How Can Tourism Organisations Better Invest in Skills and Expertise to Foster Sustainability Leadership?
Tourism professionals in organizations actively engaged in sustainability often share that the key to success in implementing sustainable practices is having leadership buy-in.
If there is strong support “from the top” or if there is an organizational culture embracing sustainability, setting ambitious goals and prioritizing sustainability actions become easier.
Having someone who champions sustainability is a great way to create and maintain momentum for becoming a more sustainable organization. So how can tourism businesses and destinations find and foster such sustainability leaders?
Why Sustainability Leadership Matters
With more and more people - travelers and industry professionals alike - becoming aware of and interested in sustainability, more and more tourism organizations are becoming engaged.
“Working to become more sustainable” can look different for different organizations. Whether focusing on climate action, equity and inclusion, or local stories and experiences, each organization must work to create its own paths.
The good news is that identifying and learning about WHAT needs to be done is not as challenging as it may have been some years ago. There are plenty of resources available to help tourism organizations get started on learning what it means to be sustainable, and what goals and pathways to pursue.
The critical step, though, is turning that knowledge into concrete action, in other words, now just knowing the WHAT but also understanding the HOW. And that comes down to people. Sustainability is not just about having well-written policies and strategies. It’s about communicating and putting those policies and strategies into practice.
How to Find a Sustainability Leader in Your Organization
Does your company have a sustainability manager? Is there a dedicated position for coordinating sustainability efforts at your destination? Having sustainability-related tasks as formal responsibilities within paid roles, can, of course, give significant advantages.
But whether you’re hiring specifically for a dedicated position or working to build an internal sustainability team, it’s important to keep in mind that sustainability touches on many different aspects of your work - from product development to marketing, from customer communications to investor relations.
So finding someone who can lead your efforts and inspire and engage others will make your organization’s sustainability progress easier. Fostering leadership is not just about having a job description or a task assignment. Finding a sustainability leader has to start with being an organization where such a leader can effectively lead.
Here are some of the key conditions for being such an organization.
- Work on your “sustainability north star” - your organization’s sustainability vision and policy that becomes the basis of all your efforts. This will help a sustainability champion from within your team to step up, and have a clear direction in how to lead. If your organization does not have any existing sustainability policy, working on steps to establish one will be a key part of the sustainability leader’s role.
- Proactively communicate about your sustainability aims and ambitions as part of your recruiting and hiring process, so that you are helping raise awareness and encourage engagement from the start. This will also help your new employees feel empowered to share their views and contribute to the organization’s sustainability efforts.
- And most importantly, walk the talk. Be the kind of organization that actually and genuinely prioritizes its social, economic and environmental sustainability objectives beyond just talking about them. That means actually taking the time - and yes, spending money - to set goals, evaluate current performance, identify gaps, and invest in opportunities for improvement.
Invest in Skills Needed for a Sustainability Leader
Sustainability in tourism organizations depends on the people who deliver our experiences and who implement changes and solutions. Those who work for and with our organizations. As such, finding and fostering a sustainability leader means committing to invest in the skills and expertise of our employees and team members. They are, after all, the ones that will be putting into practice the goals and ambitions we set for our organizations.
What kinds of skills are needed for being a good sustainability leader? An effective leader needs skills to engage and motivate others, and ability to influence decisions. In addition, depending on your team members’ backgrounds, some may need to focus on improving their knowledge on sustainability, its impacts and effects - or some of the specific methods for application (e.g. environmental impact assessment, carbon budgeting, supply chain management). Others may need additional support in better understanding and identifying sustainability opportunities in the workplaces.
As a first step, work on learning about your team members’ current knowledge, skills and abilities. Once you identify the “gaps” between the existing skills and knowledge levels and the desired levels of experience and expertise you need within your team, you can make informed decisions on where and how to invest in staff training and skills development initiatives.