Global sustainability standards are needed to curb climate crisis, says environmental director

Key Points
  • Hong Kong and Shanghai Hotels' director of group corporate responsibility and sustainability has called for a consolidation of industry standards to help curb the global climate crisis.
  • Janice Lao told CNBC the abundance of sustainability metrics has served to overwhelm the public and hinder implementation. 
  • As of 2014, there were 400 standards for measuring sustainability, according to the State of Sustainability Initiatives.
Solar panels pictured at a tropical hotel resort.
Marc Romanelli

Businesses need to be singing from the same hymn sheet if they want to make meaningful progress in combatting the climate crisis, said the environmental director of one of Asia's leading hotel groups, Hong Kong and Shanghai Hotels.

Janice Lao, director of group corporate responsibility and sustainability at Hong Kong and Shanghai Hotels, has called for a consolidation of sustainability standards.

There are "too many" sustainability metrics out there and they are overwhelming the public and hindering progress, Lao told CNBC's "Street Signs" on Monday. "If we don't talk in one language, people are not going to understand what progress we're trying to achieve (and) where we are in the journey."

Sustainability standards have grown at a rapid rate in recent decades as environmental issues gain increasing prominence. As of 2019, there were over 400 measures, according to the State of Sustainability Initiatives.

Lao, a Forbes Sustainability Leader, said she is already in talks with several standards agencies to come up with coordinated sustainability metrics, but she said greater backing was needed.

"If we can consolidate the definitions, it's much easier for us to tell our story ... not only to the public but also to the business community, who are going to be making these types of investments," she said.

Lao's comments come as leaders gather at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland this week to discuss, among other things, striking a unified response to the intensifying climate crisis.

Hong Kong and Shanghai Hotels has been advocating environmental practices since 2013 via its "Sustainable Luxury Vision 2020," which covers areas such as sustainable food sourcing and construction.

Lao noted that the luxury hotel chain, which has operations in Asia, the U.S. and Europe, has succeeded in receiving investor buy-in because it was able to present the plan as part of its long-term strategy.

The director said that approach may be less attainable for low to mid-range hotels, with smaller margins. However, she added that businesses should regard the shift to sustainability as an inevitability, particularly as more countries move to curb unsustainable practices.

"This is what the future is going to be like, this is the norm," said Lao. "We know that in all the cities we're going to be operating in, in all the countries we're operating, we're seeing more and more environmental, climate change and plastics regulation. That's something that we're preparing for."