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Towards an industry that is 100% sustainable

It is now necessary for new constructions to adopt the technological advances in sustainable development, and that environmental efforts be undertaken in hotel management. Other than labels and other environmental certifications, a great number of hotel groups and integrated brands now offer their own green measures. However, the proliferation of public and private labels could become confusing to both consumers and hoteliers.

While hoteliers have been aware of the importance of having a sustainable growth approach within their companies for several years now, the phenomenon is just gaining ground today. In addition to the environmental issues that are applicable to all populations, sustainable strategies have a direct impact on the operations of a property, particularly where costs are concerned. Results from a study addressing French professionals by Hospitality ON, with Olakala, show that reducing costs constitutes their primary expectation within their sustainable approach. Two other perspectives were also expressed by respondents: increased appeal for current guests and attraction for new customers. The international barometer regarding hospitality customer expectations in terms of sustainable growth, realized by the Accor group, shows that these expectations are in line with market trends. Results of the study show that nearly 8 out of 10 clients (76%) are influenced by the concept of sustainable growth, that one out of two (51%) often look at a property’s sustainability when they are booking their stay, but above all that 66% of consumers say they will pay more for a hotel that is responsible. Beyond geographic, cultural or economic differences, the group sees a global convergence of customer expectations regarding the concrete, daily subjects of sustainable growth, whether it is water, energy or waste. “Sustainable growth is very important. Of course it leads to additional costs. There are some additional costs involved, however; the consumer expects an organization to approach their business in a sustainable way. More and more travelers and organizations are asking for evidence of our commitment to sustainable practices before securing a contract,” explains Alex Rawson, Vice President Talent Development, Mövenpick.

“We can no longer say that sustainable growth is just a fashionable subject. For national and international tourists, recycling, sorting, saving water, eating greener... are all ecological efforts that have become commonplace and not so demanding. Younger generations have fully appropriated them since they are growing up within a natural approach. Hoteliers and operators of accommodations thus have every reason to invest in sustainable growth by adopting approaches that accompany their specificity: nature and degree of engagement, commercial visibility, cost, return on investment,” declared Christian Mantei, general manager of Atout France, in an interview with Hospitality On. According to the results from Hospitality ON’s study, most hoteliers that invested in the hotel industry in 2013 did so to obtain certification, such as ISO 14001, European Ecolabel certification, and as well as certification from the chain or group they belong to. Among the major works undertaken may be found insulation of properties and control of water and energy consumption, personnel training and raising customer awareness, as well as the use of special maintenance products that respect the environment and the implementation of recycling procedures.

Construction, a first project toward sustainability

Sustainability in the hotel industry is applicable from the laying of the first stone at a property. The number of green buildings is growing as the fleet of commercial accommodations grows and is renovated.  Each property follows the sustainable growth certification regulations applicable at its location, Greenbuilding in the Anglo-Saxon countries (United States, Canada and the United Kingdom), Oekibau in Germany and Switzerland, and Haute Qualité Environnementale (HQE) in France.

Having emerged at the beginning of the 1990s, the concept of high environmental quality has been extensively developed in France since then, particularly in the hotel industry. It is neither a regulation nor a label, but rather a voluntary approach for managing the environmental quality of operations in the construction or renovation of buildings, which relies on a multifaceted approach based on three inseparable aspects: an environmental management system of operations in which the contractor sets goals for the operation and specifies the role of the different players; fourteen targets that make it possible to structure the technical, architectural and economic response to the contractor’s goals; and performance indicators. For an even more responsible approach, a new version of the HQE approach was created under the name of THQE, for Très Haute Qualité Environnementale. While HQE targets energy consumption of 75kWh/m2/ year, THQE demands maximum consumption of 50kWh/m2/year. While the HQE standard remained symbolic in the hotel industry until the 21st century, particularly due to the additional costs it generates with respect to classic construction (around 15%), it has now become the standard and was adopted by most sector promoters-developers.

The trend is now to build the building that is the most respectful of the environment and future generations. Radisson Blu, of the Rezidor group, thus claims the title of most economic building in the world with its hotel Radisson Blu Waterfront Stockolm & Congress Center. With an efficient energy solution, it is in fact able to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions and use 50% less energy than allowed by sustainable construction standards. In another way, the Hôtel de Balnéo Ribeauvillé by the Groupe Lucien Barrière is the very first hotel property in Europe to be entirely naturally heated thanks to the use of biogas from agro-food waste supplied through a partnership with the company Agrivalor. Finally, the City of Paris recently communicated on the development, with the Fédération Unie des Auberges de Jeunesse (FUAJ), of a youth hostel that is 100% sustainable. Called FUAJ Paris-Pajol, the property offers accommodations that respect the principles of the Haute Qualité Environnementale standard and is labeled Bâtiment Basse Consommation. Installations in the 4,400 m2 of the property make it possible to cover the hostel’s needs in terms of hot water and to suppress the near-totality of its heating needs when it is occupied.

