Aitken Spence Hotels continue to outpace benchmarks with smart strategy and careful execution. The company has created a movement for sustainability in Sri Lanka doing things differently – taking risks, exploring new locations and embarking on visionary strategies to create endless possibilities

Sustainability reporting focuses on performance in the key economic, environmental, social and governance areas. How does Aitken Spence incorporate these sustainability principles into its business processes?

In our line of work, we are always with nature and local communities. The environment is the biggest asset that sustains all of us. Our stakeholders, especially our immediate communities within 20 – 30km radius of each of our hotels, are our most important influencers on our operational decisions. Protecting the environment and creating sustainable value for all our stakeholders have always been the cornerstone to how we work.

From a very early stage, we identified the need to study how and where we might have environmental or social impacts through our business activities and to establish measures to control the adverse impacts and to enhance positive impacts. That is our sustainability strategy in a nutshell.

Perhaps the best example of an operation that integrates social and environmental sustainability is Heritance Kandalama. This property was built at a time nobody outside USA knew what LEED buildings were (LEED or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design is a green building certification program used worldwide).

Our vision for Kandalama hotel always included preserving the environment. During the design stage, we studied the environment, animal trails, surface runoff and water trails among many other things to identify possible impacts. We amended the designs to what it is today to ensure natural habitats are not disturbed. For example, the hotel is built on an elevated platform to allow surface runoff and natural streams to flow undisturbed. We explored how the hotel can add value to local communities and created policies to ensure benefits of the operation revolve around the community; we want to give them the dividends of the operations from buying their produce, giving them employment and creating economic opportunities for them. Because a self-sufficient community is empowered to seek their own progress.

And in doing so, we did things that were replicable across diverse industries. That is the essence of how we integrate social and environmental priorities into our operations across all hotels. The priorities we identify are captured in our policies, management systems, procedures and processes. Our hotels have management systems to monitor use of resources such as energy and water, how we manage our waste and effluents, how we ensure food safety and how we extend our policies to a wider sphere of influence.

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Protecting the environment and creating sustainable value for all stakeholders have always been the cornerstone to how Aitken Spence works. We met with their management team to get an insight into their sustainability strategy

What drives your organization to think sustainability in a competitive business world, in which often profit alone would be the main area of focus? In the industry you are in, how difficult is it to be sustainable and ensure that the bottom-line is not impacted?

Social and environmental sustainability does affect the bottom line. Many of the management systems we operate require specialised services that require significant financial commitment, time and effort. For example, moving into LEED architecture at a time nobody outside USA had heard of it, when no hotel in the world had ventured into green buildings, meant the services required were not easily available and were costly. Many decisions we make to achieve our social and environmental targets affect the bottom line. But what we have realised is that it is required to sustain the business in the long term. It’s a required cost.

And with changing times, the consumer will insist on sustainable products and services very soon. Currently, customer influence for sustainable products and services is still quite low, but their needs are evolving. We strongly believe unless sustainability is practiced, the business existence in the long term is at stake and we believe this is the case for every industry, not only for the hospitality industry.

Do you have a group wide sustainability policy, and how has it evolved since its introduction?

Aitken Spence Hotels have the advantage of being first movers into sustainability in our industry and also within the Aitken Spence Group. Heritance Kandalama is the first hotel in Sri Lanka to conduct an Environmental Impact Assessment. The lessons learnt from Heritance Kandalama were adopted at all other hotels and were then escalated to the rest of the Group as well. We have a comprehensive policy structure which was further strengthened by the Aitken Spence group’s integrated sustainability policy and implementation framework.

What new initiatives has Aitken Spence launched during the last two years?

Aitken Spence introduced LEED architecture to the Maldives with Heritance Aarah which is LEED Gold certified. Heritance Negombo is also LEED Gold certified. Heritance Ahungalla is the first resort hotel in the world to be ISO 50001:2011 certified for energy management and the benchmarks have been adopted at all hotels. We ventured into solar energy generation by installing units at Heritance Maha Gedara and more recently at Turyaa Kalutara.

Heritance Tea Factory is the first hotel in Sri Lanka to receive the SLSI certification for organic tea production. We have also aligned our operations and diverse management systems to the Travelife benchmark and 8 properties are certified.

Sustainability reporting is gradually evolving, professional bodies are driving businesses to think and act on sustainability reporting. How important is this to a company like Aitken Spence?

Reports reflect operational performance. Improving the sustainability of the operation is not an option; it is an essential part of any business plan. It is important for businesses to make the move to ensure sustainability of their services and products.

It is also important for customers to support the demand for sustainability because the demand drives trends that have the potential to be both positive or negative.

Do you think corporates are contributing towards society as much as they should?

We believe we are on the right track to create sustainable value, but we definitely see scope to do more. It is essential that all organisations drive the movement toward social and environmental sustainability.

How important is it to be recognized by a professional body like ACCA?

An assessment from an international professional body like ACCA has greater credibility and acceptance. It’s also an opportunity to identify areas for improvement from where we are.