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Elena Cavagnaro is professor of applied sciences in Sustainability in Hospitality & Tourism at NHL Stenden, and associate professor of Responsible Leadership Development and Sustainability in Tourism at the University of Groningen (RUG), Fryslân campus. With the late George Curiel she co-authored the book ‘The Three Levels of Sustainability’, which recently received its second fully revised edition.

In this book, the widely known Triple P model based on People, Profit and Planet is connected with the level at which national and supranational governments are operating, and expanded to include an additional level. Recently, Elena proudly presented a copy of the revised edition to Marco ten Hoor, Academy Director of Hotel Management School, and Executive Board member Marc Otto, to celebrate this memorable occasion. In early February, an interview with Elena about her book was published on NRIT’s website, THE knowledge platform for professionals working in Leisure & Tourism.

Some highlights from the interview to reflect on:

How does your thinking on sustainable transitions differ from the Triple P model?

‘If you go solo on corporate social responsibility as a company, you will go broke. You need society, as well as the government to support you with legislation. All levels need to be addressed simultaneously. Let me cite an example shared with me as a young professor of applied sciences at the Hotel Management School by Eveline Jonker, sustainability coordinator of the Dutch trade association for hotel and catering industry (KHN) at the time. Many, many businesses in the hospitality industry are looking to do something about reducing food waste. But they are bound by laws and regulations. In the EU, for example, food at a dinner buffet must be disposed of after two hours. That legislation, Eveline told me, is an EU-wide average from Sicily to Sweden. The Netherlands is right in between, and with our temperature level food could safely stay longer on a buffet. But when legislation is not compatible with your sustainable goals, it gets difficult.’

What would be a good tool to boost sustainable development? |

‘A powerful tool to boost sustainable development is nudging. For example, if you put healthy salads at eye level in a shop, it will sell better than having it on the bottom shelf. Or think of those restaurants that offer vegetarian or vegan dishes as a standard menu, for example as the menu of the day. Nudging makes it easier for people to engage in those behaviours that are better for themselves and society. A very good example would be organ donation. In the past, you had to actively indicate that you wanted to be a donor. This is kind of against our natural inclinations. We don’t like to think about death. The government has spent lots of money to get people to sign up as organ donors. However, most people do not bother to change the default option of not being a donor. After a huge number of debates, organ donation has been made the default option. If you don’t want it, you need to act. This worked. The same mechanism can be applied in lots of areas.

You’ve been busy advocating a more sustainable society for years. How do you look back?

‘Between the first edition in 2012 and the new edition in 2022, all of the indicators have deteriorated at a global level. When I was revising the part of my book about this, it made me very sad. But when it comes to companies and other organisations, I did get a bit happier. It may be hard to concretize but from what I read and the examples I was given, it seems that sustainability has now become more of a natural thing among companies than it was 10 years ago. We really are at a turning point. Moreover, the view that ‘Most people are good’- to quote the title of Rutger Bregman’s book – is now being more widely proclaimed as well. This too is encouraging.’

Like to read the full interview? Click here (Dutch only).