Walking the sustainability talk

Companies are establishing a number of stringent policies to propel the business events and travel industry forward on its sustainability journey.

The sustainability focus on travel and events has intensified and trickled down the supply chain, putting pressure on businesses to support clients’ responsible objectives, noted speakers on a panel at IT&CM Asia and CTW Asia-Pacific in October.

Emphasising the importance of sustainability and scope of focus at Accenture Solutions, Amarnath Lal Das, vice president – India of travel, meeting & events, said: “Sustainability spans environmental, social and governance issues. We have made sustainability one of our greatest responsibilities, not just because it’s the right thing to do, but also because we believe that it is one of the most powerful forces for change in our generation.”

The Athenee Hotel, a Luxury Collection Hotel in Bangkok, sources direct from local food producers as part of its sustainable commitment

Accenture started its sustainability journey in 2012, and in the space of travel and events, its efforts have moved past the elimination of single-use plastics and cutlery. It has its own system to digitise invoices to reduce paper usage, and is developing a booking tool that will identify carbon emissions based on the fuel efficiency of the aircraft used by Accenture travellers. The booking tool will be an improvement on the current system, which provides emissions information post-trip.

Das said the booking tool would be ready by 2025.

A similar approach is taken with hotel suppliers, where Accenture travellers can identify their carbon emissions from their accommodation choice, based on the hotel’s design and sustainability programmes.

In general, Accenture requires its suppliers to respond to a set of questionnaires that looks into their sustainability programmes.

When asked by panel moderator, Karen Yue, group editor of TTG Asia Media, if Accenture have had to disqualify travel suppliers that failed to align with the company’s own sustainability goals, Das said “leeway is given to those who just started their sustainability journey”.

He also emphasised a supportive approach, where Accenture looks at helping suppliers to catch up on responsible actions.

For example, should a potential airline supplier fall short of Accenture’s sustainable requirements now, it would consider the airline’s future plans to acquire fuel-efficient aircraft and how it intends to optimise passenger load to reduce carbon emissions.

Supplier support
The pressure on businesses to be sustainable is real and strong.

Brayden Lai, senior business development manager at South Pole, a Swiss carbon finance consultancy, noted that more companies are getting serious about their climate strategy. 2021 saw a 29 per cent increase in the number of companies in Asia-Pacific reporting through CDP – an international non-profit organisation that runs a global disclosure system for investors, companies, cities, states and regions to manage their environmental impacts – compared to 2020, and a more than five-fold growth from fewer than 700 companies in 2016. One-third (32 per cent) were first-time responders, demonstrating a growing momentum among businesses towards embedding transparent environmental disclosure in their operations.

The report shows that climate action has risen to the C-suite level, with almost all respondents (98 per cent) having management-level oversight for climate-related issues. Three-quarters (76 per cent) of companies reported having a process for identifying, assessing and responding to climate-related risks and opportunities.

“Companies now regard sustainability efforts as a way to engage consumers who are highly aware of environmental issues. Many are starting to disclose their carbon emissions and environmental impact,” said Lai.

Currently, South Pole’s website lists many major global firms across industries as its clients. Within the travel and tourism industry, South Pole supports Hilton and FCM Travel Solutions.

With Hilton, South Pole helps to facilitate carbon-neutral meetings at the group’s hotels. Hilton calculates emissions from onsite meetings and events, and takes part in South Pole’s offsetting projects.

With FCM Travel Solutions, South Pole provides clients of the corporate travel agency with insights into their carbon emissions and facilitates carbon-offsetting through its projects.

Lai told TTGmice that there is a “huge interest in this because business travel contributes to Scope 3 emissions, which is more challenging for companies to track”.

Chooleng Goh, general manager, The Athenee Hotel, a Luxury Collection Hotel, has seen sustainability practices reigning as the “number one question” among event clients.

“Once we share our sustainability story, it’s a 99 per cent done deal. Some clients don’t even need to see our spaces or look at our service (to decide on us),” she said.

