Meet edie’s Sustainability Leader 2019: Janice Lao, The Hongkong & Shanghai Hotels

With entries now open for edie'sSustainability Leaders Awards 2020, this new feature series will showcase the achievements of the 2019 winners and reveal their secrets to success. First up: Janice Lao, director of CR at The Hongkong & Shanghai Hotels and our Sustainability Leader of the Year.

Meet edie’s Sustainability Leader 2019: Janice Lao, The Hongkong & Shanghai Hotels

(L-R) Presenter Liz Goodwin OBE

Back in February, the great and the good of sustainable business descended upon the Park Plaza Westminster for edie’s biggest ever awards in the brand’s 20-year history – the Sustainability Leaders Awards 2019. 

Across the 20 categories, 131 finalists were shortlisted. This new feature series will showcase the achievements of the winners from all categories, providing exclusive insight into their secrets to success and showing edie readers what best practice looks like in our ever-changing times. 

First up is our 2019 winner in the Sustainability Leader of the Year category: The Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels’ (HSH) director of corporate responsibility, Janice Lao.

In the 12 months leading up to February, Janice led on the hotelier’s global plan to reduce single-use plastics – a strategy which the judges believed was “one of the first and only comprehensive frameworks” for tackling this pressing issue. 

The scheme was part of her revamping of HSH’s Vision 2020 Sustainable Luxury strategy on how sustainability can be better integrated into the company’s luxury offering. Janice is integrating this into risk management, finance, and other parts of the business not normally open to sustainability, especially in Asia.

But Janice’s leadership also lies in the ways in which she is driving change “beyond the four walls” of her employer. At her previous employer, Cathay Pacific Airways, Janice heatedly debated and lobbied on its sharkfin ban in the face of opposition from high-profile stakeholders across the value chain. She also lobbied for a fairer carbon trading solution and mathematical model for airlines. Through sheer tenacity, she managed to convince the Asian airlines to help build on her model; then the European airlines, Middle Eastern and finally the US airlines to agree. This is now the basis for the United Nation’s ICAO carbon offset scheme, the only one in the world. 

In addition to her activism, Janice is a keen storyteller on a mission to give confidence to her colleagues that sustainability is not as tough as people think, proving to all stakeholders that it can have enormous positive implications when done properly and for the right reasons. Using a meticulous and proven approach and seeking buy-in and collaboration from as many colleagues as possible, Janice aims to set deep roots of the motivations of any sustainability decision in a culturally sensitive manner. 

She knows that only if people understand what sustainability is about that they can come on board and do it. Hence, she made the bold decision to base her former Hong-Kong based employer MTR Corporation’s report on a storytelling approach, which was the first of its kind in the world. This then led to her senior management understanding sustainability more fully and to release one of Asia’s first and successful green bonds, paving the way for other companies to do so. Eventually, this led to MTR being placed on the Fortune Change the World list in 2017. 

What Janice has done, specifically for Asian businesses with global footprints, is to instil the discipline and practice of considering sustainability issues into the business; eventually showing (instead of telling) her senior management the benefits of integrating green best practice. She has done this consistently throughout all the companies she has worked for.

She is now looking into developing the next phase of HSH’s strategy, starting from identification of emerging trends and potential future scenarios; this strategy will be restorative and much more integrated into the business and will involve a lot more collaboration with other stakeholders in order to achieve a sustainable future. She is also eyeing to share as much of the tools they develop in order to move as many of their peers into the sustainability space.

“After 15 years in sustainability, this is such a huge honour, because I was nominated alongside these giants of the industry,” Janice told edie. “I am so humbled, honoured and privileged to be recognised.”

What the judges said: “Janice is an exceptional business leader. Having worked tirelessly right across the business, socially and environmentally, Janice has shown the courage to think outside of the box and attempt new approaches in areas ranging from sustainable seafood and plastics and through to carbon trading – and all this within Asian-listed companies, where traditional commercial considerations are often paramount.”

edie’s 2020 Sustainability Leaders Awards

Now entering their 13th year for 2020, the RSA-accredited Sustainability Leaders Awards are sure to be one of the biggest nights of the year in the sustainability and energy space, with some exciting new categories added to recognise excellence across the spectrum of sustainable business.   

The 2020 Sustainability Leaders are now OPEN for entries. The entry deadline is Friday 27 September 2019. The Awards will then take place on the night of 5 February 2020 at the Park Plaza London, Westminster. 


edie Staff 

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