sustainability
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COP27: Time for leaders to step up to the sustainability plate

Egypt: The COP 27 [Conference of the Parties] started this week in Egypt. These annual events are where the governments of the world come to gather to progress our action in fighting the climate emergency. STRz asks several passionate environmentalists in the short-term rental sector to give their perspective of what is needed in our industry.

Let me begin with the end first!

Start with three commitments:

  • My company will build sustainability into the business
  • I will learn how to do that and be involved
  • I will take action today

It is in November each year that the subject of the climate emergency gets more attention as a result of the COP meeting, but the concept of reducing our emissions, our carbon footprint, is not just a matter for governments and regulators. It is for all of society including industries, companies, communities and individuals. In fact, many industries and companies are leading the way in transitioning to a lower carbon operation. They are not waiting for government action.

Tourism accounts for eight to ten per cent of global greenhouse gases and our short-term rental industry is a significant part of this output. The sector is set to grow by US$79 billion by 2026. We are expanding at a phenomenal rate.

So, what is our industry doing about addressing its carbon footprint? Is there a sector-wide strategy? Is there a coalition of committed leaders developing a plan? Are our big players setting an example and supporting others to transition? Is there any leadership?

Sadly, the answer to these questions is broadly NO or NOTHING.

I spend most of my time on this topic, trying to understand, raise awareness and motivate people and businesses in the vacation rental industry to take action. I have spoken to hundreds of people, so I feel I have a good sense of what is happening, or not, and what is blocking meaningful action.

Most business owners and leaders have such talent but find the topic of sustainability complex. They genuinely feel that they should take action, but they get stuck, unsure of what to do and how to start. They see their colleagues and competitors across the industry feeling equally confused and so what happens is that they do nothing or very little.

Yes, there are some companies stepping up and trying to do the right thing and I applaud them. But they are a small minority.

It is not as though genuine eco-friendly action is only about saving the planet. It is good for business too. Surveys by Booking and Expedia repeatedly show that demand for sustainable stays is rocketing, and guests are often prepared to pay more for it. Investors and stakeholders see sustainability as a crucial part of any strategy and brands with an eco focus are thriving.

But there is a vacuum of leadership in our sector on this subject and it is time that we realised that we need to be the change that we want to see in the world. We have so many amazingly intelligent, articulate, innovative, creative and resourceful leaders in our sector. If only they would apply a tiny fraction of their attributes to acting on sustainability.

Those three commitments again:

  • My company will build sustainability into the business
  • I will learn how to do that and be involved
  • I will take action today

For my part, I am setting up EnviroRental, a resource hub with all the information, tools and techniques that our industry needs to move from zero to hero around sustainability. All these resources will be free because we need as few barriers to entry as possible. Time is short, we need action, not just words, from everybody now.

COP27 is here to remind us of the challenges behind sustainability implementation. It is true that most companies in our industry are small and not legally bound to implement ESG´s [Environment, Social & Governance] policies. And a sustainable manager is usually not a position on our organisational charts unless our products are specifically designed to be “eco” or “sustainable”. So why would you start? And how? A lot has already been said on the climate emergency, but my points here would be more pragmatic. Sustainability can foster team collaboration, better manage your human resources, improve your guest satisfaction and reduce your operational cost.

First, I would strongly advocate to find an internal figure in your organisation that is interested in these things. She / he will know better what your main challenges are and how sustainability can be beneficial. Once this person is identified, you would need to manage expectations and objectives: time allocation, annual objectives, budget and internal communication. These matters need to be addressed if you don’t want things to get out of control. 

Then make sure she / he controls the basics. Excellent training or certification is available online at a reasonable cost, whether it is on online learning platforms such as EDX, LinkedIn Learning, or through the GSTC Sustainable Training Course. Their materials are based on practical examples so they will resonate with your company situation. At the end of the training, you should be able to agree internally on an action plan, a few quick wins that would bring all your staff on the sustainability path.

Here I would like to remind you that you are not expected to evaluate and offset your entire carbon footprint from the very first year. Quick wins are much easier to implement:

Operating in competitive urban markets and facing workforce volatility? What about creating a people-centric company that offers an environment where employees can learn, thrive and become the best they can be? That will help reduce turnover while increasing your guest satisfaction scores. 

