In our new Best Practice Case Study, Paul Briggs, Sustainability Manager Schwartz Family Company which owns the Fairmont Resort Leura in Australia’s Blue Mountains describes the efforts the company took to renovate a failing property and create a standout environmental programme.
Can you take us on your hotel or resort’s sustainability journey? When did it begin? Where are you now?
The Fairmont Resort Leura has been a leading hotel in the Blue Mountains for almost 30 years, but following a change of ownership of the hotel a decade ago, it experienced a major decline in standards, to the point where the hotel lost virtually all of its business. This led to serious neglect in maintenance and upkeep of the property. Schwartz Family Company purchased the Fairmont Resort Leura in 2010, with the aim of returning the hotel to its glory days, and one of the key objectives was to match the pristine natural surroundings of the Blue Mountains with an appropriate environmental sustainability plan for the hotel.
Why did you feel it was important to have a sustainable hotel?
When you look out of the hotel’s rooms, restaurants and public areas you see a World Heritage listed national park that dates back millions of years, it’s hard not to want to offer optimum environmental practices. The Fairmont is fortunate to border the national park and one of the main reasons that people come to the Blue Mountains and stay at the resort is to be close to nature. It seemed a total ‘given’ that a hotel which trades off being part of such a pristine environment should be at the forefront of sustainability best practice and commit to leaving as small an environmental footprint as possible.
What are the key initiatives that the hotel has undertaken to improve its sustainability?
The Schwartz Family Company carried out modifications and redevelopment changes to the resort including upgrades to the resort’s air-conditioning which included new cooling towers, variable speed drives, a building management system and energy monitoring throughout the resort by sub-metering all electrical metering points.
Apart from the more generic installs such as changing the lighting to LED’s, the installation of variable speed drives, new energy efficient motors, the Schwartz Family decided to install a 100 kw photovoltaic solar system which incorporates 376 x 265w solar panels. With the amalgamation of the adjacent Leura Golf Club into the Fairmont’s operation, we have recently completed a 30kw solar installation on the Club House’s rooftop.
The use of solar is part of an integrated environmental energy management strategy at the Fairmont, which also includes a ‘smart’ system allowing lights and air conditioning to be turned off in rooms when the guest is away and for ambient room temperature to be varied according to the outside temperature. We have also added a variable speed drive system on all air conditioning pumps, which will allow better management of flows according to demand from guest rooms and common areas.
We are fortunate to have an indoor and a large outdoor pool. Originally both pools were heated, but we have decided only to heat the indoor pool, and leave a more refreshing outdoor pool, particularly for the hot summers. We now use a space blanket to cover the indoor pool at night to conserve heat loss.
The Schwartz Family Company also installed two new Electric Vehicle (EV) charging stations for use by guests. These complement charging stations at other hotels in the Schwartz portfolio, which has helped create a network of charging stations in destinations that are popular with the drive market, such as Hunter Valley, Canberra and the Blue Mountains.
What initiatives have had the biggest impact on your sustainability? Do you know how much energy you’ve saved?
The energy renewable saving installations and other installations have led to a decrease of 6kw and savings of 885KWh/week through a reduction in energy, gas and water throughout the resort. This assumption of saving was for the swimming pool equipment modifications (new equipment).
The photovoltaic solar system installed at the Fairmont will provide C02 savings in the range of 155,658kg/per annum. The system installed at the Leura Golf Course club house is expected to save a further 46,304 kg per annum.
Do you have any community outreach programmes and if so, can you describe them for us?
The Fairmont Resort Leura’s sustainability program is part of an overall commitment to community social responsibility. AccorHotels manages the hotel and the Fairmont is part of the group’s Planet 21 project, which defines 21 specific commitments and quantifiable goals within these seven pillars of social, environmental and community investment actions: Health, Nature, Carbon, Innovation, Local, Employment and Dialogue.
Initiatives such as Plant for the Planet, a scheme that encourages guests to re-use towels, uses savings to fund a commitment to plant more than 50,000 trees over five years in partnership with Greening Australia.
The Fairmont’s team has also been part of Accor’s annual Race to Survive project, which has raised well over $1 million dollars for Mission Australia services across the country to help transform the lives of Australians in need.
At a local level, the Fairmont has played a leading role in supporting the community through hosting major events such as the Blue Mountains Festival.
What has been the biggest surprise on your sustainability journey?
The obvious thought was why did previous owners ignore sustainability for so long? Energy prices have been high for a number of decades and there were attractive incentives for properties to go down the solar route, but nothing was done. Even worse, if you have the good fortune of being located in such a picture postcard environment, why wouldn’t you do more to encourage best environmental practices?
What has been the biggest challenge?
Unfortunately, the local council at times made our sustainability initiatives difficult, when in fact they should have been totally encouraging of the process. When we took over the resort it was at its lowest possible ebb, which not only had implications from an environmental point of view – as we border national park – it was a huge blow to the community, as the Blue Mountains relies on tourism for its economy. In the six years since taking over the resort, the Schwartz Family Company has invested heavily in upgrades, but sadly the local council throws up obstacles.
How have guests reacted to your sustainability programmes?
Our objective was to make the resort an integral part of the local environment, but not impede on it. So everything we do with maintenance of the gardens and the golf course are designed to be respectful of the national park that we border. It means using appropriate chemicals, ensuring that weeds don’t encroach into the park, encouraging guests to stick to established paths, using less water, recycling towels and waste...and our guests love being involved with the process. Our purchasing policies are based on the strict environmental requirements and we have formed partnerships with local and national companies that have proven sustainability records.
Is there a stand-out aspect to your sustainability that is unusual or different from other hotels?
Because of our location, we have created a special ‘Memorable Moment’ package that celebrates our link to nature by providing an exclusive wilderness bushwalking experience in the Blue Mountains. Partnering with Life’s An Adventure and Tread Lightly Eco tours, the guided bushwalking experience takes guests on a two hour exploration through the World Heritage-listed national park. With a personal ecological guide, guests explore the native flora and fauna of the Blue Mountains and the tour is designed to engage the senses and reconnect people to nature.
What tips or advice would you offer to any other hotel in your region which is just beginning the sustainability journey?
Any hotel operating in a sensitive natural environment should be adopting and making a strong point of optimum sustainability practices. I think that guests these days are far more questioning of a resort’s environmental claims, so there is no point just talking about environmental good intentions, the property has to embrace and promote sustainability – and take their guests, their partners and the local community with them on the journey.
Hotel groups need to go one step further and take sustainability seriously enough to employ a specialist – as Schwartz Family Company does – to manage energy efficiency, water conservation, waste reduction and community social responsibility. Our website is http://www.sustainable.org.au/