Minimising your carbon footprint: Knowledge sharing and inclusion

With Make Holidays Greener month in full swing, Arnaud Herrmann, vice president of sustainable development at AccorHotels, explores the carbon reduction and employee engagement initiatives hospitality businesses should undertake to go green.

Sustainability is not an industry issue. It is a global one that touches every part of our lives.

Everyone recognises that the world is changing and the threats that we face are very real. Changing habits is no longer optional – it’s an imperative need. If we were to continue to consume the world’s resources at our current pace, we would require the equivalent of three Earths’ resources. This shift towards a greener, cleaner world is one that has been propelled by consumers demanding a more environmentally friendly world.

A survey by TripAdvisor in 2013 found that nearly two-thirds of travellers often or always consider the environment when choosing hotels, transportation and meals. This trend stretches across both leisure and business travellers. Some 47% of business travellers questioned by Timetric said it was ‘important’ for them to stay in a green-certified hotel during work trips.

So taking this all into consideration, what can we do as an industry to incorporate greener practices in our day-to-day operations in order to minimise our carbon footprint?

The first thing we need to understand and address is the simple fact that the nature of our industry means that we have a significant carbon footprint. But it also means we have access to large numbers of people, both guests and employees. At any given moment, there is roughly half a million people in Accor hotels across the world. It is our job to educate and excite them about sustainability.

Education & engagement

There are lots of different initiatives that organisations can undertake to save energy. One of the most effective initiatives we have introduced is creating a dedicated sustainability team. The team is committed to reducing the overall environmental impact from all of our hotels as well as driving the industry towards a sustainable future.

We strongly believe that sustainability can only work if we engage and educate employees, guests as well as the wider community about the importance of sustainability within the hospitality and tourism industry. This is why one of the key roles of the team is to educate our various stakeholders, both internally and externally, about the importance of environmental conservation. This is done through various training and learning schemes.

If we do not engage our stakeholders then we have no hope in being able to create change. Sustainability is not something that can be done in silos or individually, it can only successful with the contribution of guests and employees.

Clear vision

Once you have gained the support and understanding of your guests and employees then you must create a clear vision. It gives everyone a defined structure to work within as well as an end goal to work towards. In 2009, we launched our sustainable development strategy, PLANET21. We made 21 commitments under an umbrella of seven pillars – health, nature, carbon, innovation, local, employment and dialogue.

For each of these pillars, we have set specific targets. This clear structure provides clarity across the business of what we are hoping to achieve and more importantly, how. It also allows you to demonstrate and benchmark your achievements. In doing this, it allows you to show your guests and employees the difference their actions are making.

Be transparent in your results, whether they are successes or failures. Use both to motivate your guests and employees to do more. When it comes to sustainability, we can always do more.

Do what makes sense…

At AccorHotels we know that our water and electricity footprint is akin to a city with one million inhabitants. We all know the hotel industry is very water-intensive… and food and beverage represents about 30% of Accor’s turnover. With this in mind, it makes sense for our business and those in hospitality to support local projects committed to sustainable water and agriculture.

For example in 2008 we launched our global reforestation programme, Plant for the Planet, which gives back to local communities through job creation and improving agricultural conditions. The energy savings made from the reduction in laundry washing has financed the planting of nearly four million trees – approximately 2,000 a day. In the UK, 72% of our hotels take part in this program and in five years it has directly funded the planting of 247,000 trees in Romania.

A part of this program is SMART planting. Trees are planted so that they ‘work’ in the areas they are planted to deliver a range of benefits. Trees can improve productivity, reduce spending on fertilisers and make farms more resilient to extreme weather. Trees thoughtfully integrated into farms can deliver real business benefit, and enhance the environment.

We have also teamed up with Pur Project to identify the potential to bolster community groups within our supply chain. One such project in Morocco planted olive groves and helped to set up a female-run olive oil business. Traditionally, women in the region have struggled to find work. We provided funding to plant the olive trees, which are then maintained by the women of the region, who then transform the olives into olive oil. Some of the olive oil is then sold back to our hotels.

Sustainability is important but if the initiative doesn’t make sense for your business, there is the danger of not getting the buy in you need from management, employees or guests. There are lots of different things we can all do to improve the world we live. It is better to launch a few sustainability projects that will get the support they need to survive in the long-term; then lots of projects that won’t last more than six months.

How can you engage your employees?

When it comes to sustainability, we have learnt two things: knowledge sharing and inclusion are keys to success.

A simple but effective idea has been the introduction of online learning courses. The tool has two primary goals: raise awareness on the impact of sustainability in the hospitality industry as well as to train our employees on daily best practices. To date, we have trained 16,000 employees through this initiative. It has also improved the environmental and societal awareness and performance level of all our hotels.

Never underestimate the power of collaboration. ‘PLANET 21 research’ is our sustainable development platform, that is free to access and available to all in the hospitality industry. We regularly update this platform with the results of new surveys, research or case studies of good practices, in order to improve the integration of sustainable development in the hotels across the industry.  

In smaller organisations it may be harder to roll out these types of initiatives due to resource and investment, however you could hold regular ‘town hall meetings’. Gathering the business together to update and discuss the latest sustainability developments.

As an industry, we have the power to reach millions of people and create change. We must educate people about the small changes they can make to contribute to a greener, cleaner future.

Make Holidays Greener is a campaign owned and managed by the Travel Foundation. For more information, click here.

Arnaud Herrmann, vice president of sustainable development, AccorHotels

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie