1.14 Sustainability Co-Design: Soneva Resorts

This case study provides an integral overview of how businesses can be part of fostering positive growth and sustainable development in the destination

The case study will allow you to understand how sustainability can be integrated into each and every operation of the organisation whilst increasing the company's transparency towards its stakeholders and guests, fostering stronger community trust and enhancing customer loyalty.

Excelling by Keeping Sustainability at the Core of Every Choice

This case study provides an integral overview of how businesses can be part of fostering positive growth and sustainable development in the destination by considering sustainability the core of every choice they make.

The case study will allow you to understand how sustainability can be integrated into each and every operation of the organisation whilst increasing the company's transparency towards its stakeholders and guests, fostering stronger community trust and enhancing customer loyalty.

Main Takeaways from this Case Study

  • To become truly sustainable, the foundation of our business model must rely on the adoption of sustainable models that can guide our actions.
  • Sustainability is multidimensional, thus it must focus on the environmental, social and economic impacts.
  • Developing or adopting reporting tools can help the organisation become more transparent.

Sustainable Luxury - from utopia to reality

Soneva is a resort chain founded in 1995 by Eva and Sonu Shivdasani in the beautiful natural setting of the Maldives. Initially planned as a single resort unit, the resort eventually became one of the leading sustainable resort chains in the world.

As opposed to other resorts, the approach of Soneva has been pretty unique from the start. Aware of the environmental and social impacts of tourism on fragile environments and local communities, the founders have managed to create a hospitality concept that is not only able to reduce negative impacts but that is fostering positive growth and sustainable development.

Luxury and sustainability at first glance might look impossible to conceal: luxury experiences often require irresponsible and unnecessary sourcing of natural resources, exploiting of local communities and in general, the establishment of vicious economic circles in which the locals have a lot to lose and very little to gain.

By considering sustainability the core of every choice they make, the resort created a virtuous model that fosters community development, environmental protection and considers shareholder returns, a concept defined by Soneva as 'Intelligent Luxury'. The resort chain represents an exceptional example of a best practice every hospitality business should follow.

Addressing impacts and building transparency

Starting by banning plastic straws already in 1998, the sustainable strategy of Soneva has evolved over the years to embrace every aspect of sustainability. At the core of the sustainable strategy lies the Soneva Foundation, responsible for monitoring the impacts of the resort's activities and developing sustainable projects. Alongside this, the resort is using the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) developed by the UN as a framework to develop their strategy.

Both the foundation and the adoption of the sustainable goals are extremely effective tools not only to create a more sustainable business model but to increase the company's transparency towards its stakeholders, fostering stronger community trust and enhanced customer loyalty.

The Soneva Foundation

The idea of the foundation was born in 2008 when the management realised the environmental impacts of the resorts were mostly caused by indirect emissions such as guest air travel. To offset these emissions the resort introduced an environmental tax of 2% on every guest stay, and these funds are invested by the foundation in initiatives that have a positive environmental impact. For example, the foundation has developed the Soneva Forest Restoration Project, planting more than 500,000 trees in northern Thailand, or the Myanmar Stoves Campaign, helping to save 2.5 tonnes of wood every year, reducing local air pollution by 80%.

Soneva is built on the belief that a business must exist for a greater purpose than shareholder returns - Soneva Foundation

The foundation is not only committed to fighting negative environmental impacts but also to reducing social and economic impacts too. Over the years, the foundation has developed programmes to help local communities around the world, such as the 'Clean Water Project', which helps people get access to safe and clean drinking water in the villages of Senegal or 'Care for Children' providing foster care for orphaned children.

The Soneva Total Impact Assessment

The role of the foundation is not only limited to promoting sustainable initiatives but to measuring every impact coming from all initiatives within Soneva. For this, the foundation has developed an in-house reporting tool, the Soneva Total Impact Assessment (TIA), which measures both the direct impacts of the resort as well as indirect impacts related to the supply chain and visitor's travel.

To ensure a 100% transparent approach the foundation releases annual reports showing impacts of all the initiatives connected with the resorts and the foundation's projects. By putting in place a solid reporting and measuring system, Soneva is able to implement better decision-making on allocating resources and changing strategies.

Soneva Total Impact Assessment 2018, from sonevachangemakers.com

The transparent approach of Soneva doesn't only demonstrate how rigorous reporting can be fundamental to drive more sustainable-driven decisions but should make businesses aware of the great possibilities this strategy offers in terms of branding and communication. Building a sustainable and transparent brand around your business, showing impacts and reporting initiatives is, in fact, a great tool to enhance customer loyalty and trust, an aspect that is as important for your business as it is sustainability.

Integrating Sustainable Development Goals

Whilst the Total Impact Assessment allows Soneva to measure impacts and evaluate the effectiveness of campaigns, the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are used to guide the sustainable strategy of the resort.

