Saturday, April 11, 2009

Selfish Sustainability - Save or Starve pt 2

Selfish Sustainability - Save or Starve Series [ 1 - 2 - 3 ]

Now that we had a "new" mission, e were forced to help change. Not by governments nor regulations, but our own self interest as a profit loving entity. We had to take a new perspective on our goals and extended the scope. Now we were a force of change.

New Problem: Depletion of natural resources
We can't call ourselves a top luxury hotel with pristine nature if the sea bed has been bombed to smithereens. Our natural resources are being depleted in a decidedly unnatural rate. As mentioned in my previous post, we had to understand why.

We need to increase the awareness of the damage that's being done to our natural resources with the public. Issues arise that quickly become apparent. This is an illegal activity. You can't just advertise a class for fish bombers and hope you get good attendance.

We also need to address the poverty and danger associated with this negative short term thinking and the negative economic externalities they impose on the local community.

Fish bombing is driven by a combination of poverty which is a result of a lack of opportunity, education and awareness in the general local public. It also thrives because of lack of policing due to difficulty to coordinate naval operations with the community.

How should we model our action plan to solve these challenges?

  • There is a need to work closely and communicate with the community to educate them and start a community dialogue. We need to educate our society to understand the value of this natural resource for everyone.
  • We need to fight the root causes of this destruction and poverty by creating better, higher paying jobs and opportunities for local members of the community. Suddenly, instead of selling a pile of dead fish for a few RM each, you can have wealthy tourists pay you the same amount just to look at them. One of these you can do forever. The other guarantees your children a worse future than what you have now.
  • The community needs to be connected to the relevant policing agencies to actively protect our natural resources.
A higher quality resort demanded higher quality service. We had to introduce language classes, service training to give our staff an opportunity to develop into new more fulfilling roles. It was nice to see local hires who saw the resort as a family. No longer simply "changing sheets", they became part of the hotel experience and fellow nature lovers.

Our staff numbers more than doubled from the previous management (which excludes the second island resort), wages and benefits also increased (caused by the increased demand for labour). In one of the arguably best applications of supply side economic theory working in the real world, we demanded more from our team, compensated them better to keep them and they stepped up to the task.

Also, we developed incredible programs such as the Marine Ecology Research Center (MERC) based on leading edge research to restore marine life in the water. We increased the number of PADI certified divers in our resort, making diving equipment and training accessible to our locally based general employees so that they could experience and understand what they were protecting.

We started our own sustainable fish farms and water treatment and recycling systems. As an island resort, we couldn't just hook up to the city mains. Plus our treatment systems were more advanced that those provided by the city. We made an effort to have our values and behaviours reflect our over arching philosophy. We are profiting from nature, so we have to protect our interests.

Long Term Outlook and Lessons Learned:
If you want to use capitalism as a force for good, how can you redirect 'greed and the drive for profits' into a solution for sustainability? Align the corporation with the values of society. Our situation was unique. There was a direct correlation between the health of our environment and our profits. Our environment: Save or starve.

Anyone who is a cynic of corporations will immediately raise their hand and ask "Uh... Shouldn't governments be looking after the natural resources and interests?" Absolutely. But some governments are not as wealthy as others. The unfortunate truth is that many wealthy countries have exploited their natural resources. The remaining ones that are naturally beautiful usually remain that way because they haven't been industrialized (and tend to be poorer). While this isn't strictly always the case, often governments often can't afford to police and protect their resources. Malaysia is hardly unique in this area. They know they have a valuable resource and are working hard to try to find more effective ways of protecting it.

This was a topic of the Asia Pacific Ecotourism Conference (APECO). While corporations may not be the best solution in all cases, it certainly beats the solution of no awareness and no responsibility. There were countless examples of beautiful areas that were ruined because they were neglected. These areas were notorious for exploitation by seemingly less scrupulous individuals who (it turns out) were just looking to feed their families.

There are certainly a lot more issues and complexity that arise from the discussions and further study regarding ecotourism policies, corporate social responsibility and sustainability. This series of posts is intended only as a starting point to illuminate another path for more enlightened discussion:
  1. Corporations, if used appropriately, can actually be a force for good rather than stereotypical greed,
  2. Corporations can contribute funds to develop positive programs, real opportunities and supply good jobs, rather than simply act as a source of tax shelter based charitable donations, and that
  3. Integrative thinking can help you find the surprising nugget of gold in a case where there is a lot of chaotic data and relationships
Selfish Sustainability - Save or Starve Series [ 1 - 2 - 3 ]


Beth Robinson said...

Great story, Joshua. Thanks for sharing it.

Joshua Wong said...

Thanks for reading, Beth :)