When management becomes sustainable

Beyond construction, sustainable growth is also reflected in hotel management. For professionals it is thus a matter of adopting a behavior that takes into consideration environmental respect and consideration for local populations in a property’s operations, for the present and future wellbeing of all. Concretely, responsible management is thus the result of a hotel’s capacity to save energy, reduce waste, recycle and contribute to the local economy. In order to do so, several action levers are available to hoteliers: training staff, raising customer awareness, room maintenance, and adoption of reflexes that respect the environment. In order to be guided and to organize their efforts systematically, many of are seeking certification. But choosing the label can prove to be difficult with the proliferation of certifications that attest to production procedures that respect the environment, use of recyclable materials, or even unified salary management. There are a dozen or so labels in France and forty or so in Europe. Christian Mantéi, general manager of Atout France, nonetheless puts the risk of confusion into perspective and warns about the importance of the choice: “When they are well valorized and promoted, labels and certifications can constitute commercial levers to seduce and convince a very sensitive public or one that is becoming sensitive! But make no mistake, ‘doing good and being fully invested’ is indispensable to making it known! And not the inverse.... All the more so since a new dimension has been added to all these questions, the impact of social networks that very quickly thwart any efforts or ecology label that remains but a name if it has no follow-up requirements.” Among the primary labels present internationally, we see the EU Ecolabel. In existence since 1992, it is appreciated by hoteliers as the only official European ecology label that may be used in all member countries in the European Union. In France, the EU Ecolabel is delivered by Afnor Certification and specifically takes into consideration the environmental impact of the entire life cycle of products, integrating criteria that are outside the standardized technical specifications to facilitate exchanges. In 2012, close to 180,000 hotels received EU Ecolabel certification, including 55 of 315 French properties in the group Best Western.  “By using one of the most demanding certification programs, controlled by an independent body recognized by the government, we are able to guarantee our customers that our properties respect the environment. Best Western has a team of two people available to its hotels to assist them in achieving certification, and to help them through the bi-annual audit,” explains the hotel group. Specific goals of the program are 50% reduction of energy consumption, water savings, waste reduction, and training of staff to adopt responsible habits.

Internationally, GreenGlobe is another sustainable growth management system, designed in 1993 in the United Kingdom for the tourism and travel industry. Its members must be able to save water and energy resources, reduce operating costs, positively contribute to local communities and their environment, while favorably meeting the needs of both leisure and business travelers. Several hotel groups elected this green certification, such as Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts. “We decided to implement the Green Globe certification process on a global level for all our hotels,” declares Alex Rawson, Vice President Talent Development at the group, who goes on to explain, “Green Globe is based on three pillars which are important for us: Environmental Responsibility, Social Responsibility, and Employee Responsibility. The certification process and the use of some sustainable products helps us demonstrate and communicate our sustainable approach to business. Green Globe is now also extending the certification process to the meetings and incentive segment with its own website. This is a commercially very important segment and will support sales objectives, having this credible recognition one day for all hotels as well. Our claim is a “sustainable balance” between the environmental, employer and social arenas. “Environmental corresponds to the number of “green” and organic products introduced, to the reduction of water consumption in liters per guest night. Energy saving in kWh per guest night.  CO2 reduction in kg per guest night. Employer includes the degree of diversity. For example the number of learning and development opportunities provided; the amount of training hours per employee, and the number of team members participating in sustainability training. Reduction of accidents in the workplace. Hiring locally in the different countries, and promoting ‘from within’. Finally, social responsibility is represented by the amount of money raised or volunteer hours worked for social initiatives.”

Once a part of GreenGlobe, EarthCheck is now another independent label managed by Sustainable Tourism Cooperative Research Center. In 2012, the number of companies that had adopted the EarthCheck program exceeded the 1,300 businesses in 70 countries on the five continents, including big international hotel names such as Accor, IHG, Taj Hotels, Sandals and Banyan Tree.

