Accor unveils five-year sustainability strategy

The world's largest hotel operator today unveiled its Planet 21 initiative - setting out 21 new commitments to the environment and sustainability to be achieved by 2015.

Seven distinct areas, or ‘pillars’, are addressed in the plan, including Nature, Carbon, Innovation and Health, with three specific targets in each. These include reducing water use by 15%, expanding waste recycling to 85% of the 4,400 hotels in the group and a 10% reduction in both CO2 emissions and energy usage all by 2015.

There will be three performance tiers for the hotels in the portfolio, with the top level achieving independent environmental accreditation, the mid-level compliant with a core set of 10 objectives, including monthly energy consumption reporting, and a third tier where the greatest improvement is yet to be made. The work to be done in the UK alone is clear, with only 33 and 21 in the top two bands respectively compared with 130 in the lowest.

Globally, the objective is to have 40% of hotels independently accredited by 2015, while ensuring that 50% hit the objectives in the middle bracket. And responsibility for achieving those targets will be in the hands of every employee, supported by a comprehensive e-learning scheme. Hotel managers, for example, will be financially incentivised to hit sustainability targets, including energy reporting, as their bonuses will soon be linked to performance.

Speaking at the launch of the programme, Accor executive vice president for sustainable development and academies Sophie Flak said Planet 21, which replaces the previous Earth Guest initiative, is the latest and most far reaching iteration of a continuous improvement strategy. “Everybody says ‘we’ve been a pioneer in sustainability’,” she said. “In our case it’s true.”

However, a key difference in this latest incarnation is a focus on actively engaging guests in the journey and the ethos and communicating the group’s credentials more effectively.

Therefore, the Planet 21 initiative will be a far more visible presence in Accor hotels, with signage and labelling at key “touchpoints” with either a call to action for guests, or demonstrating where improvements have already been made. “We don’t want to guilt the guests” said Ms Flak “and we don’t want to make it boring”, nor is it an accreditation, she said, rather it’s a corporate shorthand showing that Accor has done the sustainability thinking wherever the guest comes across it.

One of the more visible, and quirky, manifestations of this will be the room key the guest receives. Accor is currently trialling the use of wooden replacements for the ubiquitous plastic card keys. If successful, these will be rolled out, said Ms Flak, despite being twice the price of their plastic counterparts.

Other work includes the acceleration of its tree planting project, which has already seen two million trees planted. To facilitate this, Accor has partnered with Pur Projet, founded by Tristan Lecomte. What’s more, planting projects will become more localised, so funds from UK operations will fund planting projects in the UK. “If we want to make a real link, it needs to be local… to reconnect the hotel with their community,” said Ms Flak. “We have a global vision and we want to make it locally relevant.”

Listen to Sustainable Business magazine’s recent podcast interview with Sophie Flak below

Will Parsons

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