The sustainable development goals are also taken into consideration whilst taking small concrete actions. For example, plastic bottles are banned in all resorts, and Soneva produces its own drinking water on site.

Adopting sustainable development goals as guidelines to develop better tourism strategies is not something completely new, as the SDGs were developed by the UN in 2015, and many businesses and organisations have adopted the goals to develop their strategies. On the other side, it is true that there is still a lot to be done, especially in the hospitality sector, as many businesses still struggle to see the long-term benefits of a sustainable strategy. Soneva has demonstrated that sustainability is not only a duty but could be a true competitive advantage and a long term investment.

People and local community: taking bold actions

Sustainability doesn't only mean protecting the environment or using renewable energies, but also and most importantly taking care of the well being of the local community. Too often, tourism is associated with community segregation and the exploitation of the local workforce, with low wages, strenuous working shifts and very little to no development opportunities.

Aware of this, and with the Sustainable Development Goals clear in mind, Soneva has developed a model that put the local community at the centre, investing in their capabilities, potential and uniqueness. In this way, people can become real 'changemakers'.

Investing in Human Capital and Community

Soneva believes so strongly in its people that has developed a system that allows them to measure the real value of the jobs they create. In fact, a job doesn't only provide locals with a salary, but impacts the way they work, live and bring value to their community.

Creating human capital means measuring the real value provided by a job, which includes training, a positive and fair working environment and great company values. Human capital also includes the positive externalities connected to jobs, such as the improvement of the life of the community, social integration, inclusiveness and better living conditions.

We believe that the success and profitability of a company depends on how well human resources are managed - Soneva-SDG-Brochure

Alongside this philosophy, Soneva has developed initiatives that foster inclusiveness and job creation, like the Junior Host Programme, which offers employment opportunities to vulnerable young adults, helping them to gain experience within the hospitality industry.

People as Changemakers

Even though the term 'Human Capital' has been developed by Soneva to measure the real value of jobs when referring to its employees, the company prefers to address them with a more meaningful term. For the company, its people are true 'Changemakers': every host, employee and member of the local community involved in their initiatives are seen as a person whose capabilities, passion and commitment are contributing to the positive growth of the local ecosystem.

The case of Soneva gives every business the opportunity to reflect on the importance of building a strong company culture around people. Employees are not only considered as a mere workforce but as persons with their own individualities and capabilities, who can be a driving force for both the company and the local community.

The case study will allow you to understand how sustainability can be integrated into each and every operation of the organisation whilst increasing the company's transparency towards its stakeholders and guests, fostering stronger community trust and enhancing customer loyalty.

Excelling by Keeping Sustainability at the Core of Every Choice

This case study provides an integral overview of how businesses can be part of fostering positive growth and sustainable development in the destination by considering sustainability the core of every choice they make.

The case study will allow you to understand how sustainability can be integrated into each and every operation of the organisation whilst increasing the company's transparency towards its stakeholders and guests, fostering stronger community trust and enhancing customer loyalty.

Main Takeaways from this Case Study

  • To become truly sustainable, the foundation of our business model must rely on the adoption of sustainable models that can guide our actions.
  • Sustainability is multidimensional, thus it must focus on the environmental, social and economic impacts.
  • Developing or adopting reporting tools can help the organisation become more transparent.

Sustainable Luxury - from utopia to reality

Soneva is a resort chain founded in 1995 by Eva and Sonu Shivdasani in the beautiful natural setting of the Maldives. Initially planned as a single resort unit, the resort eventually became one of the leading sustainable resort chains in the world.

As opposed to other resorts, the approach of Soneva has been pretty unique from the start. Aware of the environmental and social impacts of tourism on fragile environments and local communities, the founders have managed to create a hospitality concept that is not only able to reduce negative impacts but that is fostering positive growth and sustainable development.

Luxury and sustainability at first glance might look impossible to conceal: luxury experiences often require irresponsible and unnecessary sourcing of natural resources, exploiting of local communities and in general, the establishment of vicious economic circles in which the locals have a lot to lose and very little to gain.

By considering sustainability the core of every choice they make, the resort created a virtuous model that fosters community development, environmental protection and considers shareholder returns, a concept defined by Soneva as 'Intelligent Luxury'. The resort chain represents an exceptional example of a best practice every hospitality business should follow.

Addressing impacts and building transparency

Starting by banning plastic straws already in 1998, the sustainable strategy of Soneva has evolved over the years to embrace every aspect of sustainability. At the core of the sustainable strategy lies the Soneva Foundation, responsible for monitoring the impacts of the resort's activities and developing sustainable projects. Alongside this, the resort is using the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) developed by the UN as a framework to develop their strategy.

