Community Involvement as a Part of Sustainability?

By Michelle Millar Assistant Professor Hospitality Management, University of San Francisco | September 08, 2013

According to the Brundtland Commission, "sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs". This is the most often cited definition of sustainability. Nowhere within that definition, however, does it mention anything about societal issues, giving back to the community, community outreach, or involvement in the community. Why then, do so many people believe that community involvement is an integral aspect of sustainability?

Today, sustainability has come to mean more than just protecting the environment and our natural resources within it. It often now refers to what is called "people, profit, planet", or the triple bottom line, which embraces not just protection of the environment, but also protection of profit, and the stakeholders involved with an organization (people). Stakeholders may include employees, shareholders, or people in the communities within which an organization operates. In essence, the stakeholders, or "people", are those who may be influenced in one form or another by an organizations decisions and actions. Getting involved with the people (community involvement), is part of that aforementioned triple bottom line. It's the "people" in "people, profit, and planet". The hospitality industry is people intensive and without the people, the industry naturally struggles. The people are the hotel employees and the local residents, and we must engage with them and involve them, because our hotels are not "separate entities from a community, regardless of how isolated they may be".

What is Community Involvement?

Community involvement may take on many forms. Involvement within a community may include raising money for local charities, organizing clean-up days for local parks or beaches, volunteering for a local Habitat for Humanity project, or simply educating locals and guests about sustainability in general. Community involvement does not just include those people outside of the organization. Employees are also a part of the community so it is important for a hotel company to take care of its employees as well by paying fair wages, providing fair benefits, encouraging them to volunteer in charitable activities, and educating them about the importance of being involved with the community as a whole.

If employees feel good about the work that they do, and the company that they work for, that positive energy translates to higher job satisfaction, less turnover, and ultimately affects the "profit" in the triple bottom line. At the same time, if local residents feel good about those hotels within their community they will likely support that hotel, and embrace it as a local partner as opposed to "just another big company".

Community involvement is not a new concept, and is not something that companies are just beginning to embrace. Many have been giving back to local communities for years, both within the hospitality industry and beyond. When conducting a simple Google search using the words "community involvement and sustainability", pages of results are highlighted. What appears to have changed over the years is the importance that people are placing on community involvement when making decisions. In the hospitality industry, this can take the form of a guest choosing one hotel over another based upon how involved the hotel is in the community, or it may involve a potential employee choosing one hotel job over another for the same reason.

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