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  • Writer's pictureTC Li

A Sustainable Future Hinges on Sustainability of All Types

Updated: Oct 12, 2021

In September last year, two months before the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference was initially scheduled to take place, the UK announced an all-male team to host the summit, also known as COP26. By November, SHEChangesClimate was launched, along with an open letter, signed by over 400 female climate leaders, demanding greater gender parity on the UK COP26 leadership team. With the summit postponed to November this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the powerful women behind SHEChangesClimate are continuing their fight for a 50:50 split of men and women in all their diversity in the summit’s top-level leadership team.

At GREEN Hospitality, we share the same frustration because gender equality comes naturally to us and remains a value we uphold. When our director, Lucia Loposova, was shortlisting panelists for the annual GREEN Hospitality Conference in 2019, she became aware of how few female sustainability leaders are being represented at similar conferences and events in Hong Kong. The irony is that women are indispensable in shaping the sustainable development landscape here: Christina Dean, founder of Redress and co-founder of social impact business The R Collective, is the trailblazer of circular fashion; Gabrielle Kirstein is the CEO and driving force behind the city’s first food bank, Feeding Hong Kong; Peggy Chan, the chef-restaurateur behind vegetarian and vegan restaurants Grassroots Pantry and Nectar, currently Executive Director of Zero Foodprint Asia, is the pioneer of regenerative and circular food systems; Ada Yip is the CEO of Urban Spring HK, which provides water refill stations to reduce single-use plastic water bottles; Tamsin Thornburrow is the founder of the city’s first zero-waste grocery shop, Live Zero; Anushka Purohit is the CEO and co-founder of BREER, which upcycles stale bread into beer. And the list goes on.

The lack of gender-diverse representation across sectors and industries has to change, and we don’t have a lot of time.

Gender Equality Essential to Mitigating Climate Change

COVID-19 has set back progress in many areas of work towards a sustainable future, and one of them is the time it takes to close the global gender gap - from 99.5 years (in 2020) to 135.6 years, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021. But we cannot afford to have another generation of girls and women waiting for gender parity to be achieved.

As the signatories of the open letter rightly pointed out, it is incomprehensible that half of the world’s population was not represented in the team that would soon be tasked to frame and influence the agenda of upcoming climate actions, especially when 80% of the people displaced by climate change are women.

In a previous newsletter on gender parity, social impact incubator Foundation for Shared Impact (FSI) wrote about the indispensable role that women play in driving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This makes sense, as not only are women typically tasked with the management of natural resources in developing countries, but they also tend to be better stewards of the environment, whether it is building climate resilience in the community, ensuring companies comply with environmental regulations, leading countries to adopt more stringent climate policies, or ratifying international environmental treaties.

As women were and continue to be at the forefront of combating COVID-19, they make it self-evident that women play a critical role in mitigating global crises. Not only do women make up 70% of health and social care staff globally, but the person who discovered the first coronavirus, in 1964, was female scientist June Almeida. The unprecedented speed at which a viable vaccine was made available is largely thanks to Katalin Karikó, the female scientist who persevered through years of rejection to her research on the therapeutic possibilities of mRNA, a component of DNA. And Özlem Türeci is the female physician and entrepreneur who co-founded BioNTech, the biotechnology company that developed the first approved RNA-based vaccine against COVID-19.

However, as a result of unequal rights and access to resources, limited economic opportunities, and other sociocultural barriers, women are still largely restricted from fully utilising their talent and capacity in high-level decision-making on sustainable development. Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, women were among the hardest hit by the pandemic. For example, 5% of all employed women lost their jobs, compared with 3.9% of employed men. Data gathered by LinkedIn also showed a noticeable decline in women being hired into leadership roles. Alarmingly, female scientists experienced 5% more loss in research time than their male counterparts. One of the explanations is deep-rooted gendered roles: women still took up the bulk of domestic work during the pandemic, often juggling a full-time job and unpaid caregiving duties at home. All over the world, women in developing and developed countries provided 75% and 65% of childcare work respectively, meaning women between the ages of 15 and 64 worked an average extra 173 hours of unpaid work during 2000, which added an additional month of full-time work to their schedule. This could further worsen women’s low labour participation rate and representation in management roles, and young women’s low rate in education, employment or training - the gender gaps that have long been in existence before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hope on the Horizon, but More Work Needs to be Done

At the Brace for Impact Webinar, held by Foundation for Shared Impact earlier this year to discuss the problem of diversity and inclusivity in the Hong Kong social impact space, Sanjukta Mukherjee, an economist who previously worked as a survey specialist for the International Labour Organization and as a consultant at the World Bank said, “Ultimately, it is about equity, which refers to fair distribution of resources, power, and opportunities along gender, race, ethnicity lines and other -isms.”. She also suggested that governments could require companies to meet diversity and inclusion targets or full disclosure requirements, in order to be given the licence to operate.

