By Melissa J. Anderson

Thomas Cook, the UK-based airline and tourism group, released its annual sustainability report last week, which detailed, among other things, the launch of the company’s Group Working Party on Sustainability, the company’s improvements and honors in environmental performance, and details on charitable commitments for both its Thomas Cook Children’s Charity and its donations following the earthquake in Haiti last year.

The report, which is available both by PDF and interactively on the company’s website, explains the company’s historical commitment to socially responsible travel. According to Manny Fontenla-Novoa, Thomas Cook’s CEO, the company was founded on the belief that working class people deserve the opportunity to travel and learn about the world. Today that belief encompasses not just a social commitment, but environmental and charitable commitments as well.

Fontenla-Novoa explains in the report:

“Longevity is one of our business objectives and to be a successful business today we need to be economically, environmentally and socially sustainable. For Thomas Cook Group, that means addressing a wide range of long-term challenges, including providing a great holiday experience for customers while ensuring their security and safety, maintaining a committed and engaged workforce, improving fuel efficiency and monitoring the carbon emissions from our planes; and encouraging sustainable practices in a global supply chain.”

Accountability is Key for Sustainability Progress

While responsibility for sustainability lies ultimately with Thomas Cook’s Board of Directors, the company this year launched a new “working party” to manage its progress toward sustainability.

Led by Ruth Holbrook, Group Head of Sustainability, the working group consists of representatives from each of the company’s business segments and operating companies. According to the report, the establishment of the group will enable the company to more strategically approach sustainability in each of its sectors, and provide a more actionable layer of accountability.

The report says:

“Already we are seeing some of our companies take a more formal approach to sustainability. Thomas Cook Belgium, for example, is developing various sustainability reporting tools and has established its own working party on sustainability, made up of representatives from every department within the business.”

Ensuring that someone “owns” sustainability responsibilities is key to achieving success. Accountability certainly does a lot to ensure that goals and metrics are taken seriously. Hopefully, these managers will be taken seriously as they work to meet benchmarks.

Employees Take Part in Sustainability

With a workforce of almost 30,000 people, it is notable that the company includes employee engagement as part of its sustainability metrics. According to the report, employee engagement levels have risen in the past three years. But the report states that the company understands such a survey is more than a measurement device – it also has to take action. The company’s response to survey results may indicate why the numbers are going up, at a time when employee engagement has dropped or stagnated at most companies.

In the past year, it has used the survey to improve feedback mechanisms, clarify performance goals, and launch a learning and developing program.

According to the report, the company is also a strong supporter (and beneficiary) of corporate diversity, and Thomas Cook boasts several affinity groups, diversity programs, and work-from-home initiatives.

It says:

“In 2010, there were no cases of discrimination raised among our employees. We will continue to be vigilant on the issue and to raise awareness of the value of diversity to our business. Not only do our employees deserve this, we also believe strongly that, in a diverse society and with a diverse customer base, our business benefits from a diverse workforce.”

The company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, as well as the development of its employees reveals a holistic understanding of sustainability that is the hallmark of an evolved employer. Sustainability means more than environmental work – it also involves the sustainable development of and commitment to a company’s workforce.