Sustainability and Leadership 

By Doug Flockhart, CEO, Clubs Queensland

“Sustainability and sustainable tourism mean ensuring that whatever we do today does not have a negative impact on the Island, the reef or the greater planet for tomorrow. It means leaving the world a better place than we found it” said Peter Gash, managing director and lease holder of Lady Elliott Island Eco Resort.

Recently 15 clubbies from across the state joined the inaugural ‘Leadership on TOUR’ expedition that Clubs Queensland organised with the valued support of IGT and their State Manager, Craig Harley.  

The group spent the day on Lady Elliott Island with tourism and aviation icon Peter Gash and his team to immerse themselves in Peter’s world and learn from his leadership/business experience - particularly given the degree of difficulty involved in running a 12 aircraft aviation business (first up), plus a remote eco-tourism resort – in the middle of the Pacific Ocean! 

The outcome of this incredible day of learning, can be summed up with the following comment from one of the club mangers who attended…

Just a quick note to say thanks for the most amazing day on Tuesday.  I still can’t believe how lucky I am to be included in events like this. Without a doubt the best “workday” I’ve ever had.  Peter was amazing, the one most valuable lesson was his concept- “What do you mean I can’t do it, of course I can, I just need to find another way!”  Now that’s going to stick with me forever. – Steve Ratcliffe

The day started with our intrepid travellers assembling at the muster point at 6.15am,  then making our way to Redcliffe Airport for a 7.15am departure in two ‘seair’ Cessna caravans on an 80-minute low level flight to Lady Elliot.  

Lady Elliot Island is located approximately 80 kilometres north-east of Bundaberg, nestled in between Fraser Island and Lady Musgrave Island.  Lady Elliott is the closest Great Barrier Reef Island to Brisbane. It is STUNNING.

Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort which inhabits the island, offers a range of comfortable accommodation options 43 rooms in total, with each unit, tent and cabin designed to minimise impact on the island while enriching guest’s experience of the seasonal wildlife. The Resort was established in 1984 when a series of prefabricated buildings were brought to the island and these buildings are still in use today. In keeping with the natural, eco-friendly lifestyle there are no telephones, television or radios and all rooms are fan cooled. 

The return trip saw us depart at 4.15pm enjoying tail winds at 10,000ft for a fast trip back to Redcliffe. 

What is the connection between Clubland and Eco-Resort? Sustainability!

It probably isn’t an obvious link – the one between Lady Elliot Island and clubland, though sometimes I think our world operates in it’s own bubble! And I guess that is the point: clubland is not in a bubble. We are not our own little island. We are in fact intrinsically linked to everything around us and all our ‘environments’ have a massive impact on us. This trip was very much designed around promoting how we can impact on our environment – ‘the’ environment – and lead the charge in building a sustainable future in our communities.

With respect to my colleagues in clubland, sustainability has not been a ‘must do’ on the agenda for most. The focus to date has been more so on survivability, day to day deliverables and achieving surpluses. 

Yep – all important things - I get that. However, it would be fair to say the environment and sustainability must now be on your list of KPI’s not only for the good of the planet and its inhabitants, but also for the new demographics you want to attract. ESPECIALLY as community leaders and successful social enterprises.

And this is the issue. Environmental cred is important and is becoming a key decision factor when upcoming generations choose where to spend their money. Environmental sustainability is getting more closely linked to futureproofing business sustainability. 

In providing environmentally sustainable business, we are enabling our communities to consume in an environmentally friendly way and live their values with us. Think paper straws vs plastic straws – a simple switch but one that contributes to the health of our oceans and our customers support.

Environmental sustainability is more than a fad – it’s a global movement. 

What can Greta Thunberg (the 16yr old Swedish environmental activist whom is leading the way for her generation) teach us all about sustainability? You may not be aware that she is also the figurehead of the ‘School Strike for Climate’ movement and has transcended her years to have a HUGE influence globally on the current discourse.   

