have deeply embedded sustainability into the institutions of the school. When you are a student at The Hague, you see our commitment. We have launched for example the Sustainable Hospitality Challenge which brings together globally students from around the world on an annual competition to tackle a sustainable challenge. The passion, innovation and ideas that come out at this annual competition are fantastic.

The school is working on numerous fronts about the way we can support the industry in embracing their responsibilities in terms of sustainability. Next week I will talk with the dean about how we are going to integrate the Pathway to Net Positive Hospitality to our curriculum. Once again, it’s about partnership.

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