Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Going Green in Lantau Part Two

Accor’s PLANET 21 initiative was launched last year and promised to reinvent the hotels of the future as “a hotel industry that is sustainable, responsible, innovative and open to the world.” In the last issue of Life On Lantau we looked at the initiative's lofty goals. In a follow-up to that article I talked to Chris Messer, Accor’s Asia Pacific sustainable development and public relations manager, and Nicholas Cullum, the general manager of the Novotel Citygate Hong Kong.

Life on Lantau (LOL): Overall how do you think PLANET 21 has gone?
Chris Messer (CM): A year into the program, we have seen a positive impact of PLANET 21 on our sustainable development performance and growing involvement by our hoteliers. One way of measuring progress is to look at the number of actions our hotels are implementing. To be considered a PLANET 21 compliant hotel, a property must qualify for PLANET 21 Bronze by completing 10 basic actions, such as installing low-flow water regulators and energy efficient lighting, offering healthy meal options, implementing recycling programs and using eco-labeled cleaning products. These actions tend to have the biggest immediate impact in terms of reducing consumption, or are the ones our guests have indicated they care about the most. (Hotels can progress to Silver, Gold and Platinum status as they complete additional actions). Before the program’s launch in early 2012, 24 per cent of hotels worldwide performed at PLANET 21 Bronze, which has increased to over 60 per cent today.

LOL: Can you give us an overview of the 21 goals you set for yourself for 2015 and how you are doing in terms of reaching those goals?
Nicholas Cullum (NC): The 21 commitments are centered around seven pillars, each pillar features three commitments. The seven pillars are: health, nature, carbon, innovation, local, employment and dialogue.
Examples of the implementation of some of these policies locally are:

  • Novotel Citygate offers Planet 21 meals on our menu’s that offer guests a healthy choice.
  • Use of motion sensors in public bathrooms, reduces water waste and reduces risk of spreading some diseases.
  • Recyclable bins in guest rooms; 2 bins in each guest room asking guests to separate recyclable and non recyclable items.
  • Use of eco-friendly cleaning products.
  • Water flow regulators are installed on all taps in front and back of house and all guest rooms.
  • Waste food is collected every day and recycled into animal food by external company.
  • Guest discarded soaps are collected for recycling.
  • Glass, paper and plastics sorted and collected for recycling.
  • Timers for reducing electricity use, wide use of LED lighting throughout.
  • Preventative maintenance of equipment ensuring optimum settings and productivity of air conditioning systems, pumps, water systems, air handling units etc.
  • Monitoring of energy usage.
  • No use of CFC in refrigerators or technical installations. 
  • Source and use of eco-friendly packaging throughout the hotel, containers and amenities.
  • Use of heat pump for water heating and use.
  • Promote local food products, purchasing milk from Trappist Monastery in Lantau.
  • Ban endangered seafood species from our restaurants.
  • Work together with local welfare agencies in supporting the local community.
  • Internal promotion and participation in Accor development, retaining and development programs.
  • Work with local community in Job Fairs and support of local talent.
  • Provide an equal opportunity workplace, encouraging diversity and empowerment among employees.
  • Encourage healthy work – life balance; offer activities outside of work such as team sports, tree planting, and beach cleaning activities.
  • Follow strict procedures for internal and external processors; external and internal audits from finance, hygiene to meeting Novotel brand standards.

From a hotel's’ individual perspective, 65 measurable and specific objectives have been identified within these 21 commitments to achieve by 2015. As an indication of meeting these objectives, Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum certification of Planet 21 is awarded to the individual hotel as they progressively achieve the objectives. Novotel Citygate is on track to achieve Platinum status by 2015.

LOL: How has Hong Kong performed in terms of meeting targets compared to other locations?
CM: Our five properties in Hong Kong are leaders in sustainability within Accor. Today, all five properties perform at PLANET 21 Bronze or higher, compared to a global average of 60 per cent. The Novotel properties have all achieved an environmental management certification and will be ISO 14001 certified by the end of this year. [The ISO (International Organization for Standardization) 14000 is a family of certifications that address various aspects of environmental management. ISO 14001:2004 focuses on environmental management systems].

NC: [While] all the hotels in Hong Kong are on track to have met all the Planet 21 objectives by 2015, different regions face different challenges. We are lucky in Hong Kong to have a good sense and understanding of environmental concerns and being the international city we are have an expectation from our international clientele to by committed and offer to such programs.

LOL: Can you tell us some of the major difficulties you have faced since implementing PLANET 21?
NC: Obviously depending on what is required to be changed can influence the level of challenge it may bring; but generally the challenge involves changing behaviour, which to me is all about communication and training; whether that is for our staff or guests or both. Changing equipment is generally easy, [it’s] mostly about ensuring the change in equipment or technology does not impact in a negative way on the guest’s experience or stay. From an owner's point of view, new technologies may involve capital costs but prove to be cost effective and offer savings in the long term.

LOL: How are you doing with actively engaging hotel owners to bring more franchised and managed hotels into the PLANET 21 program?
CM: Our hotel owners are increasingly seeing the benefits of operating more sustainably, both in terms of cost savings (e.g. reduced water, energy use) and as a driver of business. (Over two thirds of our corporate and leisure guests have indicated they consider a hotel’s sustainability as a factor in making hotel bookings or choosing a venue.