Green Key is another environmental label favored by hoteliers, and it is one of the first to be competent internationally in terms of tourist accommodations and catering. Created in Denmark in 1994, today it includes more than 1,900 certified properties in 36 countries on five continents, more than 650 of which are on French territory. Granted for a three-year period, it involves a long certification process that includes an audit and decision by jury.
In the long list of green labels available internationally, there is also ISO 14001 certification, managed by the worldwide federation of national standards bodies that includes close to 140 countries, ISO. It provides a framework that defines the rules for making environmental concerns an integral part of an organization’s activities in order to control environmental impact, and thus reconcile the imperatives of operations, its functioning and environmental respect; it concerns the environmental aspects related to interactions between businesses, products and services and the environmental components. ISO 14001 certification was elected by the Groupe Lucien Barrière Hôtels & Casinos for its 60 properties, and the involvement of its 7,000 collaborators in problems related to environmental respect. The goals of the group are built around three commitments: reduce water and energy consumption by 10%, sort 100% of dangerous waste and reduce paper consumption by 10%. They also include social priorities: accompany and prevent risky situations connected to gaming by reinforcing its Responsible Gaming commitment, continue and spread its Handicap Group agreement, for the integration, accompaniment and flourishing of its personnel with disabilities, and integrate an action plan focused on “work-related difficulties” for all jobs in the Group. Since the program was implemented Lucien Barrière has, in particular, been able to save more than 18 million kWh/year, 32 tons of paper, and 100% of its properties sort toxic waste.

Nordic Eco-label or Nordic Swan, meanwhile, has been the official eco-label of Nordic countries since 1989. It offers an environmental labelling scheme that would contribute to a sustainable consumption. It is a voluntary, positive Eco-labelling of products and services. It also acts as a practical tool for consumers to help them actively choose environmentally-sound products. The Nordic Swan is awarded to eco-responsible products and services for a 3-year renewable period.
The list of environmental certifications and labels is long and includes many local and international names, to the point of risking confusion for professionals and consumers alike. Hoteliers therefore must be vigilant when they seek certification for their properties. “While I don’t believe labels are confusing for hotels, however, organizations must nonetheless do their research on what labels are available before embarking on a partnership and they must be sure to be consistent in their communication with customers. Otherwise, the customer will be confused,” says Alex Rawson, vice president Talent Development, Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts.  

“It must be outlined that a label refers first and foremost to a qualitative approach that not all operators can claim. The label must be earned through action. A label creates added value and offers consumers a level of confidence. Moreover, it is certain that there are "engines", labels that have attained a unique dimension due to their notoriety or attribution process such as that of " Unesco World Heritage", "Grands Sites de France" or the " Blue Flag" for beaches. When it comes to potential confusion, I have already noticed a first difficulty between labels and brands: Relais & Châteaux, Leading Hotels of the World, Gîtes de France, to cite just a few, are all brands that have a qualitative and even Environmental dimension for some, but they do not correspond to the strict criteria of a label, or certification. Alongside the word ‘label’ there must be specifications, an attribution procedure, a control mechanism and the risk of losing the label. That is what gives it its value. And yet, to the best of my knowledge, proliferation does not necessarily affect the quality of each. On the other hand, from a marketing standpoint, too many labels obscures consumer understanding. The analytic work , carried out by Atout France, provides informative elements about each existing label so that an operator may choose the focus and approach of the one that best fits the property’s commercial expectations and goals,” explained Christian Mantei, general manager Atout France, in an interview with Hospitality ON.

Hotel groups get involved

In addition to the official labels, some hotel groups and corporate chains have implemented their own internal environmental efforts. In addition to attesting to the importance given over to sustainable growth issues, they have the advantage of being applicable in absolutely all the countries where the groups are present, without any boundary restrictions. In 2012, the Accor group thus adopted a new sustainable growth strategy called Planet 21. It establishes 21 promises and goals built around seven pillars that must be implemented and respected in the group’s hotels by the year 2015: health, nature, the carbon imprint, innovation, local development, employment and dialogue. The new strategy also includes the unfurling of an information program to mobilize clients and collaborators in order to reinvent the hotel industry in a sustainable manner, including an e-learning program created by and for hoteliers that has already made it possible to train more than 16,000 collaborators, including 5,000 in France. One year after the launch of Planet 21, more than 60% of the chain’s hotels reached one of the levels defined by the program that enable tracking and steering of sustainable growth performance: 30% of properties had implemented ten actions required to meet the bronze performance level, 24% implemented 20 actions required for the silver status, 6% implemented 30 actions to achieve gold status, and 0.6 implemented 40 actions to achieve platinum status. These standards guarantee that the hotel has implemented several actions for sustainable growth, such as tracking and analysis of water and energy consumptions, use of ecological maintenance products, water-flow regulators as well as energy saving light bulbs, the inclusion of balanced dishes on the menu, and the fight against child sex tourism.