Looking for collaboration? Local public boards are also a resource that could guide you. For example, the Barcelona province offers free access to the Biosphere Certification, a globally recognised sustainable initiative.

Managing operations? You might start by asking your energy provider for a greener tariff and you might save money too.

All of these actions are part of the sustainability movement. The hardest part is to start!

Climate change now urges us to consider a fundamental redesign of the human presence and impact on Earth. Tourism, while deserving a lot of credit for allowing all of us to experience other cultures, has yet to redeem itself for its past and present environmental and social sins. 

Now, what if we were to turn tourism, and the vacation rental industry that supports it, into a catalyst for positive power and a vector of regeneration [which is beyond sustainability] for the planet? We have an opportunity – and I would say at this point, a duty – to rethink how our industry could positively impact local and natural ecosystems by providing qualitative experiences that educate guests about the biological and cultural uniqueness of the places they visit.

Tourism as we know it can no longer be an option. It needs a transformational change where quality needs to replace quantity, where everything is done to limit and compensate carbon emissions, where hosting entities help limit pollution and waste, where local communities are given an opportunity to keep welcoming visitors while protecting their environment and unique cultures.

Tourism, with its global and local trans-sectorial impact could be turned from being a growing problem into a solution for regional regeneration and the improvement of local climate resilience. The vacation rental industry has the potential to become the number one driver of regenerative tourism, economic re-localisation and a catalyst for climate resilience in local communities around the world. Let’s not miss this opportunity and start acting, collectively, to lead that change.

All eyes are now on the outcome of this week’s UN Climate Change Conference [COP27]. Countries will negotiate agreements to tackle the climate emergency and, as a result, we expect that countries will create new legislations that both reward businesses for taking action and penalise those that don’t. Rest assured that the new legislation will eventually affect the vacation rental industry too. 

According to a Sustainable Hospitality Alliance study, the hotel industry needs to cut carbon emissions by 66 per cent per room by 2030 to counteract emissions corresponding to growth. These types of figures are not yet available for the vacation rental industry, but we can already come together as an industry and start cutting our carbon emissions wherever possible. 

Taking action is simple:  

1) Making each rental more environmentally friendly [the investment will reduce costs and it doesn’t have to be “expensive”] 

2) Sharing with the world that you are committed to take action [via a certification]

3) Installing hardware that measure the actual consumption of each vacation rental home

4) Working with guests to reduce the consumption of their stay

5) Showing full transparency as to the average rental consumption to encourage travellers to choose environmentally friendly homes over high-consumption homes

We are seeing consumers becoming increasingly conscious of their environmental impact, with around 80 per cent of people expecting the businesses they buy from to be environmentally conscious. The travel industry is responsible for around eight per cent of worldwide emissions, so it’s a discussion that is particularly prevalent in our industry. 

This year at Minut, we launched our ESG initiative which includes analysing and optimising our entire manufacturing chain, re-designing our packing to reduce plastic usage and move to more recyclable materials, and moving our factory to reduce our impact and shipping requirements. We’ve also launched an educational program to help hosts, property managers and businesses learn from each other to progress their own initiatives. 

This has even had a knock-on effect where we’ve seen staff members ask to ensure the office is run on green energy, that the coffee in the kitchen is all fairtrade and that we implement a cycle to work scheme for our London team members. 

This is just the beginning of our sustainability journey here at Minut, but already excited about the conversations and actions all this has started and hope that it will spark similar initiatives within our industry as well.

 

At the time of writing, The Global Short-Term Rental Sustainability Research Project has just been created to develop a ‘united voice’ and will assist the short-term rental industry in determining where they are at in terms of sustainability best practice. Associations involved in the project include The Australian Short Term Rental Association[ASTRA], The Association for Short-Term Rental Homeowners [ASTRHO], The Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers [ASSC], The European Holiday Home Association [EHHA], The UK Short Term Accommodation Association [STAA], and The Vacation Rental Management Association [VRMA].

Each association, which is made up of short-term rental property owners, managers and hosts working together to advocate for fair and effective regulations and licensing for short term rentals, will leverage industry insight collated via a survey to help establish a robust set of objectives and guidance, to be used as the go-to resource for short term rental business owners for sustainability benchmarking.

The project is starting with a global questionnaire to understand where the industry is at currently. The questionnaire is open to  property owners, property managers and suppliers to the industry to share their views.

To give your feedback, find the links below to the questionnaire:

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