LOL: Do you hope that PLANET 21 will help Accor break into lists like Newsweek's environmental ranking of the biggest companies in developed and emerging world markets? Marriott International came third in the hotels and restaurants category in 2012, but with Accor being the world’s leading hotel operator and market leader in Europe, there is some catching up to do. How far away from companies like Marriott do you think you are?
CM: I can’t make a comparison with our competitors, but Accor is a leader in this area, with over two decades of commitments to operating more environmentally and socially responsibly. We were the first hotel company to set up a department charged with mitigating our hotels’ impact on the environment back in 1994. In 2001, we became the first hotel operator to sign the ECPAT Code of Conduct to take a stand against child prostitution and sex tourism. In 2006, we launched Earth Guest, our first comprehensive sustainability strategy, combining both environmental and social commitments. And we have been recognized for these efforts. We are the only international hotel company to be represented on four sustainable investment indices (FTSE4Good, Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes, Ethibel Sustainability Index and Vigeo’s ASPI Eurozone). While we have been recognized with awards such as the Conde Nast Traveler's World Savers Awards, our sustainable development programs in the past have been largely internally focused.

One of the key differences between our previous initiatives and PLANET 21 is just this: increased engagement with guests, business partners, communities, media, etc. We believe that we need to share what we’re doing, not just to gain recognition, but also because we believe that sharing our best practices will inspire others.

Comments are more than welcome below.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Going Green in Lantau

This article first appeared in the June / July 2013 issue of Life On Lantau magazine.

As perhaps the world’s biggest cynic, I am the last person to give undeserved credit to a corporate giant. But it is these giants that will probably make the biggest impact when it comes to being green, even if it is solely because their operations are so huge.
As much as we hope that not using the complimentary toothbrush or toiletries in a hotel or having a coffee from Starbucks in a mug instead of a paper or plastic cup will have a positive effect on the environment, it will be policy changes from these business behemoths that will effect significant changes. 

Accor are the world's leading hotel operator and market leader in Europe. They are present in 92 countries with more than 3,500 hotels and 450,000 rooms. They also have more than 160,000 employees. Some very simple number crunching tells you straight away just how much of an impact a tiny policy change from such a ubiquitous brand could make. So perhaps it is here the battle for a greener, cleaner planet should be fought. Imagine a policy that would affect nearly half a million rooms around the world?

Accor have been making changes. Are they making these changes solely to make the world a better place? Of course not. But that’s OK. They are after all a business and only fantasists think they should do things without considering the bottom line. But, they can make changes and keep the bottom line intact, and that is what many companies are doing. And the good news is that when companies like Accor do it others will follow.

The deal is that they do something good for the environment and we tell them they are doing a good job. The environment gets a boost and tree huggers everywhere breathe a slightly fresher sigh of relief and are given the succor to fight another day.

PLANET 21 is Accor's plan to reinvent sustainability in the hotel trade. According to a press release: “PLANET 21 is a comprehensive sustainable development program that forms a core part of our business strategy and further involves all hotels, employees and guests.”

So far so good

Enacted last year, the scheme covers all of the group’s environmental, social and community investment actions by placing sustainability at the core of its business strategy worldwide. The company has made 21 commitments and the same number of goals to be attained by 2015 including: 85 per cent of hotels using eco-labelled products, a 15 per cent reduction in water consumption and a 10 per cent decrease in energy use. Now a 10 per cent decrease may not seem like a lot, and indeed there is surely room for improvement, but consider the power usage of such a global chain.

“The name PLANET 21 is a direct reference to Agenda 21, the environmental action plan signed by 173 heads of state at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit,” the report goes on to say. “And reminds us of the urgent concerns that face our planet in the 21st century and the need to change our methods of production and consumption patterns to ensure the sustainability of the planet.”

Denis Hennequin, then-chairman of Accor, outlined at the time the programme was rolled out a fairly honest vision when he said “I am convinced that sustainable development will lead us towards a new business model. PLANET 21 will provide a fantastic driver of competitiveness for our brands, attractiveness for our customers and partners and loyalty for our employees."

Lofty goals

Accor will actively engage its hotel owners to bring more franchised and managed hotels into the PLANET 21 program, improving their sustainability performance and developing buildings that are constructed and operated in accordance with internationally recognised sustainability best practice. Accor will also share its commitments with suppliers, working with them to develop more sustainable products and services.

Again, credit where it is due. For a company this size to undertake an initiative this size takes time and money. And big companies do not like to waste money. According to the press release Accor commissioned two international surveys to obtain objective information about its footprint and guest expectations. In 2011 they carried out a study of its environmental footprint that enabled it to measure accurately its main impacts, define priorities for action and identify new challenges. This work was preceded by a survey measuring the expectations of international hotel customers, which showed that sustainable development is a growing selection criterion for both leisure and business customers. According to this survey, for example, 67 per cent of leisure guests take sustainable development actions into account when choosing a hotel.

Other hotel chains that have made commitments include the Marriott group who aim to further reduce energy and water consumption by 25 percent per available room by 2017. They claim to be on target to reach that goal.

In fact pretty much every international chain has made some kind of commitment to environmental change.

Newsweek’s fourth annual environmental ranking of the 500 largest publicly traded companies in the world claims to cut through the green chatter and compare the actual environmental footprints, management (policies, programs, initiatives, controversies), and reporting practices of big companies. Accor, who have five hotels in Hong Kong including Novotel Citygate in Tung Chung, didn’t appear on the 2012 list.

Starbucks came in first in the hotels and restaurants category (169 overall), followed by Las Vegas Sands (239 overall) and Marriott international (273 overall).

In the next issue Life on Lantau will speak to Accor and see how they have fared against since the inception of PLANET 21, which can be found here from July 31.

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