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Inge Huijbrechts

Calson Rezidor Sustainability [1]

Earlier this month Green Hotelier went to meet Inge Huijbrechts, Director of Responsible Business at The Rezidor Hotel Group. Alongside some great insights into their new green initiative, Think Planet, we also managed to pick her brains about the wider sustainable agenda.

‘Think Planet was developed on the back of a company-wide need to take existing responsible practices one step further.’ Inge explains, ‘Whilst the Rezidor group is growing and expanding, energy costs and green taxation is rising, making the sustainable agenda even more closely aligned with business strategy. Future growth has to be more sustainable.’

The initiative has a target to save 25% of energy in 5 years – an impressive commitment bearing in mind the company owns 430+ hotel properties in 70 countries. If they achieve this, the cumulative savings over 5 years will be 1.5 times the energy consumption of all the households of Iceland!

‘Everyone in the company is trained in responsible business and very much lives out these practices in their day to day work. Think Planet has added something extra to this – something tangible.’

The Think Planet journey comprises of five steps, the first of which is engaging and raising awareness amongst staff. Inge observes, ‘It is easy to patronize through sustainable and responsible messaging and so to avoid this Think Planet was created with staff input. Training videos feature real staff and to make them as relevant as possible we created individual videos for different roles; for housekeeping, for events and meetings, and for kitchen staff. The initiative also involves staff – the mascot Lumi helps to give Think Planet a common identity and by running competitions and events everyone has the chance to interact. One of our hotels has even renamed their canteen Lumi Café– it’s great to see properties taking Lumi on board and running with it in their own way.’

Alongside staff training, the initiative hopes to reach its target through:

‘It’s much cheaper to put the right technology in from the start than to retrofit and so getting owners to introduce Think Planet from the start is vital’, Inge explains. There have been some great successes to date. The brand-new Park Inn by Radisson Tete makes the most of its sunny location to heat 20,000 litres of water by 2 banks of solar panels and the anticipated Park Inn in Lille is a low-energy building which will have a ‘chameleon façade’, which changes colour with the intensity of the sunlight.

But it is also about new discoveries within older properties. ‘Surprisingly what we have found is that you can do a lot with little investment, just by looking at the optimizing existing installations in  the hotels. We’ve got a couple of examples in the UK where specialists and engineers went in and looked at all installations and control systems to work out how best to optimize them. By adding some additional controls to boilers Manchester Airport Hotel has now saved 25% on energy – meeting  their Think Planet target for the next 5 years already. Now we can take them even further…’

After chatting about Think Planet we asked Inge some more overarching questions about the sustainable agenda from her point of view.

It was recently announced that Kurt Ritter is stepping down from CEO. We know how instrumental he has been to The Rezidor Group’s sustainable agenda, how do you think things will change in his absence?

‘I think you’re right, Kurt Ritter has supported and created the sustainable agenda here. He has been instrumental.  It is so important to have someone at the top saying ‘yes we can’ to Responsible Business, it helps create that culture of awareness.’

‘That said, Wolfgang M. Neumann was one of the co-creators of Think Planet and so I have no doubt over his commitment to the sustainable agenda. He has an excellent background in sustainability and is an absolute believer in having sustainable solutions. Although it is sad that Mr. Ritter is leaving, for responsible business this is continuity.’

Before joining the world of hospitality, you worked in CSR in the motor industry. How do the two sectors differ?

‘I have now been in this role for 1.5 years and it is very different to the motor industry. Obviously, some things are similar – environmental and social performance measurement and looking into the technicalities of an environmental programme. The key difference is that the hotel industry is a people-orientated business. The whole sustainable agenda is very much about engaging your guests and employees; the human element is much more fundamental than it is in other industries.’

‘The work that the International Tourism Partnership (ITP) is doing is a good example of this. I appreciate the work that they do in getting people around a table to discuss sustainability openly, whilst also coming up with practical solutions – for example the project with the Hotel Carbon Measurement Initiative (HCMI) and Youth Career Initiative (YCI). This is unique, in the industry organizations of the motor industry sustainability was on the agenda mostly from a government relations perspective, but here you see genuine exchange and a platform for sharing information.’

ITP has recently launched the next phase of HCMI. What does Rezidor make of this and how else does ITP contribute to your sustainability agenda?

‘ITP provides the opportunity to have direct contact and engagement with others in the industry. This is a great way of challenging yourself and the company – because when you have these discussions and conversations you are always thinking further ahead and identifying trends to understand if we as a company are ready to address the same issues.’

‘But the role of ITP in the outside world is also to engage with other partners e.g. other travel related companies, stakeholders, NGOs etc. This is how HCMI came about and is a role that ITP can play on our behalf – as an individual company it is not easy to do this. It is important for ITP to continue to be the voice of sustainability in the hospitality industry.’

‘HCMI itself is an excellent tool and is certainly something that is achievable by all our hotels whether they have 50 or 1000 rooms. Once Think Planet is under way we can give more attention to implementing HCMI. One day we hope it will become the standard carbon measurement across the industry, especially since it has been built on a collaborative effort and with such key organizations involved.’

For more information about Think Planet! go to their website: Rezidor Think Planet! [2] or our article about its launch here [3]
For more information on the Hotel Carbon Measurement Initiative [4] see the International Tourism Partnership [5] website
YCI is a programme of ITP, for more info go to Youth Career Initiative [6]
See also Green Hotelier's interview with Kurt Ritter [7]