The Sustainability Basics

Posted on August 4th, 2015

A sustainable world means working together to create prosperity for all. –Jacqueline Novogratz

The Green Summit 2015 has just concluded in Nairobi where academicians and practioners were involved in very engaging discussions on tourism sustainability issues in Kenya and beyond, challenging the assumptions & exploring the opportunities brought about by making sustainable choices.

Prof. Richard Makopondo challenged participants on the very concept of sustainability, what it really means and how this has shaped how tourism is being developed in Kenya and around the world. In-order to appreciate the concept; let’s explore the pillars of sustainability.

1. The Triple bottom-line:

The concept of sustainability is like a three legged stool where the dimension of people, planet and profits must be addressed at the same time. For it to have meaningful impact in the short term as well as the longer term, it should be at the core of the business strategy.  When profits become the overriding goal, people and planet are always over-exploited leading to the demise of the organization since it is the people that work on the planet to generate profits for the business which is then used to pay the people and preserve the environment and the cycle continues. Most organizations fulfill obligations to government and shareholders before giving consideration to social justice and environmental quality.

2. Sense of Time and Place

Sustainability has a sense of time i.e. now and in the future as well as place i.e. here and there. Meaning that there should equitable distribution of wealth across the world now and in the future unlike the current situation where there is inequitable distribution of wealth between the West and the East as well as within individual countries with a few millionaires and millions of beggars.  In addition, sustainability ensures equitable distribution of resources across the entire value chain. In the tourism context,  the final package price paid by a tourist should  be shared fairly between outbound tour operator based in the source markets, airlines, inbound tour operators, accommodation as well as the attraction sites e.g. the Maasai cultural village in Amboseli national park.

3. Partnerships and participation 

Sustainability requires a holistic and strategic approach where stakeholders are involved in the process as partners especially between the public sector, the private sector and the local communities.  All stakeholders must be involved from defining sustainability in their own terms, deciding on indicators, initiatives as well as monitoring and evaluation. The local community must be trained in some cases to develop their capacity so that they can fully participate.

4. Everyone has a responsibility 

It has been said many times that by 2030, we will need 2 earths to sustain life in the planet if current rate of consumption is maintained and 5 planets if American standards are used to set the pace. For progress to be made towards sustaining life on the planet there is need to allocate responsibility.  According to Dr. Elena Cavagnaro of Stenden University, Holland, the Three Levels of Sustainability framework provides a starting point in allocating responsibility for sustainability.

  • Government (care for the Society, environment and the economy)
  • Organization ( CSR: care for the people, planet and profit)
  • Individual ( care for me, for you and for all e.g. the needs of the locals and visitors should balanced and fair)

It’s a journey, not a destination

Creating sustainable value for individuals, businesses, governments and societies at large is a journey, and not destination as some may think. New challenges and situations arise with the changes in society and the environment. Sustainability issues of the 19th century may not be necessarily the same in the 21st century. The emerging market of Millennials is very keen to see sustainability in the whole production process and not just in some stages hence practitioners have to go a step further and ensure they fully comply.

“A business strategy without Sustainability is like a business strategy without the internet. Disrupt or be disrupted.” Hannah Jones, Chief Sustainability Officer, Nike