Less than a month later, the Stock Exchange of Hong Kong Limited (HKEX) published a consultation paper, which outlines proposed enhancements to the Corporate Governance Code and Corporate Governance Report (the Code), aimed at improving the areas of corporate culture, director independence, diversity, and Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) disclosures and standards. Specifically, the new rules require all new listing candidates to have at least one woman on their boards at the time of going public, and existing listed companies will be given a three-year window to comply. This is a good start, as currently, only one in seven directors of listed companies in Hong Kong (or 14%) are women, and close to one-third of listed company boards have no women at all.

In the global hospitality, travel, and leisure sector, women remain to be underrepresented in senior roles, making up just 25.5% of executive committee members, with the majority of these women residing in HR functions instead of wider business leadership roles. According to this same report, “2020 Women in Hospitality, Travel & Leisure Annual Report”, the good news is that progress has been made to improve gender and ethnic diversity in the senior leadership levels in the sector. This is important, as creating a diverse and inclusive culture starts from the top. And as one of the top job-creating sectors in the world, the hospitality and travel sector has immense potential to accelerate diversity goals.

Worldwide, while women still occupy only 24% of board committee seats and 21% of board committee chairs, female directors are taking less time than their male counterparts to reach board leadership roles, and an increasing number of companies are onboarding women candidates without previous CEO or directorial experiences. The urgency of improving gender seems to be felt by leaders of the world’s major economies, too, with improving working conditions and pay for women being topics of discussion at the latest G20 Labour and Employment Ministerial meeting.

From engaging men as allies to abolish gendered roles to removing barriers for girls and women to reach management and leadership positions, more work needs to be done so that Anthropocene doesn’t become Manthropocene, to quote Kate Raworth, the brilliant female economist behind the Doughnut Economic Model. While policy change and implementation are welcome, diligent oversight and execution of policies is equally important in improving gender diversity and parity. Leaders of nations, businesses, and organisations need to acknowledge that gender equality is key to achieving many other UN Sustainable Development Goals: promoting economic growth and labour productivity, reducing poverty, enhancing human capital through health and education, attaining food security, addressing climate change impacts and strengthening resilience to disasters, and ensuring more peaceful and inclusive communities.

GREEN Hospitality: The Hub of Diversity

Much as biodiversity is vital to the wellbeing of our planet, diversity of various types is crucial to advancing sustainable development goals in human societies. While our core management team breaks the glass ceiling and provides a stronghold for female leadership to thrive, our boards of directors and advisors, volunteers, stakeholders, as well as our intern cohorts, exemplify diversity in gender, culture, nationalities, and expertise. For example, our student interns, volunteers, and supervisors in 2021 alone represented 16 different nationalities.

Diversity has always been and will always be one of our core values. We promote diversity among our employees, volunteers, interns, and stakeholders, as well as the advisors we select for our advisory board and speakers for our events. This is because we believe that a more diverse group is more creative and creates greater value for society. The world is interconnected, and actions in one country affect people in other countries. This is especially true for hospitality and travel businesses, which operate in multicultural spaces with a diverse base of clients, suppliers, and partners etc. By embedding diversity in our company, we seek to ensure that all possible aspects of our actions and impact are considered, so that we can build a more inclusive and sustainable future. From environmental degradation and waste crisis to unethical employment practices, supply chain unsustainability, and socioeconomic inequalities, the pressing problems in the world cannot be solved by one individual or organisation alone. Broad collaboration drives more effective solutions because it involves various stakeholders in our society. A diverse network, with a combination of diverse experiences and expertise, can promote participatory decision-making and problem-solving.

GREEN Hospitality is precisely such a network. By connecting hospitality businesses and stakeholders, the academia, entrepreneurs, innovators, and civil society at our core events such as the GREEN Hospitality Conference and the GREEN Hospitality Hackathon and Innovation Night, we are facilitating ongoing dialogues and knowledge exchange, and promoting the development of innovative solutions to turn the hospitality industry into a catalyst for sustainability. By bringing successful entrepreneurs to our Hackathons, our hospitality business partners now see the solutions that they didn’t know existed before. By bridging hospitality business owners with budding innovators through mentorship, innovators have a better idea of designing solutions that also address the pain points faced by business owners. By convening hospitality business owners through our Think Tanks, we are now developing the Responsible Procurement Tool to better inform the hospitality industry on sustainable alternative plastic sourcing, so that they can be part of the change for the global plastic crisis.

Together with our research on waste issues specific to Hong Kong and the Asia region, we bring diversity to the global body of research as well. After all, addressing global issues requires an aggregation of knowledge and experiences from all parts of the world, as research findings and solutions in one part of the world may not be relevant and applicable to other parts of the world. But the broad sharing of knowledge begins with the recognition of research endeavours by scientists who bring along with them diverse geographical, cultural, and racial experiences, and the Reuter’s recently released list of the world’s top 1,000 climate scientists is the perfect example of why there is still much work to do in improving diversity in science.

At GREEN Hospitality, we have a diverse team of volunteers and interns who are indispensable to our ongoing work. Are you interested in advancing sustainability in the hospitality and travel industries through engaging in innovative events and activities? Learn more about our virtual internship and volunteering programmes here, or email us on or to find out more.

If you would like to become a member of GREEN Hospitality and benefit from the knowledge of our eclectic lineup of experts and our diverse service offerings, learn more about our upcoming membership programme on


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