Getting your hotel's sustainability strategy right

02 September 2016 by
Getting your hotel's sustainability strategy right

A high-level sustainability strategy is a great first step for hoteliers, but real progress will only be made if staff at all levels understand the environmental footprints left by their actions. Elly Earls learns how to treat a hotel business like an ethical island

Lofty sustainability goals discussed at executive level are a good start for a responsible business strategy, but that alone won't get the job done. The only way to make real progress towards goals is if every member of staff, across all departments, is engaged in the business's sustainability agenda and understands how their actions are making a difference.

The smooth implementation of corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives is an area of real innovation in the industry. A new ‘island resort' workshop series that Considerate Hoteliers will begin delivering to the Oetker Collection in September, and that it later hopes to roll out more widely, is a prime example. Participants will be encouraged to think of their hotel as an island resort, like Seychelles-based Frégate Island Private, which is renowned for its conservation measures.

Considerate Hoteliers hopes that participants will be encouraged to realise that every action they take has an immediate effect on the hotel, creating a consciousness about the footprint each employee and department creates.

"When you live in a city, it's very abstract, whereas when you're on an island, your footprint is immediately visible," explains Considerate Hoteliers' managing partner Xenia zu Hohenlohe. "You see that if you don't dispose of your waste properly, it stays on your doorstep, and if you look after your biodiversity, you see it every day on your way to work, as do your guests."

The workshops will include a module on global sustainability challenges, designed to help participants visualise the scale of the issue; a module on island challenges, to create an understanding of existing success stories; and an opportunity for green teams to brainstorm their own mission and vision, giving them ownership of the entire process.

"It's all very well having an advanced CSR policy at corporate level, but to get people at property level involved, they need to understand exactly what their impact is and what their responsibility is," zu Hohenlohe emphasises.

This should start right from day one, according to Caitlin Neary, head of revenue and the leader of the CSR team at London Oetker Collection hotel the Lanesborough. "We try to encourage people to begin thinking ‘green' even on their first day of induction to the hotel, with a welcome from our CSR team, the Green Pearls," she says.

Similarly, at AccorHotels, sustainability is ingrained from induction day, when staff are given CSR training and told what is expected from them.

The Lanesborough

Taking responsibility

Next, many hotels have found that creating ‘Green Teams' that include members from every department is an effective way to keep staff engaged. "We have a Green Team, which comprises volunteers from all departments who are consistently reviewing and evaluating our current green practices and sustainable initiatives, including recycling, water-saving, product-sourcing, community projects and energy saving," says the Grand Brighton hotel's general manager Andrew Mosley.

Day to day, little things also make a big difference. At the Lanesborough, 'green pearl ideas' are distributed throughout the hotel - for example, the daily internal communications magazine The Lanesborough Today will include a message that might advise employees that they can opt for paperless pay slips or remind them of successes the team has had.

At Radisson Blu Edwardian, there is a 'green fact of the week' and management puts messages on employees' pay packets about the hotels' sustainability initiatives.

Fairmont St Andrews

Meanwhile, at Langdale Hotel & Spa in the Lake District, director of operations Nick Lancaster finds rediscovering sustainable ideas and aspirations to be a great way to keep up momentum. "This year we put on a 'Bike and Beer' festival to promote both cycling and the great local brewers we have and we've also introduced cyclepods to enable live-in staff's bikes to be stored securely," he says.

Crucially, engaged staff are much more likely to come up with ideas of their own too. At Fairmont St Andrews, where every department has a representative on the hotel's green team that meets every month, the kitchen team has recently decided to build a vegetable garden and introduce compost recycling.

And one AccorHotels employee's final project on her management development training programme, where she looked at ways to improve sustainability at the group, resulted in the roll-out of electric vehicle charging points across the UK. The first phase will see 60 Ibis and Novotel hotels receive free-to-use EV charging points for visitors to charge their electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles.

At AccorHotels, the group's sustainability strategy, Planet 21, is overseen by an ethics and CSR committee, below which is a sustainability team with the job of implementing the programme via its network of 120 Planet 21 champions. "We're extremely focused on interacting with employees because they are the only ones that will turn the actions we want into reality," says AccorHotel's head of sustainability Arnaud Hermann.

Measured response

Finally, monitoring, measuring and communicating any progress that is made to staff members in easy-to-understand terms is absolutely crucial to keep up the momentum for any sustainability programme. That way, employees can see and understand how their own individual actions are making a difference and be held accountable.

