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How can chain hotels address sustainability?

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Where is responsible business heading and what can smaller properties learn from global chains? Click. talks to Inge Huijbrechts, Global Senior Vice President of Responsible Business at Radisson Hotel Group to learn more
Inge Huijbrechts

Sustainability has become an integral part of running a hospitality business, with groups such as Radisson embedding responsible practises throughout its operations. But as consumers become ever-more vocal about environmental issues, are initiatives such as the elimination of plastic straws and asking guests not to replace towels everyday just “green-washing” other issues thrown up by the industry? And can a hotel company with more than 1,400 properties worldwide ever be truly sustainable?

Click.: What are some of the challenges you face in your role when it comes to responsible business?

Huijbrechts: Well I think for a start you need to be at the table when the strategy for the whole company is set…if you don’t do that, you get nowhere.

Another aspect is operational. A hotel company like Radisson’s operates in different models with a lot of hotel franchises worldwide. You have to make sure the same standards and the same level of responsible business are applied everywhere. You need to have the right rules in place and engage your teams, and keep everyone focused on responsible business whether that is community engagement or environmental activities and investment.

The third one is guest engagement; the balance between guest expectations and what we want to do from a responsible business point of view. We need to engage the people staying with us without overloading them with information.

Click.: Hotels seem to want to be more sustainable but consistency is varied. Can large hotel chains such as Radisson ever be truly green?

Huijbrechts: Becoming more and more sustainable is a process. You never have to be satisfied with where you are, there is always room for improvement. But sustainability has many forms, including those not seen by the guest.

A large part of a hotel’s carbon footprint is in its MEP (mechanical, electrical, plumping) installation. At Radisson, we wanted to reduce our average energy footprint by 25% in five years and we’ve done that, and in 10 years we have reduced our average water footprint by a third.

The latest innovations mean everything from new sources of renewable energy to improved shower technology and cleaning products that need much less water. When it comes to single use plastic bottles, for meetings and events we offer in-house filtered water and we want to make such gatherings plastic free by 2020. The mind-set is changing in places like Russia for example, but there are large parts of the globe where that [getting rid of plastic water bottles] is not possible yet because of both traveller expectations and lack of easy access to fresh water.

We try to incentivise guests to reuse towels by making a donation to international water projects if they choose not to use a new one each day. This also adds a ‘story-telling’ dimension for housekeepers. It’s a small thing but it’s helped. We have been able to fund drinking water for over 24,000 people through this project.

But I agree we need to get better at waste. It’s a difficult one to tackle in a global company; that’s not an excuse, but it is difficult.

Click.: What would be your advice to smaller hotels?

Huijbrechts: There are plenty of examples of smaller hotels that are doing fantastic work in sustainability. But what every property can do is ask itself about its existing footprint, from where they are today. Search online for hotel carbon measurement initiatives and water measurement tools, they’re freely available and they give hotels a view of where they stand and they can also benchmark themselves against other hotels.

Look at the technology that bigger players are using and then you can be bold in terms of implementation. For example, new showers that clean and filter water within the shower unit itself; to roll those out in a chain is a bit more difficult, but innovative small hotels can often pick up technology like that more easily and run with it. Smaller hotels can do things more rapidly.

Click.: What else does responsible business entail beyond sustainability?

Huijbrechts: Think people, think community, think planet. The think people side is about business ethics, career development path, welcoming guests in a safe and secure environment and focusing on having the same standards in our supply chain. With community, it’s about engaging in a meaningful way. Hotels are everywhere so we engage through charity partnerships that are in even more countries than we are. We work on youth training too and making sure people get personal and employment skills, and of course where we can, hiring such people. For the planet, it’s about reducing our footprint, when it comes to water and energy use for example.

Click.: How do you think hotel guests can be greener?

Huijbrechts: Travellers have really taken a stance on many issues – banning plastic straws is just one of them. Guests help us hoteliers become aware of changing expectations. In practical terms, travel with a reusable water bottle. Do the same with coffee cups. When it comes to transportation choices, take a train if that’s an alternative to a flight, and use public transport or bikeshare schemes. Take part in whatever initiatives hotels are offering, whether that is not getting your towel changed every day or refusing housekeeping on some days if you are a longer-term guest. Express your views to the hotel, which may be that you don’t want single-use bathroom amenities like mini shampoo bottles – the more guests express their preferences the more things will change in the industry.

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The more guests express their preferences to hotels – if they don’t want plastic straws for example - the more things will change
It’s often easier for small hotels to adopt new sustainably-focused technology than it is for large hotel chains
Becoming more sustainable is an ongoing process. Don’t ever be satisfied with where you currently are
A hotel with many franchises across the world has to make sure they are all on the same page when it comes to responsible business.