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Credibility by Omission

May 16, 2017

Globally, the practice by companies to publicise their sustainability performance has become a norm, and here in South Africa, almost all companies trading in the international 'space' make reference to their Sustainability Reports on their website's and promotional material. But, how accurate are their sustainability reports - and should we even care?


Sadly, while there are many that undergo stringent and independent evaluation before they publish their sustainability credentials, the majority skip this step altogether, preferring to rely on highly questionable interpretations of their performance data by some paid official in the organisation. This allows them to claim sustainability while in fact masking their true - and often patently ineffective business practices that would hardly justify a second glance by anyone. One of the largest hospitality groups in the region happily publishes their internal data under a cloak of respectability, without any independent review of evaluation to back-up their claims. And no-one cares!  Another claims certification by a label that no longer operates in this space and even worse, a third basks in the global performance achieved by properties outside Africa with a straight face! 


And perhaps this is the problem..!  As an industry, the hospitality sector takes sustainability as seriously as music royalties or the price of bread, and it hardly concerns itself with concepts such as responsible resource use or social responsibility because it can afford not to. How do you convince anyone to save electricity or water - or help local communities, when there is no financial or legal imperative to do so?  There has been an insignificant drop in water consumption in hotels in the greater Cape Town area because little-or-no action has been taken to encourage or enforce compliance by the authorities. This is further helped by the fact that the hotels in the City can afford to pay the higher prices and because they simply pass these costs to guests through unreasonably high annual room rate increases. Would restrictions help? Probably not, because most already have boreholes and alternate supplies, and they really couldn't care! Of the over three hundred hospitality facilities in the City, only twelve have any independent evaluation of their performance on an annual basis. And we think this is OK?


So they resort to wild and often unsubstantiated claims of reductions in water, energy and waste volumes - and to extensive and 'meaningful' support to local charities and organisations that quite honestly, don't need the help. Reporting sustainability has become a 'tick-box' activity in most businesses and very little effort is being made to ensure that what is published meets even an iota of credibility. Often, what is not said - or reading between the lines, unmasks the true performance of a company.  


But I suppose the question should be - do we really care enough?  We have given these businesses credibility that they don't deserve by simply not caring enough.  



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