There are several measurement tools available to hoteliers. For example, Considerate Hoteliers' Con-Serve data monitoring system measures everything from electricity, gas and water usage to waste and charitable donations, allowing operators to identify inefficiencies and put actions into practice that will reduce their carbon footprint and cut costs.

Plus, the company has recently started putting together an annual report for Con-Serve clients, which allows operators - and their employees and guests - to visualise the savings they've made. A 9.8% reduction in waste, for example, could be the equivalent weight of 18 elephants. Cue cute elephant diagrams.

"We've put it into a fun language because so much of this data can be really abstract," says zu Hohenlohe.

Green Tourism also offers a measurement tool for operators called the Carbon Calculator. "It's a method for evaluating energy and water consumption and comparing it with business performance, in terms of bed nights and efficiency of the building," Proctor says. "It allows business owners to not only calculate and record their carbon footprint year on year, but also provides a certificate to be displayed. It's resulted in an average saving of around 28% over the last four years on energy consumption, or carbon consumption per bed per night."

Furthermore, knowing exactly what savings have been made offers operators the added bonus of being able to incentivise sustainability, whether through key performance indicators (KPIs) for different departments or hotels or competition between different hotels. The Lanesborough's sister hotel, Le Bristol in Paris, recently received its Green Globe Certification, which has inspired the Lanesborough team to keep pursuing their targets, while on AccorHotels's annual Planet 21 Day, one hotel in the group receives a prize for being the most committed to sustainability. The group also ranks each hotel as bronze, silver, gold or platinum and 10%-20% of managers' bonuses are based on CSR KPIs.

While engaging staff is no easy task, the consensus is that it's the only way to achieve meaningful environmental and financial savings. An abstract green agenda might be a good start, but without employee involvement, the day-to-day actions simply won't happen.

Keeping communication simple

Since taking over the responsible business programme at Radisson Blu Edwardian a year and a half ago, the first thing that general manager at the group's Bloomsbury Street and Kenilworth hotels Gavin Sanders did was make sure that all communication about the scheme was easy to understand. "Previously, employees didn't understand the jargon," he explains.

One way the scheme was simplified was by dividing it up into 11 areas of focus, which include zero waste, responsible procurement, responsible food and beverage and clean energy management.

Sanders also introduced mandatory CSR training for every employee as well as monthly meetings, which are attended by a representative of every hotel as well as the CEO. "If you don't go to the meeting the CEO knows you're not there and this commitment from the highest level really helps," he notes.

Measurement has become a much greater focus at the group too. "It became apparent that we weren't measuring everything we should be measuring," Sanders says. For the last 12 months, the team has used Considerate Hoteliers' Con-Serve system and has already seen great results.

One hotel, Radisson Blu Edwardian New Providence Wharf in east London, decided to implement a number of new initiatives, including switching off underfloor heating in the lobby, switching off guest room heating from 9am to 6pm and trialling low energy LED lighting in meeting rooms. Within 26 days, the team had saved £2,714.93 on gas and within 37 days, they'd saved £1,817.41 on electricity. "It's a lovely example of taking action and getting everyone involved, which led to big savings for the company," Sanders says.

Taking an island approach at Fairmont St Andrews

At Fairmont St Andrews, which is set on a peninsula and features two golf courses, the team naturally takes an island resort approach to sustainability, with staff members at its core.

At monthly meetings of the hotel's green team, for example, every department is represented and given their own goals. It's an initiative general manager John Keating introduced around 12 months ago when he started and has found to be extremely popular. "Young employees today are much more aware of their responsibility when it comes to the environment, so it's been easy during the induction process to bring them into the green team from day one."

Since Keating started, huge progress has been made on the sustainability front. "We got rid of paper cups in the staff canteen, which probably cost about £5,000 a year, and introduced LED lighting across the whole resort, which is saving us about £25,000 per year," Keating notes.

A car-sharing initiative has also been introduced, as well as water recycling on the golf course, which has reduced the property's reliance on its borehole by around 75%. Plus, the resort became the first in Scotland to put in a Tesla charging point this year, an idea that came from the hotel's transport manager.

"We've had a lot of ideas from the team - they're very engaged - and to ensure momentum is kept up we also report on our wins every month, for example, any reductions we have to utilities and so on," Keating notes. "You've got to keep everybody focused and you've got to communicate all the wins on a regular basis so that everybody's involved and the whole team knows exactly what's going on."

The hotel received a silver medal from Scottish Green Tourism this year, and next year they'll be going for gold.

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