Turning 1,300 hotels in over 90 countries into a responsible, environmentally and socially sustainable business is a daunting task for anyone in the hospitality industry. In this interview, Inge Huijbrechts, Vice President Responsible Business of Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group, tells us why she took on the challenge, which issues she has encountered, and how with the help of the Green Key eco-label certification, the hotel group is benefiting from its commitment to sustainable tourism.
- Why Inge chose to focus her professional career on responsible business practices in hospitality;
- How her view on sustainable tourism has changed over time;
- Her priorities at Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group, regarding sustainability performance;
- The benefits of implementing ‘green’ initiatives;
- The challenges of enforcing sustainability throughout the hotel supply chain.
Inge, what brought you to leading responsible business practices in the hospitality sector?
Before joining Carlson Rezidor, I managed CSR for Toyota Motor Europe. I do believe however that a Responsible Business (RB) leader should have business experience and not be schooled in RB only. The first 10 years of my career I was in business development for large ERP and financial systems, which allowed me to understand the workings of many industries and companies.
Hospitality is a fantastic business to be in and Carlson Rezidor is a great company – with a long history and true to its values. “Yes I Can”, our service philosophy, drives all actions in our company and our teams apply the same spirit to Responsible Business
When did you first discover your passion for responsible business as focus for your work?
I was on a sailing trip around the world when I decided that I wanted to make a positive contribution through my career.
When visiting remote places and constantly being part of nature on the ocean and the beautiful places we visited, I knew there must be a way to combine international business and sustainability. That’s how I got into Responsible Business.
How has your view of sustainable tourism changed over time and now as Vice President for Responsible Business at the Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group?
Tourism is a major global industry representing 1 in every 9 jobs. It is everywhere, in cities as well as on remote islands and locations. At the same time, hotels are 24/7 operations, use a significant amount of resources (energy and water), produce waste and are large purchasers of food and drink.
Tourism is also a force for good – we recently became an ambassador for the 10 Million Better initiative by Sustainable Travel International (STI), which commits to have a positive and sustainable impact on 10 million people’s lives in 10 years.
Sustainable tourism is possible through the responsible use of resources and by providing sustainable livelihoods and job opportunities for local communities.
The major change in recent years has been the shift of focus to water sustainability and the global water scarcity crisis. We want to be a responsible water user – in the widest sense. That is why we were the first hotel company to sign the UN CEO Water Mandate in 2014.
Which people, organizations, or businesses serve you as inspiration on the sustainability “journey”?
- Unilever because their sustainability strategy is the company strategy;
- Patagonia because they innovate in their core materials;
- Companies that were created on the sustainability premise such as Pharrell William’s bionic yarn;
- Groups that lead on water stewardship, such as Nestlé, Coca Cola, AB Inbev;
- Companies that lead with innovation and redefine the business model, such as Lyf Shoes.
When did the Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group decide to focus on sustainability?
Carlson Rezidor has Scandinavian roots and was the first hotel company to publish an environmental policy in 1989. Building on that, a triple bottom line Responsible Business programme was launched in 2001 (more info in the 2014 Responsible Business/Sustainability report [pdf]).
In your role as VP Responsible Business, what are your priorities for 2015?
- Defining the Global Carlson Rezidor Responsible Business strategy;
- Think Planet Energy 25% reduction target;
- Think Planet Water 30% reduction target;
- 100% eco labelled hotels;
- Youth employment through programs such as the Youth Career Initiative;
- make Responsible Business core to our hotel brands.
Which have been the benefits of implementing these green initiatives?
We have reduced the ecological footprint of our operations, but also there is a positive impact on our bottom line (for example, we reduced our utility costs by three million Euro since last year). Staff engagement is another key benefit.
The Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group operates 1300 hotels in 90+ countries. What are the main challenges in terms of sustainability for such a large hotel group?
- Where to focus: Combining resilience to global risks and challenges with local relevance;
- We are an asset light company: Convincing developers and asset owners to build sustainable hotels;
- Implementing Responsible Business practices in the franchise community.
Which strategy do you follow where the supply chain is not sustainable?
All suppliers sign our Responsible Business Code of conduct as part of their contract. When we find issues with suppliers, we engage in a conversation with them. If no change is made, we look for alternative suppliers.
In which regions do you see most interest and momentum for sustainability?
APAC (Asia-Pacific) governments and companies are definitely putting sustainability and corporate responsibility more and more on the agenda. Singapore in particular is showing strong environmental leadership.
Your favorite tourism, travel or sustainability book?
Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate
What feedback do you get from your guests on your environmental and social initiatives?
Past data on the recognition of our environmental performance/eco-labels in the Guest satisfaction survey Medallia was good.
Corporate clients actively ask for our corporate responsibility performance in RFP’s [request for proposal] – increasingly in supplier evaluation software such as Ecovadis, where we have achieved the silver level.
We recently launched the new Radisson Blu towel reuse programme ‘Reuse and help save lives’. Both the launch and the programme are an overwhelming success.
How do you incentivize your hotel managers to lead their team in terms of sustainability?
Generally speaking, regional teams and hotel managers have Think Planet (environmental performance) in their targets. We require regular reporting and a monthly update on Think Planet performance to all areas and hotels, and to the executive committee. All employees are trained on Responsible Business (classroom training).
Think Planet’s mascot LUMI the firefly, engages our teams in Think Planet. LUMI features in training movies, and we run an employee engagement campaign with LUMI each year (Lumiquiz, Lumitips, Lumi on Tour and this year’s Lumitalks).
3 bits of advice for hotels eager to become more sustainable?
Meter and monitor: if you do not know what resources you are consuming or how much general and food waste you are producing, you cannot improve.
Get an eco-label such as Green Key: the Green Key criteria help your hotel advance as a sustainable performer and the label resonates with business and individual clients.
Involve employees through a group training that is relevant for them, their jobs and their lives at home.
Thank you, Inge.
Connect with Inge Huijbrechts on LinkedIn.
This interview was facilitated by Green Key International, whose certification supports Carlson Rezidor hotels in achieving their ambitious sustainability objectives.
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