Inclusive Growth

Shaping the Future through Sustainability Leadership

Admin | Feb 05, 2021


This is an original article in collaboration with Banyan Tree Group. 

Leadership is about envisioning and shaping the future.

The Better Business, Better World report in 2017 states that unsustainable development could result in a world unfit for business, and that businesses today face greater pressure to prove themselves as “responsible social actors”. Indeed, beyond maximising profits organisations today are increasingly expected to take responsibility for the ways that their business activities impact their customers, employees, communities and the natural environment. Leadership is key in driving this change, and there is great incentive to do so.

According to a 2018 Nielsen report, 81% of respondents of a global survey felt strongly that companies should help to improve the environment, with millennials (85%) coming out ahead as the generation that said it was “extremely important that companies work to improve the environment”. And with sustainable investment on the rise, not only can sustainability be an incredible tool to help communities flourish, it also contributes positively to a company’s bottom line.

Moreover, businesses play a very important role in the realisation of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). In fact, the SDGs can be a driving force to help all organisations identify significant risks and opportunities, build resilient business models and implement effective strategies to achieve responsible growth. But this is only possible if every business function in the organisation is committed to achieving these goals.

Driving sustainability from the top

When it comes to sustainability, business leadership is crucial. According to a 2009 study published in the Corporate Governance International Journal of Business in Society, sustainable leaders set strategies and ensure the delivery of results that meet the triple bottom line of environmental, social and financial performance. This means fostering long-term relationships with multiple internal and external stakeholders in order to show concern for their interests, encourage their engagement and create value for them, motivated by the goal of corporate sustainability

Simply put, the trickle-down effect of a leader’s words and actions can have an enormous impact on a company’s pace and degree of transformation into becoming more sustainable. Good sustainability leadership must be proactive in adapting to change. It must also be participatory, as leaders who walk the talk will inspire the same sense of passion for sustainability among employees.

For Banyan Tree Group, the core values of sustainable development and doing business for the greater good has been ingrained in the company and its leaders, Mr Ho Kwon Ping and Ms Claire Chiang, from its beginnings 26 years ago. Its Board of Directors considers sustainability issues as part of its strategic formulation, and is involved in the selection and monitoring of sustainability goals. Directing and guiding the company’s continual pursuit of these goals is the Group’s official sustainability and non-profit arm, Banyan Tree Global Foundation, which also manages and allocates donations from guests to worthy projects.

Read more about Banyan Tree Group’s sustainability leadership in ‘Our Collective Stewardship’ (Chapter 2) of the Group’s 25th anniversary commemorative book, Rooted in Sustainability.

Engaging employees

However, it is not enough to involve just leaders. The key to creating a vibrant and sustainable company is to get all employees – from top executives to frontline workers – personally engaged in day-to-day corporate sustainability efforts.

Banyan Tree associates in Phuket reading to children (Source: Banyan Tree Group)

At Banyan Tree Group, sustainability leadership is supported by a group Sustainability Committee and the Banyan Tree Global Foundation. While the Foundation supports the capacity to deliver on its sustainability promise, responsibility falls on all business units, departments and job roles.

Each property has a designated sustainability representative and committee that meets monthly and takes charge of green activities and initiatives. Training sessions are held to equip employees with the right knowledge and skill set.

Training can equip employees with the right skill sets (Source: Banyan Tree Group)

Following that, compliance to Banyan Tree Group’s sustainability standards is assessed annually with an online or onsite sustainability audit of environmental, social and operational systems and initiatives. It also works with international tourism advisory group EarthCheck to better manage, measure and deliver sustainable outcomes using a science-based approach.

Involving stakeholders in sustainability goals

It is crucial that businesses understand their stakeholders’ needs. Regular, open and transparent communication, even with those who may not at first want to engage in dialogue, is important in addressing these views and concerns. Communication builds trust and partnership – key to achieving the SDGs.

Beyond employees, it is fundamental for a company to engage and work in partnership with external stakeholders to set performance targets and achieve these ambitious sustainability goals. These stakeholders may include NGOs, investors, customers, suppliers, governments and regulators, as well as like-minded businesses who share the same sustainability values.

Businesses need to engage with suppliers in setting sustainability targets (Source: Banyan Tree Group)

In setting its sustainability goals, Banyan Tree Group conducted a stakeholder-inclusive material assessment in 2017. Guided by the World Travel & Tourism Council’s 2017 assessment of issues critical to the future of travel and tourism as well as published literature, the Group shortlisted 30 relevant material topics. These were rated via online questionnaires and internal workshops, and included external stakeholder opinion from suppliers, community members, business partners, representatives of the government and local organisations.

Banyan Tree’s material topic assessment chart (Source: Banyan Tree Group)

The results were 11 primary topics, aligned with the SDGs and chosen due to their importance to Banyan Tree Group and its stakeholders. In light of COVID-19, the Group plans to repeat this process in 2021 to strengthen its sustainability strategy in the new normal.

Material Topic Why This Topic
Climate Change Contributing to climate change will in turn impact the quality and viability of destinations
Pollution and Waste Poses significant risks to human health and environment
Ethical Compliance and Corruption Reduces trust, reputation and license to operate
Data Security Cybersecurity gaps pose operational risks
Employee Satisfaction Affects performance, engagement and longevity, with knock-on effect on business and social development
Leadership Impacts social, environmental and governance aspects of business
Biodiversity Loss of species, degradation of habitats impact destination quality or license to operate
Staff Development Failing to attract, develop and retain a skilled workforce presents potential risks and costs
Supply Chain Impact from tourism is ten times greater than direct impact of operations
Culture and Heritage Unsustainable development threatens local culture and heritage
Responsible Travel Awareness and stewardship reduces impact on local culture and environment

Sustainability takes everyone’s commitment

Integrating sustainability goals is not only important for business as usual post pandemic, but how they will enhance and sustain an organisation’s contribution to business and society in the future!

We must accept that there is no blueprint for success, and individuals or companies cannot achieve success alone. Therefore, organisations, their leaders, employees, stakeholders and partners, must all work together in cohesion to bring about important changes for a sustainable future.


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