CSR in Asia’s hospitality industry: An interview with Thomas Thomas

CSR is a growing movement in the hospitality industry in Asia

Thomas Thomas is the executive director and founder of the Singapore Compact for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Prior to its founding, Thomas was a co-chair of the former National Tripartite Initiative for CSR in 2004. Currently, he is also the Singapore representative for the United Nations Global Compact, the international body that strengthens the CSR agenda through multi-stakeholder partnerships. 

In this recent interview, he gives his views on CSR and its place within the hospitality industry in Asia. 

One of the interesting statements you emphasise regularly regarding CSR revolution is the notion of “transformational changes vs. incrementalism”. Could you elaborate on that?

This notion was covered by Wayne Visser [founder and director of CSR International] during Singapore Compact’s CSR Summit in 2011, when he spoke about CSR 2.0. The problems of the world are so big that incremental changes are not enough to change the world fast enough. Hence, leaders will have to make transformational and revolutionary changes. We need leaders who are capable of building trust or re-building trust and relationships. Today, more than ever, CSR is an obvious means to positively impacting key stakeholders. Regardless of motivation, starting the journey and properly managing expectations are key.

With the upcoming launch of the Global Reporting Initiative (or GRI) G4 Guidelines and a growing global interest in integrated reporting, how would you encourage more companies to do and improve CSR reporting?  

Firstly, you can’t report unless you are doing something and the challenge for companies today is to report on what is material for them. It goes beyond a PR exercise and the concept of “materiality” is important. 

Secondly, although the GRI global standards are essentially guidance aimed towards a common sustainability goal, many companies are still reporting because they feel pressured to do so for PR reasons. Reporting is the end stage; we need to get people to do CSR and sustainability. The journey to sustainable development should be the focus in order to arrive at the destination. It is about the sustainability of the enterprise, people and the broader society.

Moving on to the hospitality industry, which contributes a sizeable carbon footprint, have you witnessed an increase in environmental efforts by this sector in Asia? 

Yes, I see increasing interest in green tourism and eco-tourism or travel, and that includes event management companies asking hotels and venues to offer responsible, greener event venues.

Singapore Compact, for instance, does offset the carbon footprints of our annual CSR Summits. This is a slow education process that will gain momentum. It is on the agenda.

Which areas do you think should companies focus on to reduce wastage and costs in the hotel industry?

The most obvious one is AC temperature control. Many think that we can save money by washing less towels. I am not convinced that that should be the most important thing to do. Sourcing locally, as much as can be, is a must to be in-line with a proper supply chain policy.

But more importantly, I think we should work on improving human capital and enabling staff in the hotel industry to receive adequate training to do things better, earn better wages and to engage them to adopt good practices. I accept that to improve the quality of the people by investing in them is not easy, granted the seasonal factors such part-time employees make it challenging. Still, solutions exist like using available technology to achieve efficiency.

What is the best way to engage hotel employees and stakeholders into doing green and CSR projects? 

Most people go to work to do a good job and earn their living, but they also want to be part of greater goals. Differentiating that with good CSR practices can yield more commitment, and results. We are all people beyond our jobs. Raising awareness can make a difference.

What’s your personal advice to leaders in the hospitality industry?

I am a CSR guy so going sustainable makes sense to me. I can see the benefits very clearly. I would advise leaders to ask themselves, “What is my value system? What are the values I want my organisation to have?” Start anywhere. The important thing is to start the journey. Singapore Compact has developed some tool kits. They are available on our website. Follow it with some measurable CSR goals. Engage your people and take the small but important steps. With the right commitment, things will flow and you will be doing more and become better. You will become a CSR champion.

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