Located in Bangkok, The Athenee Hotel is an active campaigner for environmental sustainability, and is the first hotel in the world to be certified ISO 20121 for event sustainability management systems.

A major milestone in its sustainability journey is the purchasing of organic rice directly from Thai farmers. This keeps costs low for the hotel and provides a sustainable livelihood for over 700 keeps. On Goh’s agenda now is the move towards electric vehicles, and the installation of charging stations.

To help clients make responsible travel choices, travel-related organisations like SAP Concur and Amadeus have partnered CHOOOSE, a climate-tech company that integrates climate action options into the customer experience.

SAP Concur and CHOOOSE launched this year the CHOOOSE Climate App, which automates flight-related carbon emission measuring and reporting, and allows companies to address unavoidable emissions by supporting verified, high-impact climate solutions, such as carbon removal, offsetting projects, and Sustainable Aviation Fuel.

Over at Amadeus, CHOOOSE’s technology is used to provide emissions calculations across the entire travel journey – rail or air travel, accommodation, and ground transportation – built upon industry standard frameworks. The collaboration also offers trade buyers access to a marketplace of solutions aimed at reducing or eliminating climate change.

From left: TTG Asia Media’s Karen Yue; The Athenee Hotel’s Chooleng Goh; Initiative for Global Resilience’s Barbara Ewals; and Accenture Solutions’ Amarnath Lal Das speaking at the IT&CM Asia and CTW Asia-Pacific 2022 panel

Concrete climate actions
Barbara Ewals, executive director with Initiative for Global Resilience (i4gr), said “it’s great to see that everyone has more sustainable intentions now, which pushes the corporate side”.

“This, in turn, pushes the government to enact more policies for corporates to be more intentional (in their sustainability efforts,” she added.

The Bangkok-based social enterprise supports leaders in creating large-scale and lasting social change by facilitating and advancing solutions to global challenges through multi-stakeholder partnerships, and the sharing of knowledge and best practices, via position papers, forums, and the media.

Ewals believes in influencing sustainable practices with personal experience and flexibility, instead of “force-feeding” values.

Citing an example, she pointed to i4gr’s F&B approach at a series of global meetings on sustainable food and agriculture, where it was one of the content providers. i4gr intentionally designed vegetarian meals for delegates. The arrangement was a success in Asia, Europe and North America.

“But when we went to Brazil, there were vehement protests, (as the locals insisted on) their right to their meat!” she recalled with a chuckle.

A compromise was reached, with a vegetarian offering only on the last day. The outcome was encouraging, as the attendees “were pleasantly surprised that vegetarian options were edible”.

“This is an incremental change,” said Ewals, adding that the positive experience could influence some of the 300 Brazilians in attendance to make an intentional change to their future event menus.

As for relying on carbon offset programmes, Ewals spoke bluntly against potential scams, where organisations sold credits to protect national parks – trees cannot be felled easily in these areas, so credits are meaningless.

Instead of buying credits to get to net-zero somewhere in the future, she urged companies to take action now to reduce their emissions.

Agreeing, Goh said her hotel provides options for clients to minimise their event footprint from the get-go. Such options include reducing food waste through the hotel’s work with the Scholars of Sustenance Foundation where excess food is donated, or by repurposing unused ingredients.

When asked what more could the travel and events industry do to contribute to a sustainable and resilient world, Ewals suggested establishing cross-industry partnerships.

For example, hotels and resorts could work more closely with a landscape architecture association on responsible design.

“We need to stop (staying in) our own silos and engage other like-minded associations,” Ewals encouraged.

She also advised corporates to drop the term CSR (corporate social responsibility), because it is “self-serving”. Instead, she suggested adopting the terms “stakeholder engagement” or “community engagement” because they inspire more meaningful work.

As for Goh, she underlined the need to consider sustainable actions in the long run.

“Instead of a one-off donation to a youth orphanage, it is better to provide them with education and take them on as young future trainees and educate them.

“Same for the rice farmers. They do not want one-off donations; they want to have a sustainable livelihood and to continue farming for the next 10, 20 or 30 years,” she said. – additional reporting by Karen Yue

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