Both the foundation and the adoption of the sustainable goals are extremely effective tools not only to create a more sustainable business model but to increase the company's transparency towards its stakeholders, fostering stronger community trust and enhanced customer loyalty.

The Soneva Foundation

The idea of the foundation was born in 2008 when the management realised the environmental impacts of the resorts were mostly caused by indirect emissions such as guest air travel. To offset these emissions the resort introduced an environmental tax of 2% on every guest stay, and these funds are invested by the foundation in initiatives that have a positive environmental impact. For example, the foundation has developed the Soneva Forest Restoration Project, planting more than 500,000 trees in northern Thailand, or the Myanmar Stoves Campaign, helping to save 2.5 tonnes of wood every year, reducing local air pollution by 80%.

Soneva is built on the belief that a business must exist for a greater purpose than shareholder returns - Soneva Foundation

The foundation is not only committed to fighting negative environmental impacts but also to reducing social and economic impacts too. Over the years, the foundation has developed programmes to help local communities around the world, such as the 'Clean Water Project', which helps people get access to safe and clean drinking water in the villages of Senegal or 'Care for Children' providing foster care for orphaned children.

The Soneva Total Impact Assessment

The role of the foundation is not only limited to promoting sustainable initiatives but to measuring every impact coming from all initiatives within Soneva. For this, the foundation has developed an in-house reporting tool, the Soneva Total Impact Assessment (TIA), which measures both the direct impacts of the resort as well as indirect impacts related to the supply chain and visitor's travel.

To ensure a 100% transparent approach the foundation releases annual reports showing impacts of all the initiatives connected with the resorts and the foundation's projects. By putting in place a solid reporting and measuring system, Soneva is able to implement better decision-making on allocating resources and changing strategies.

Soneva Total Impact Assessment 2018, from sonevachangemakers.com

The transparent approach of Soneva doesn't only demonstrate how rigorous reporting can be fundamental to drive more sustainable-driven decisions but should make businesses aware of the great possibilities this strategy offers in terms of branding and communication. Building a sustainable and transparent brand around your business, showing impacts and reporting initiatives is, in fact, a great tool to enhance customer loyalty and trust, an aspect that is as important for your business as it is sustainability.

Integrating Sustainable Development Goals

Whilst the Total Impact Assessment allows Soneva to measure impacts and evaluate the effectiveness of campaigns, the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are used to guide the sustainable strategy of the resort.

The sustainable development goals are also taken into consideration whilst taking small concrete actions. For example, plastic bottles are banned in all resorts, and Soneva produces its own drinking water on site.

Adopting sustainable development goals as guidelines to develop better tourism strategies is not something completely new, as the SDGs were developed by the UN in 2015, and many businesses and organisations have adopted the goals to develop their strategies. On the other side, it is true that there is still a lot to be done, especially in the hospitality sector, as many businesses still struggle to see the long-term benefits of a sustainable strategy. Soneva has demonstrated that sustainability is not only a duty but could be a true competitive advantage and a long term investment.

People and local community: taking bold actions

Sustainability doesn't only mean protecting the environment or using renewable energies, but also and most importantly taking care of the well being of the local community. Too often, tourism is associated with community segregation and the exploitation of the local workforce, with low wages, strenuous working shifts and very little to no development opportunities.

Aware of this, and with the Sustainable Development Goals clear in mind, Soneva has developed a model that put the local community at the centre, investing in their capabilities, potential and uniqueness. In this way, people can become real 'changemakers'.

Investing in Human Capital and Community

Soneva believes so strongly in its people that has developed a system that allows them to measure the real value of the jobs they create. In fact, a job doesn't only provide locals with a salary, but impacts the way they work, live and bring value to their community.

Creating human capital means measuring the real value provided by a job, which includes training, a positive and fair working environment and great company values. Human capital also includes the positive externalities connected to jobs, such as the improvement of the life of the community, social integration, inclusiveness and better living conditions.

We believe that the success and profitability of a company depends on how well human resources are managed - Soneva-SDG-Brochure

Alongside this philosophy, Soneva has developed initiatives that foster inclusiveness and job creation, like the Junior Host Programme, which offers employment opportunities to vulnerable young adults, helping them to gain experience within the hospitality industry.

People as Changemakers

Even though the term 'Human Capital' has been developed by Soneva to measure the real value of jobs when referring to its employees, the company prefers to address them with a more meaningful term. For the company, its people are true 'Changemakers': every host, employee and member of the local community involved in their initiatives are seen as a person whose capabilities, passion and commitment are contributing to the positive growth of the local ecosystem.

The case of Soneva gives every business the opportunity to reflect on the importance of building a strong company culture around people. Employees are not only considered as a mere workforce but as persons with their own individualities and capabilities, who can be a driving force for both the company and the local community.