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Debra Patterson

Debra Patterson The Savoy [1]

Debra Patterson

As we reported in December, The Savoy London [2]– part of Fairmont Hotels & Resorts – was recognised many times in 2013 for its efforts in sustainability.

As well as being named Green Hotel of the Year at the Hotel Cateys, the hotel was awarded Virtuoso Best of the Best for Sustainable Tourism Leadership; Green Hotel of the Year at the European Hospitality Awards and Considerate Green Team of the Year at the Considerate Hoteliers Awards.

The awards are the result of determined efforts by the hotel’s sustainability team led by Sustainability Manager Debra Patterson. In 2010, The Savoy reopened after what was considered the most ambitious hotel restoration in British history, encompassing the whole building.  Their aim was to be not only the most luxurious five-star hotel in London but also the most environmentally responsible, with over £2.4 million invested in high efficiency sustainable technologies.

Debra’s commitment to the challenge has clearly paid off. Green Hotelier interviewed her for her industry leading views on the current challenges hoteliers face when furthering their green initiatives.

GH: What trends and changes in sustainability have you noticed since you first began working in the field?

DP: I would suggest the evolution from a purely environmental focus to a sustainability one.  Fairmont’s environmental programme [3]evolved from Green Partnership to our Sustainability Partnership programme.  This is true with many other companies, in that when deciding to address their operational impacts they consider not only how it relates to the environment, but also to social and economic impacts.  So the evolution has encouraged companies to redefine their goals and strategic plans to integrate sustainability.

The ability for organisations to report and demonstrate transparency has also become a norm. Fairmont in the past produced internal reports on environmental indicators under its Environmental Hotel of the Year programme. As the programme has evolved, our properties now report on sustainability indicators under our new Sustainable Hotel of the Year programme within our global data management system [4].

Hotels have the ability to communicate and educate their guests about sustainability through their initiatives and through the hotel connecting to the local community.

GH: How successful has the hospitality sector been in raising the profile of sustainability over the years – both within the industry and with customers?

DP: Within the travel and tourism industry, hotels have increasingly put forth support and demonstrated over the years a coordinated effort on sustainability. A great example of this is through the International Tourism Partnership [5]which many hospitality brands belong to. A coordinated effort to measure carbon emissions resulted in the development of the Hotel Carbon Measurement Initiative [6], which has now become the industry standard practice for measuring carbon.

Our guests continue to become increasingly aware and continue to expect us to go beyond the minimal standards to a more demanding integration of offerings. Hotels have the ability to communicate and educate their guests about sustainability through the many initiatives they have in place and through the hotel connecting to the local community.  Through authentic experiences, guests learn about the destination, its history and culture, making the integration of sustainability a natural characteristic. For example The Savoy’s Concierge and Green Butler [7]service provide our guests with an interesting insight into the less well-trodden areas of London to visit, including green places of interest such as ethical trading shops, local artisans outlets, top organic restaurants, sustainable walks, outdoor activities, heritage sites, nature walks, cycle and jogging routes and so on; to give our eco-conscious guests a truly local and authentic experience.  Our seafood restaurant, Kaspar’s [8]is a member of the Sustainable Restaurant Association [9]and they help us to source our fish and seafood responsibly.

GH: What are the biggest sustainability challenges facing the sector at the moment?

DP: We have come a long way within our own hospitality sector in respect of engaging stakeholders, but looking beyond that to understand from an external industry perspective what things we may need to consider that play an inherent material impact, is really the next step.

GH: What initiatives will you be looking to implement at The Savoy going forward?

DP: This subject is so dynamic and diverse that there will always be something new to look at, but certainly water and cooling will feature strongly on the agenda for the future.

GH: Which initiatives do you think have had the biggest sustainability impact at The Savoy?

DP: Introducing low energy, high efficiency technologies and our lighting retrofit have significantly reduced our energy consumption. But to single out one initiative that has certainly been very successful for us and is a hot agenda topic right now, I would say our partnership with PDM Group [10]and ReFood UK [11]on our food waste to renewable energy scheme. We are recycling our kitchen scraps and leftover food through a combination of CHP and Anaerobic Digestion processes; a sustainable solution which is an integral part of our carbon reduction strategy.  When you consider that an estimated 0.6 billion tonnes of food waste is thrown away each year by the hospitality industry, this is not only hugely costly but has a major impact on the environment.  ReFood supported our objectives to divert excess food waste away from landfill providing a flexible, safe and sustainable solution.

Organisations such as WRAP UK [12]are working hard to raise awareness and in November this year The Savoy was delighted to host the launch of ReFood’s ‘VISION 2020’ programme - to achieve zero food to landfill by 2020. Its main aim is to bring about a change in government legislation to ban food waste from landfill and instead see it recycled.

Hopefully we will no longer spend time debating the reality of the situation, but now focus conversations on plans and actions.

GH: If you could change anything within the sustainability field / debate, what would it be? What change would make your life easier?

DP: Well I think as it relates to the environmental arena, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [13](IPCC) latest report disclosing that climate change is impacted by humans should make our lives easier. For the most part hopefully we will no longer be spending time debating the reality of the situation, but now rather focus conversations to plans and actions.

GH: What changes are you most proud of and why?

DP: We are challenging the perceptions of a five star, luxury, iconic hotel, forever mindful of ensuring the guest’s experience is never compromised. For The Savoy to be recognised as a leader in the field of sustainable tourism is what we are all tremendously proud of.

GH: If you could look into the future, what would you most like to see?

DP: There are a lot of great organisations out there that complete research and present “future scenarios” and that’s all very interesting and exciting, but we will stay focused on the present and continue our efforts to integrate sustainable solutions that help us to secure long-term change.

GH Is it ever difficult to convince people of the worth of what you’re doing? What’s the best way to demonstrate the value?

DP: Introducing unproven techniques or new innovative ideas takes a leap of faith, but if the reasoning behind the project is founded in common sense, responsibility towards the environment, with sound principles and a goal that can ultimately benefit some aspect of the business then its value - however small - will be recognised.  It is all about the presentation of a new idea.  It has to be well researched, offer examples of working in practice, and highlight all the benefits to the business, guests and colleagues alike as necessary.  Providing the idea can be examined from all angles and stand up to scrutiny from even the most dubious, then we should have confidence!  When you are breaking ground with nothing to compare, it is much harder to convince people of its value, but that’s what makes it all worthwhile and keeps the subject at the forefront of our minds.

GH: What advice would you give to any hotelier starting out on their own sustainability journey?

DP: You need someone to champion the cause and start to make a cultural change, with management support.  Do as much research as possible and try not to do everything all at once, just choose one or two projects and wait until they are running smoothly and can prove their worth before introducing more.  Talk to your suppliers and contractors about what you need and don’t be afraid to move around.  Keep an open mind and enjoy the creativity and long-term benefits that sustainability can bring.