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Social sustainability is becoming increasingly important for golf

Guest article by Horst Schubert

Those who talk about sustainability in golf usually only think of the topic of ecology. In fact, however, the term also encompasses the essential area of social interaction – both when it comes to the internal issue of employees and the integration of the golf course into the social environment of the neighbouring communities and towns.

Sustainability as a management task

In the last decade of the 20th century, more and more companies recognized the importance of a sustainable corporate policy and began to implement initial measures. At G&CC Seddiner See AG, which I managed for many years as a member of the Board of Management, corporate responsibility for sustainable management was also incorporated as a key component of the corporate strategy in 2001. The corporate philosophy states in this regard: “Transparency, efficiency and sustainability are both the objective and the content of the business policy, which places particular emphasis on quality and environmental management. (…). The golf facility sees itself as an integrative part of the region and is committed to cooperation with the surrounding communities, municipalities, local and regional associations and organizations and maintains and promotes contact with local residents and the responsible decision-makers..

Putting a corporate philosophy on paper is one thing – then putting it into practice, “living” it, is another. Integrating the sustainability task area into the corporate strategy, the operational business and the corporate culture involves a not inconsiderable amount of work.

Nevertheless, their necessity is hardly ever in doubt. This is demonstrated, for example, by the results of Deloitte’s CxO Sustainability Survey 2023. “Sustainability remains a top priority for businesses,” it says. According to this study, 76 percent of German companies have increased their investments in sustainability measures in 2022. This result shows that the importance of sustainability has been recognized and that appropriate measures are being implemented in the operating business.

Social sustainability not overlooked

In this context, sociologist Ralf Darendorf refers to commercial responsibility and the high value placed on the “customs of the honorable merchant and good housekeeping”. A prerequisite for sustainable business practices, he said, is that in addition to the entrepreneurial efforts and the resulting demands of the entrepreneurs or shareholders, i.e. the economic area of sustainability, the diverse needs of all other stakeholders, i.e. the social and ecological area of sustainability, are also taken into account, such as the interests of the employees or those of the public.

What does social sustainability mean – externally and internally?

Progressive climate change is leading to an intensification of conflicts of use worldwide, especially over water for the population and for agriculture. This is increasingly affecting large parts of Germany – and golf courses in particular. In times of declining water availability for irrigation purposes on golf courses, the external task of social sustainability is of fundamental importance. Acceptance, involvement and networking in the region, the perception of the golf facility as a “good neighbour” – all this must be promoted and improved.

If a golf facility has already been actively involved in this area in the past and has thus established a good neighbourly relationship with the municipality and the district and the decision-makers there, it will certainly be easier to find a solution to the problem that is acceptable to the golf facility when it comes to the necessary water law permit.

The golf course as a good neighbour

After taking over the golf course in 2001, G&CC Seddiner See AG not only invested heavily in the maintenance and expansion of the infrastructure of the golf course, but also invested a seven-digit amount for a variety of measures in the social and ecological area for the benefit of the two communities of Michendorf and Seddiner See. These included not only cooperative ventures with the Wildenbruch local history society or the Nuthe-Nieplitz-Niederung landscape development association, but also, for example, sponsoring the soccer department of the SG Michendorf, supporting a clinic during the Corona pandemic and holding vaccination campaigns in the clubhouse. Such actions lead to increased networking.

Good employee management pays off

Looking at the internal area of social sustainability, this primarily concerns the staff employed at the golf course, in particular greenkeeping, administration and catering. Here, the labour market has changed quite considerably in recent years – not least as a result of the Corona pandemic. Today, more than ever, employers need to be attractive to employees in order to attract and retain them. In addition to the “hard facts” such as working hours and their organization, salary, opportunities for promotion, etc., sustainability in corporate management is becoming increasingly relevant as an image factor in the competition for qualified personnel. Employee retention and recruitment is now a core management task and therefore a matter for the boss.

In this context, one aspect should not be underestimated: Most employees live in the immediate vicinity of the golf course and are therefore multipliers or “brand ambassadors” for the neighbourhood – for better or worse. For a golf facility with good employee management and positive labour relations, this means: Sustainable internal management may well make it easier to find workers in the area.