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  • Writer's pictureJosé-Carlos García-Rosell

Silent sustainability in tourism

There exists a prevailing belief among tourism entrepreneurs that sustainability knowledge must be obtained from specialized consultants and researchers in the field. While it's true that sustainability is complex and dynamic, it is also a fact that many tourism entrepreneurs are already implementing sustainable practices without necessarily recognizing them as such. In my doctoral dissertation, I use the term "silent sustainability" to capture this phenomenon, drawing inspiration from the "silent corporate social responsibility" concept coined by Perrini, Russo, and Tencati. Essentially, "silent sustainability" denotes companies engaged in environmentally friendly and socially responsible practices, albeit without explicitly framing or articulating them in those terms. Through my doctoral research and subsequent academic work within the tourism industry, I've observed that silent sustainability is prevalent among enterprises, particularly micro and small businesses.

I initially observed this phenomenon as a junior scholar during my fieldwork for my doctoral research and engagement in an EU-funded project aimed at assisting a group of tourism micro-entrepreneurs seeking to incorporate sustainability principles into their service design process. Despite the entrepreneurs expressing reservations about their knowledge and skills regarding sustainability issues, a brief examination of their websites, brochures, and media coverage revealed that they already embraced a sustainability mindset in their operations. For instance, one entrepreneur fostered strong ties with the local community and prioritized the preservation of regional cultural heritage, while another emphasized sourcing goods and services locally. Additionally, a different company underscored the importance of the natural environment in their products, utilizing them as an opportunity to educate tourists about our interconnectedness with nature.

Even though these aspects of sustainability were evident in their business practices, the entrepreneurs looked to me, as a sustainability expert, to provide them with a scientific understanding of sustainability. While it's undeniable that sustainability research can provide valuable insights to practitioners, it's equally important to acknowledge that practitioners may already possess knowledge and actively use it to guide their businesses toward sustainability. This existing knowledge shouldn't be overlooked; rather, it should be acknowledged and embraced. This is highly relevant in the context of sustainability programs and certifications. Indeed, silent sustainability should not only be recognized but also leveraged as an essential asset in the certification process. By tapping into the inherent sustainability practices that businesses already embody, sustainability programs can better support and validate these efforts, ultimately fostering a more robust sustainability strategy.

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