How Thomas Cook is flying high with data management to drive sustainability

EXCLUSIVE: The story of sustainability at Thomas Cook is a 'complicated' one. Faced with regressing economic resources dedicated to energy management, a once bustling team of sustainability experts has been streamlined in a bid to deliver a more holistic approach and create a 'truly transparent' company.

Despite having seen the number of higher-up employees dedicated to sustainability whittled down from 25 to less than 10 in the space of two years, Thomas Cook’s group sustainability manager David Ville hasn’t cut back on his efforts to embed sustainability at the heart of the firm’s retail outlets, offices and airlines.

Speaking to edie ahead of his appearance at next month’s Energy Management Conference, Ville explained that the company is revamping offices and enhancing digital infrastructure to cope with the energy demands that come with running more than 45,000 hotels and transporting 22.3 million people on international flights.

“As a business, Thomas Cook is placing a lot more emphasis on hotels and resorts that we own and manage,” Ville said. “A lot of them are in water stressed regions so it is vital that we rollout best practice models in these areas.

“However, hotels are extremely difficult to manage. Each hotel is owned and managed by different on-site landlords and teams who don’t necessarily have the skills or experience to reduce energy consumption or manage it more efficiently. This creates a much more decentralised model which can make introducing programmes and initiatives problematic as well as influencing investment decisions.”

Hotels and offices owned by Thomas Cook have reduced their energy use by 35%; primarily through retrofitting LED lighting – an upgrade that helped 296 of the group’s hotels receive sustainability certificiations. The next wave of energy reductions, Ville says, is being introduced through a digital revamping across the estate.

Image: An excerpt from Thomas Cook’s latest sustainability report.

In order to provide Thomas Cook staff with up-to-date and relevant energy data, the group is now upgrading its website to streamline the energy and carbon reporting process and translate the findings into case studies that operators at the hotel – who may not be clued up on sustainability – can understand.

“We need to implement case studies of successful resorts to show the bottom line results of how energy management can introduce real cost savings and improvements in a way that can be better understood,” Ville said.

The website revamp – scheduled for launch at the end of May – will strip out some of the data buried in the company’s sustainability report and place it into an ‘online data repository’ that updates real-time energy use which can be used by the company when developing further strategies. Ville hopes this real-time data will highlight some impressive energy reductions once the company has switched to its main central office, currently being constructed in Peterborough.

“We’re in the process of moving into a new purpose-built office, away from a more historic office which has suffered from a lack of efficiency investment,” Ville said. “We’re anticipating substantial energy reductions through that office move alone.”

The Peterborough office will be fitted with LED lighting systems and refreshed IT components that its predecessor was sorely lacking. Improved insulation in the building will also lead to energy improvements. “I think through heating alone we’ll reduce energy consumption by well over 50%,” Ville added.

Oblige and deliver

In terms of carbon reporting, Ville recently oversaw the company’s ESOS compliance process. With a carbon-hungry airline to manage, Ville believes that ESOS will eventually prove helpful in getting companies to ‘oblige and deliver’ on energy savings.

While he held some reservations about the overlapping themes that ESOS shared with other reporting legislations, the Budget announcement to abolish the Carbon Reduction Commitment will only serve to heighten the importance of ESOS down the line.

“ESOS is dependent on your approach to sustainability and corporate thinking,” Ville said. “I can understand people who would say that it feels similar to other legislation, but going forward I think it will be useful for us to determine what our strategies will begin to look like.”

Soaring fuel use

Despite claiming that hotel management required the most work, there is little doubt in Ville’s mind that the aviation portion of the company is potentially the most damaging to the data.

With no clear, internationally defined agreement to lower emissions in the aviation sector, Thomas Cook has – perhaps unfairly – been tarred with the same brush when it comes to aviation emissions. Ville emphasised that the company operates one of the most efficient airlines in the industry – 21g of CO2 per passenger kilometre less than the five largest European Airlines.

A £100m investment has been a huge driver in this energy efficiency, but Ville realises that a lot more still needs to be done. He cited the discussions taking place to turn Europe into a single air traffic zone – a move he believes would deliver 15% reductions in fuel use.

“It would be a huge step forward but is politically very challenging,” he said. “There’s a real need for greater legislation within the sector to drive minimum standards of efficiency.”

Thomas Cook is now looking towards biofuels – with Ville’s attention drawn to the British Airways trials – as a potential to drive efficiency reductions further. However, the competitive nature of the aviation sector is apparently creating a roadblock which Thomas Cook can’t push past without collaborative help.

“There’s no reason why we wouldn’t trial biofuels if we could see evidence that it works and met the requirements that we have,” Ville said. “It is an area that we are currently looking at, but there’s always a need to collaborate and share best practice, which we don’t do very well because it’s a business critical industry with commercial information – the more knowledge sharing the better.”

David Ville at edie’s Energy Management Conference

Thomas Cook’s group sustainability manager David Ville will be speaking at edie’s Energy Management Conference at the Birmingham City Centre Holiday Inn on 20 April. Ville will explain to delegates how changing to energy-efficient LED lighting can bring about benficial energy reductions and cost savings.

The fifth annual edie Energy Management Conference is an essential one-day event for professionals who want to find innovative ways to reduce energy consumption, increase efficiency and reduce costs.

Find out more about the Conference and register to attend here.

Matt Mace

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