Graduate students and faculty came together on 9 March, 2017, for the first Graduate Day conference at Les Roches Switzerland. Focused on sustainability, the conference featured guest speakers from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and award-winning establishment Maya Boutique Hotel.
As Dr. Nicolas Graf, Chief Academic Officer of Les Roches Worldwide, reminded students, “Being a graduate student gives you more responsibility. You have the ability to raise discussion levels on subjects such as sustainability — to reflect, share and discuss.” The afternoon served as a great opportunity for students to delve deeper into sustainable business practices.
Sustainability: The Time is Now
Graduate School Dean Dr. Dimitrios Diamantis and faculty members Dr. Annick Darioli Carroz and Mr. Frank Gueuning began the afternoon by highlighting the urgency of sustainability. 2017, as Dr. Diamantis pointed out, has been designated the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development by the United Nations.
Now more than ever, business leaders need to consider the “triple bottom line” of people, profit and planet, or — as Mr. Bonapas Onguglo of the UNCTAD put it — people, prosperity and planet. “If we are convinced that sustainability is the way forward, we need to change the way people think and act,” he said. Mr. Onguglo underlined the power of businesses to create social value and be a force for good.
How Does Sustainability Relate to Hospitality?
While giving an overview of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Mr. Onguglo also pointed out some of the links between these goals and the hospitality industry. For example, hotels and F&B departments can help to support sustainable fishing practices — coinciding with SDG #14, to protect “life below water.”
Mr. Henrique Pacini, also of the UNCTAD, spoke of some of the sustainability projects spearheaded by the UN — many of which are connected to F&B and tourism. Organic agriculture, for example, can “make the difference between a farmer being destitute or being able to provide for a family.” Not only can organic products command a higher price, but organic farms can also become a tourism destination. This connection between agriculture and tourism can help bring revenue to developing areas. Sustainability, as Mr. Pacini pointed out, opens doors to business opportunities: “Don’t think of sustainability as a cost. See it as an opportunity to make smart, wise decisions.”
Sustainability in Action: An Innovative Hotel Presents a New Definition of Luxury
The Maya Boutique Hotel, not far from Les Roches’ Swiss campus, has won international awards for innovative and eco-friendly practices. This luxury hotel is the first to be built with straw bales — a sustainable material that also reduces energy costs. As an efficient insulator, straw helps to keep the hotel’s interior cool in summer and warm in winter. Meanwhile, Maya Boutique integrates sustainability into many other aspects. The hotel’s restaurant serves local, seasonal products, and guests have the option of borrowing an electric car at a “pay what you want” rate.
As founder Mr. Louis Papadopoulos explained to students, running a sustainable business has paid off in numerous ways. Incorporating solar-powered energy and sustainable practices obviously brings benefits for the environment. But it also brings benefits for the hotel, resulting in a high-quality, innovative building with lower energy costs. Finally, these practices bring guest benefits, by providing an authentic and unique experience of healthy, comfortable and eco-friendly living.
As a result, Mr. Papadopoulos has rarely had to pay for advertising. Over 90 publications, TV and radio reports have featured Maya Boutique Hotel, revealing broad public interest in the possibilities of sustainable travel and tourism.
Graduate Student Reflections
The first Graduate Day at Les Roches closed with a presentation from the MBA Students’ Delegation and the following message to students: “We need to do something as future leaders. We need to ensure that the impact we have on our organization is sustainable, and that future generations can benefit from it.”
Aatreyi Dhar, Les Roches MBA student:
“The Graduate Day challenged perspectives and gave a 360-degree view on sustainability by bringing together representatives from the United Nations, an award-winning sustainable hotel owner, and students (and future leaders) with different views. I am extremely passionate about this subject and was happy to have an opportunity to interact with eminent leaders as well as present my thoughts and views!”
Ravi Dhruv Sharma, Les Roches MBA student:
“Sustainability is a subject that is largely misunderstood, but which all students at Les Roches will surely encounter during their future careers. Having been introduced to the Sustainable Development Goals last semester, the Graduate Day really helped us to broaden our understanding of the topic and how we can use this as a framework for building business strategies in the future. Sustainability should not be a choice; it should be a way of life.”