How Company Passion Projects Can Add to the Bottom Line

UPDATED: April 22, 2024
PUBLISHED: April 23, 2024
A group of employees excited about company passion projects

Passion projects, hobbies or innovative expressions outside the traditional 9-to-5 workday are great ways to flex our creativity and do something just for pleasure. But what does a passion project for a company or business look like? What benefits can they provide, and can they make a positive impact on an organization’s bottom line? 

In the early 2000s, Google encouraged an 80/20 policy, which gave employees the bandwidth to ideate, develop and innovate projects during 20% of their work schedule. It ultimately led to huge wins like Gmail AdSense and Google Maps—technology that has become mainstream all over the world and huge revenue drivers for the tech giant. Similarly, Slack, the social platform X (formerly known as Twitter) and Buffer all started as side projects.

What is a passion project and why is it important?

Passion projects, or side projects, are projects people work on purely for the joy of doing so. And while not every passion project evolves into the world’s most recognized services or brands, they are important for a variety of factors, especially in the modern workplace. 

Allowing employees to work on passion projects, tells them that management cares about things beyond revenue drivers. They can boost employees’ happiness and creativity by encouraging outside the box thinking. And finally, they help develop an entrepreneurial mindset that can boost overall productivity. In many cases, passion projects also result in participants feeling good about doing acts of service that lead to the greater health of the community or even the world. 

Examples of passion projects in the corporate world

1: Environmental stewardship

Minor Hotels, which is the parent company of some of the top hotels in the world, including Anantara Hotels Resorts & Spas and Tivoli Hotels & Resorts, is in the business of hospitality. Guests are drawn to their properties because of their proximity to nature—whether they are pristine island retreats of the Maldives, deserts of the Middle East or the lush jungles of Thailand.

“Environmental stewardship is imperative since our business will completely disappear if these unique environments vanish,” notes Ian Di Tullio, chief commercial officer at Minor Hotels. “Our path to long-term success is really in creating shared value by generating simultaneous benefits for our business, society and the environment.” 

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With that in mind, the company decided to act as responsible community members by encouraging passion projects like the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation and partnering with leading fish and coral experts and marine biologists to publish World of Kihavah (the first of its kind in 2023). This research-based publication highlights the reef ecosystem and fish species surrounding the Anantara Kihavah Villas in the Maldives. 

2: Conservation and guest experience combined

Sandos Caracol Eco Resort in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, is an all-inclusive, eco-focused resort that seamlessly weaves conservation into the guest experience with unique programming that initially started as passion projects. Initiatives like Plant-A-Tree, solar panel installation and reuse of organic waste through composting, among others, have earned them highly prestigious certifications including the Sustainable Hotel Certification by MARTI (The Mesoamerican Reef Tourism Initiative), the Gold medal for Travelife certification and Rainforest Alliance certification

Sandos Caracol Eco Resort is also dedicated to education through tourism, and the resort is consistently utilized as a resource to spread awareness about the region’s Indigenous cultures and populations, its endangered wildlife and unique ecosystems. An “All Nature Programming” concept was born 10 years ago in 2014 to provide guests with enrichment experiences that incorporate the flora and fauna onsite, especially as the beach/coastal line started to erode due to climate change. 

3: Feel good while doing good

Elsewhere, in the cruising industry, Carnival Corporation—including operations for Alaska focused cruise lines Princess Cruises and Holland America Line—has begun exploring biofuel made from onboard discarded cooking oil. This program was piloted on Discovery Princess, the flagship of the Princess Cruises fleet, and one of the largest of the line’s ships. 

At the IMPACT Sustainability Conference in Victoria, Canada, Robert Morgenstern, senior vice president of Alaska operations for Carnival spoke about the success of this initiative. “What began as a passion project for the company quickly turned into a feel-good while doing good and revenue-impacting exercise, which is always a win-win.” 

The isolated cooking oil is supplied to a local producer who then reprocesses it for biofuels. These are used to power offshore excursion buses. By giving the local business owner economies of scale, Carnival is further boosting the local economy, because the producer can sell clean biofuel to other operators. “We have a creative solution to reuse what would otherwise just be waste, and we are directly helping the communities that we work and play in,” adds Morgenstern. 

How do passion projects impact the bottom line?

In the case of Anantara Hotels, Resorts and Spas there are currently 20 elephants living in the forest and grassland surrounding the resort in northern Thailand—and guests have a rare opportunity to learn and contribute (by way of donations) to elephant conservation via the foundation. 

“In 2023, we donated $55,000, and 100% of that was spent on various projects benefiting the animals and the local communities around research and education of wild and captive elephants,” notes Di Tullio. “We firmly believe our commitment to sustainable and community-rooted hospitality does not require a compromise to drive a positive bottom line. It’s what our customers actively seek when making booking decisions.”

They were also the first resort to undertake an extensive ocean reef assessment which they hope inspires ongoing marine conservation efforts in collaboration with the Maldivian government. Plus, it highlights what makes the property a prime destination for snorkeling and diving, as seen in guest participation in these activities.

“At Sandos Caracol Eco Resort we now have around 4,000 guests who register for activities to enjoy the all-nature programming,” explains Miguel Guardado, the hotel director at the resort. By having these at the all-inclusive rate, guests can see firsthand how their tourism dollars are impacting the greater ecosystem.

And for Carnival, it is all about looking at the future and being proactively prepared. Cruise lines have been tasked and mandated to become carbon neutral by 2050, and Carnival’s creative project is just one of the many solutions that combine local resources to be in a better position to meet that deadline.

What to consider before investing in employees’ passion projects

At the end of the day, all passion projects need to be evaluated for three things:

  • Viability
  • Sustainability
  • Consistency

The net-positive revenue, while nice to have, shouldn’t be the only reason why projects are selected. Additionally, initiatives that drain resources—such as employee time and effort, setup costs and maintenance—without fruitful results have less chance of approval. 

Sometimes passion projects have long lead times, which means the bottom-line impacts are also long-term. As in the case of Carnival Cruises, the development of biofuel using cooking oil is a great short-term project—but what makes it viable is the lead time (to 2050) to help with overall carbon neutrality. 

While not all passion projects are billion-dollar ideas like Gmail and X, if done right, the impact they can make on a company’s bottom line can’t (and shouldn’t) be ignored.

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