In this article I will address the reasons I personally feel sustainability is important in hospitality industry and why, we “Generation Z” have a reponsibility to create a sustainable Industry. Climate activist Greta Thunberg is certainly not afraid to speak truth to power. Not only was she willing to confront world leaders for their lack of action on the climate crisis, but she has inspired an entire movement of global environmental activists—including me.
For four years, I lived and worked on a permaculture farm where we took a very integrated and sustainable approach to producing food and to living. During that time, I became increasingly passionate about biodiversity and climate change.
Now that I’m a student in a field that has an enormous impact on the environment—namely tourism—I feel more than ever that it’s the moral duty as well as the professional responsibility for people working in the industry—as well as those who are aspiring to do so— to help pave the way toward a better, brighter future. Not only do we need to make the sector more environmentally responsible but because tourism impacts local communities, we need to practice sustainable tourism, which takes into account the economic and social well-being of people living in tourism destinations.
While many of us will launch our careers in the midst of—or shortly after—a global pandemic that has brought tourism to its knees, along with the attention on the coronavirus and the health of people, this been a time of unprecedented focus on our planet’s health. The urgency to act has never been greater. As UN Secretary General António Guterres recently said, “The world remains way off target in staying within the 1.5-degree limit of the Paris Agreement. This is why we need more ambition, more ambition on mitigation, ambition on adaptation and ambition on finance.”
While tourism is widely acknowledged to be a leading contributor to climate change— largely because of the carbon emissions associated with transportation, food production and waste and construction— it’s also true that climate change is threatening the very existence of leading tourist destinations. For example, research shows that Australia will lose about 40 percent of its beaches over the next 80 years due to coastal erosion. Venice’s water levels rose so high in 2019 that tourist sites and local businesses were devastated. With a 3.3 feet sea level rise, an estimated 49 percent of resorts in the Caribbean will face adverse destruction or damages. The list goes on.
A growing groundswell to drive change
Despite the disheartening news and concern that the pandemic and its economic repercussions would shift focus away from sustainability, that’s not been the case. In fact, the pause in travel has given the industry as well as travelers the opportunity to reboot and reprioritize sustainability. And they are.
Even Prince Harry who—along with leading brands Booking.com, Skyscanner, TripadvisorTrip.com and Visa— recently co-founded the non-profit organization Travalyst to encourage the industry to become more sustainable and make eco-choices simpler for travelers said: “As the industry re-emerges from crisis, there is an urgent need to reset and reimagine…with new optimism, and increased tourist demand for natural experiences and sustainable practices, this year has the potential to bring sustainability to the forefront.”
So while my generation—Gen Z—is inheriting a world in which a million plant and animal species are endangered, forests are disappearing faster than ever and the world’s oceans are teeming with tiny bits of microplastics—our determination to heal our planet is apparent and growing.
This is certainly true among travelers. A recent survey of GenZ respondents conducted by Booking.com found that when booking their next trip, they plan to be mindful of the planet and the effect their decisions have on it, with over half (54%) stating that the environmental impact traveling has on destinations is an important factor that needs to be considered when traveling. More than half (52%) would visit a less known destination over a popular one if it meant having less of an impact on the environment.
Joining the sustainability journey
One of the aspects of sustainability that I find most compelling and empowering is that it’s a never ending journey—there’s always more to do, more to learn. This is particularly evident during Sustainability Week when together with other committed Swiss universities, EHL students organize projects, events and campaigns to introduce students to relevant issues. For example, last year we organized a workshop on “zero waste cooking”, panels on sustainable tourism management and we produced a video on reducing waste on campus. We also organized a conference with the Swiss politician Cesla Amarelle, directors from Lausanne’s universities, and student representatives to discuss ways of integrating sustainability into student life.
Every day, we have choices to make. We can choose to ignore the problems and hope they’ll go away on their own or that somebody else will take the lead. Or we can set our sights on solutions and work toward them, bit by bit, by becoming sustainability leaders and finding new ways to raise awareness, advance progress, generate hope and take pride in our contributions.