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UN SDG-based business opportunities for sustainability in tourism

Article by Leonie M. Hirschmann and Susan T. Jackson


Image by Annie Spratt

Investing in the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) presents a compelling opportunity for the private sector, including tourism and travel. According to the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), as of 2019, 57% of destinations worldwide had included references to the SDGs in their tourism strategies. Destinations are recognizing the potential that integrating the SDGs into business models has to guide and enhance sustainable development in the travel industry.


Sustainable tourism is “tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities."


Wherever you are in the tourism and travel value chain, you can contribute to sustainability. Using LIST – Momentum Novum’s approach to Leadership, Innovation, Strategy and Transformation – here’s a sample of better business practices to support sustainable tourism and travel. For easy reference, there’s a list o the SDGs at the bottom of this post.


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Leading in the travel industry


Sustainable leadership in supply chain resilience entails implementing sustainable practices, including fostering partnerships, supporting local economies, promoting fair trade and reducing carbon emissions – all of which can contribute to achieving the SDGs. For example, 33% of travelers seek a locally relevant holiday, meaning more engagement with local communities and addressing their needs. Tourism businesses can gain these travelers‘ patronage by:

  • Collaborating with local suppliers and businesses to support local economies and create employment opportunities (SDG 8).

  • Adopting sustainable procurement practices via locally produced goods and services to reduce transportation-related emissions and support local producers (SDG 12).


Innovating with the SDGs


Innovate your sustainable travel offerings via pioneering approaches that tap into highly promising emerging markets that either do not currently exist or are still in their early stages. This innovation can drive additional income by generating fresh avenues for distinguishing your business in the market, expanding business prospects, and fostering growth. For example, 76% of travelers aim to reduce their personal water usage while on holiday. Accordingly, companies in the tourism and travel industry can work to:

  • Promote mindful use of local water resources to minimize the strain on host communities (SDG 6).

  • Ensure responsible waste management to prevent polluting marine and land environments (SDG 14 and SDG 15).


Strategies that sustain


Developing sustainable business strategies and business models to stay ahead of regulatory requirements and mitigate risks can ensure your license to operate is secured effectively. For example, 57% of travel industry professionals view sustainability as a critical consideration in their organization's travel strategy. To meet growing sustainability requirements, tourism and travel can:

  • Implementing systems to track and measure sustainability performance across various aspects of the business. These systems will aid in further defining specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) sustainability goals that align with the organization's vision and values (SDG 8 and SDG 12).

  • Adopt and report on sustainable practices such as energy-efficient lighting, water conservation measures, waste reduction and recycling programs, and the use of eco-friendly products. Certifications such as LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) can support these practices (SDG 12 and SDG 14).



Transforming for long-term success


Moving beyond short-term fixes to create long-lasting, positive change, sustainable transformation management means taking a holistic approach to addressing economic, social and environmental challenges. Tourism and travel businesses can foster transformation by:

  • Transition to renewable energy sources, by investing in solar or wind energy to power business operations, including hotels, transportation fleets, and infrastructure (SDG 8 and SDG 12).

  • Embedding sustainability principles into the organizational culture by promoting awareness, education, and engagement among employees and stakeholders, and recognizing and rewarding sustainable behaviors (SDG 4, SDG 12 and SDG 17).


Businesses can report on their sustainable Leadership, Innovation, Strategy, and Transformation through various channels and reporting frameworks. At a minimum, good reporting covers a company’s environmental, social, and governance practices and activities and provides detailed information on initiatives, performance metrics, and future plans. Consider using recognized reporting frameworks such as the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) Standards. Engaging with stakeholders through surveys, forums or focus groups is also useful to gather feedback and communicate the business's sustainability journey. Transparent and accurate reporting enhances credibility, fosters stakeholder engagement, and showcases the business's sustainability efforts and impact.


To learn more about how to use LIST to foster sustainable tourism and travel or to use in other sectors, contact our team at Momentum Novum.




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