Well first up, we can listen.  This is a voice of a young person concerned about her generation’s future and those that follow.  Greta is not a “patsy” employed by a cult.  She’s a human being that cares for other human beings and the environment around her.  That’s the root of her climate activism.  It is values based. If young people like Greta are getting angry and taking matters into their own hands, ask yourself why.  It’s not for fun. It’s not to skip school.  It’s because the future of the planet depends on it. 

“We can’t save the world by playing by the rules, because the rules have to be changed. Everything needs to change, and it has to start today.” — Greta Thunberg

Adding to this, the recent media coverage on the science of the environment and climate change should be making us all sit up and take notice. On November 5th 2019 it was reported via numerous media outlets that more than 11,000 researchers from around the world issued a grim warning of the "untold suffering" that will be caused by climate change if humanity doesn't change its ways. The group said that as scientists, they have the ‘moral obligation’ to tell it like it is."

This latest report was published in Bio Science, a peer-reviewed scientific journal. The scientists, who come from over 150 countries, said the climate crisis is "closely linked to excessive consumption of the wealthy lifestyle." 

Echoing the words of teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg, the scientists have criticized policymakers for failing to take action. "Despite 40 years of global climate negotiations, with few exceptions, we have generally conducted business as usual and have largely failed to address this predicament," they said. 

They listed six key issues that need to be addressed if humanity wants to prevent the most catastrophic scenarios. These include: 
  • Replacing fossil fuels, 
  • Cutting the emissions of climate pollutants such as methane and soot, 
  • Eating less meat,
  • Restoring and protecting ecosystems,
  • Building a carbon-free economy, and
  • Stabilizing population growth by investing into family-planning services and girl’s education.
And there is something that every one of us can do within this list that can make a difference. It sounds hard, but all behavioural change is challenging. We need to unlearn a lifetime of behaviour to make way for a new ones.

That said – I refer you back to Peter Gash and his action in this space as evidenced when you look at his hybrid solar power system, water desalination, revegetation process and importantly waste management.   

I asked Peter “What have been the main benefits of implementing sustainability initiatives at Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort?”  

His response was both quick and considered: “The obvious benefits are to the immediate environment, such as reducing fuel burn, reducing greenhouse gases, reducing the smell, reducing the noise, and reducing risk of fuel spills.

“The big advantage that we didn’t expect was the positive marketing and media attention, tens of millions of dollars of FREE coverage. People support us because we are protecting the environment. We didn’t expect that it would have such a positive benefit for us and the business.

“People are really interested in making a difference. They realise that we need to protect the environment, that everything is interlinked. People now understand that if we don’t look after the environment, we’re not going to be here in 50-100 years.”

The ‘Leadership on TOUR’ group (over the day spent with Peter and his team), were not only seduced by his infectious enthusiasm and passion, but also his genuine intent to give back, and leave what is here today in a similar - if not better  - state for those who want to enjoy it tomorrow and beyond.

Importantly, don’t think this is all just about the social benefit. Peter Gash is a commercial operator who has found a way to successfully monetise his operations (aviation and eco-tourism) with over 30,000 paying guests enjoying his offer annually.  He is a successful businessman and an accomplished leader who is doing more than his bit to help future generations.

I suppose the question for the rest of us is – What are we prepared to do?  

Maybe the answer in part, should be found within your next strategic plan and importantly every leadership/investment decision you and your team make.  Of course, you also have to make a start and then you have to work at it every day.  
Thank you, Peter Gash for the most amazing day and no-frills insights!

You can connect with Peter Gash on LinkedIn. You can follow Lady Elliot Island Resort on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest or YouTube.

FOOTNOTE:  Clubs Queensland would like to again thank IGT (and Craig Harley) for taking a punt on this adventure.  IGT are a proud supporter of the club sector and their enthusiastic support for this inaugural event, is what made it possible. IGT, you’ve exposed our troupe (over this day) to what’s possible, and the evidence that there is always a way to do something, that is if you think about it differently and surround yourself with passionate people.