Another major actor in the responsible hotel segment, the Rezidor group is fully committed to sustainable growth. “I believe that sustainable growth should not be a priority only for ourselves but also for all players in the hotel industry. We are determined to play our role as a responsible company around several components: implication on the local market, by being active in the communities of countries where we are located; environmental protection and sustainability, preservation of our planet’s resources for future generations; and energy savings, for which we have a leading program called ‘Save the Planet’, which aims at 25% energy savings in five years. For five years we have been among the 100 most ethical companies in the world and we have a precise roadmap to follow in the next few years,” declared Wolfgang M. Neumann, President and CEO of The Rezidor Hotel Group, in an interview with Hospitality ON.
Launched in January 2012, the Think Planet program by Carlson Rezidor was designed to allow the group to reduce its energy consumption by 25% in five years. This new strategy is built around five pillars: Think Planet Habits focuses on creating smart energy saving habits; Think Planet Tools, offers a series of easy to install tools to reduce consumption in hotels, such as motion detectors for light; Think Planet Lighting, for installing LED lighting throughout properties; Think Planet Investments, to deploy innovative technology promoting energy savings in terms of heating, ventilation and air conditioning; Think Planet Standard, which includes standards that must be respected at all new constructions. Close to two years after its launch, the program has made it possible to reduce energy consumption by 7.6 % per occupied room at the 250 hotels in Europe, Africa and the Middle East, and 23 of the group’s properties that have already succeeded in achieving the goal of 25% reduced consumption.

Through its Green Engage program, IHG is also implicated in sustainable growth and has dedicated itself to two key goals to be accomplished by 2017: reduce the carbon footprint and water consumption per occupied room at all its properties by 12%. To do so, the hotel group implemented an online platform in order to advise its hoteliers regarding different ways to preserve natural resources, save energy and thus money, and offer reports on their consumption and help them implement plans of action. For the time being, the hotel group is on its way to meeting its goals, having already reduced energy consumption by 11.7%, made 50% of its hotels adopt its program and reduced its carbon footprint per occupied room at its owned and managed properties by 19%.

Developing social responsability

In recent years, social responsibility has become an unavoidable element in sustainable growth within dedicated corporate programs, particularly in the hotel industry. Thus, hotel groups are more attentive to the social, environmental and cultural aspects of sustainable growth and are taking appropriate measures. The involvement of local populations in hotel operations is part of this, and is intended to allow communities to benefit from the hotels’ activity. Several means are used: hiring members of indigenous communities, training local populations, using local suppliers for products needed for hotel operations. Nonetheless, some hoteliers left the beaten tracks to implement innovative programs whose key words are solidarity and responsibility.

The InterContinental group recently won the award for Best social responsibility initiative, at the last Worldwide Hospitality Awards Ceremony, for its “Shelter in a Storm program”. Created to help populations suffering from natural disasters, it relies on the IHG Shelter Fund, which is built up by fundraising activities within the group’s hotels and corporate offices, and used to send emergency supplies and provide accommodations for victims. IHG has also entered a global partnership with one of the international rescue leaders, CARE, which makes it possible to react more quickly in the event of disaster and to dispatch necessary supplies as quickly as possible. Until today the hotel group has been able to collect more than 1.7 million dollars and give more than 1.2 million dollars to people in need, particularly after Typhoon Haiyan tore through the Philippines.

With its Room to Rebuild program, Choice Hotels partners with the organization Rebuilding Together to rehabilitate properties and revitalize local communities. It makes it possible for partners and franchisees of the hotel group to unite their efforts with those of professionals to create the best conditions for accommodations, by helping households with small revenues make essential repairs to their homes, doing works to improve accessibility and energy efficiency, at no cost to the owner or renter. To this day the hotel group has realized more than 60 projects estimated at close to 4 million dollars, with 6,000 volunteers to help close to 85,000 people. Choice also involves its guests in the program by allowing them, through their Choice Privileges points to make donations to the association Rebuilding Together.

Whether it concerns energy savings, social responsibility or recycling, sustainable growth reaches all areas of the hotel industry and continues to grow and develop its structure each year. While everyone is adopting their own admirable green approach, efforts nonetheless remain to be made to simplify, clarify and generalize certification procedures and international objectives.

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