By Nather Auchi
The Arab world does not paint a pretty picture when it comes to sustainability. Behind the frenzied construction projects, rising prices and increased polarization of socioeconomic classes, there are numerous issues that compromise living standards, communities and the environment. As cities hide behind the glitz and glamour of their skyscrapers and secluded pockets of prosperity, the powerful private sector has yet to embark on true corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives that could make our region more sustainable.
if CSR is not just a cosmetic addition, a country’s living standards can be transformed
Interestingly, the hotel industry is one of the few that have embraced CSR in the Arab world. While this is limited to the top hotels at this point, the results have been impressive, with some cases demonstrating strong public-private partnerships. The Wyndham Grand Regency Doha partnered recently with the Qatar Green Building Council (QGBC), which promotes environmental sustainability. The property launched its Wyndham Grand Green Program last year that upgrades its dealings with guests, employees, suppliers and communities through environmental programs, products and services. This includes reduction in energy consumption and recycling, but also in local community programs and sustainable procurement practices.
In the UAE, the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry noted that around 70 percent of companies in the tourism sector were aware of the importance of CSR, paying attention to energy conservation, employee volunteering and other sustainability-related initiatives. The chamber awarded the Hilton Dubai Jumeirah Resort with the CSR label for promoting a more responsible and sustainable business community in the emirate, in line with Jumeirah’s Travel with Purpose vision. Many other Dubai hotels have embarked on CSR initiatives, from donating blood (Radisson Blu Hotel Dubai Media City) to supporting homeless children in Asia (Moevenpick Hotel Jumeirah Beach).
Another notable example is Cristal Hotels and Resorts in Abu Dhabi, which was the first hotel to implement the guidelines imposed by the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority, demonstrating once again the importance of public-private collaboration in this domain. The property has focused on energy and waste reduction, in addition to charitable works, cancer initiatives and environmental cleanup activities. While the Arabian Gulf is leading the pack, thanks to strong government support, the Levant is now slowly but surely following in its footsteps. Le Royal Hotels & Resorts has worked hard in its Beirut and Amman properties to become a model of sustainability, despite a lack of CSR vision from tourism authorities in these countries. Both properties have embarked on an environmental program that streamlines the use of resources such as water, wastewater and electricity, in addition to using natural products and eco-friendly materials as much as possible. Le Royal Beirut is contributing to society’s wellbeing in numerous ways while raising awareness on CSR among employees and clients. Its efforts have ranged from planting forests and recycling waste to helping children with cancer and reaching out to orphans. The Amman property has also embarked on waste reduction, in addition to supporting causes such as breast cancer.
Boosting CSR initiatives
In a way, a hotel is like a microcosm of the whole country. Instead of citizens, businesspeople and government, it has clients, employees and management. Constant training and awareness regarding community work and environmental challenges can create unparalleled loyalty among customers and employees alike. This is why hotels represent model businesses for other sectors to emulate.
Needless to say, this must be supported by every Arab government as the Qatar and the UAE have done, issuing guidelines, regulations and incentives to boost CSR.
For a community and its businesses to prosper, both the private sector and the government must do their part. Business leaders in the hospitality field and beyond must lobby for improved policymaking to strengthen CSR, such as for enabling and creating public-private partnerships with a strong CSR component. In parallel, the lack of CSR could be an excellent opportunity for companies to embark on projects and initiatives that espouse a CSR philosophy, becoming regional pioneers in this respect.
Governments need to issueguidelines, regulations andincentives to boost CSR
These initiatives should not just be cosmetic ones for marketing purposes, but actions that make an impact on a community, particularly in the case of large, profitable businesses. For example, in addition to supporting good causes, flourishing businesses can build a rural medical center or a school. As the Middle East sees increasing health issues due to rapidly growing populations and a more radicalized society, both socially and politically, health and education are crucial for its long-term sustainability.
Businesses can certainly differentiate themselves through their environmental actions as well. Indeed, environmental sustainability is another highly neglected area that needs urgent attention. The effects of a compromised environment and of climate change have already decreased our standard of living and wellbeing. With government backing the private sector can act quickly to foster change like teaming up with local municipalities, supporting NGOs, and initiating environmental projects.
Even small businesses can contribute in their own way in improving sustainability through CSR. They could enhance their employees’ skills, organize awareness events, visit schools, invite students, adopt a recycling program and become leaders in eco-friendliness, saving costs and improving their image in the process. All businesses must always remember that CSR can improve productivity in a company’s workforce, encourage customer loyalty and help its image. Most importantly, it creates a better world to live in.
If the corporate sector learns to introduce CSR as part of its true business practices and not just a cosmetic addition, the living standards in the country can be transformed to the better. The opportunities and benefits that CSR creates could even have a profound impact on decreasing socioeconomic and even political tensions. This will certainly take a major shift in perception. The short-sightedness of a business’s win-lose scenario must be transformed into a win-win one for everybody, just as the hotel sector has successfully accomplished. If this happens, thanks to the efforts of the forward-thinking private sector, the region can flourish in a much more sustainable manner.
Nather Auchi is the Vice President of Le Royal Hotels & Resorts, based in Beirut, Lebanon. Auchi has turned Le Royal into a management company that is looking to expand into other exciting markets, beyond the current locations of Amman, Beirut, Hammamet, Luxembourg and Tangier