Guest interview by Inge Huijbrechts, Global VP Responsible Business at Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group, on events and sustainability

“Make it personal, make it local, make it social.”

PIE: Hi Inge, thank you for agreeing to this interview. We invited you to talk about our certificate programme and its relation to the Paris Agreement. Could you start by explaining how the Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group implements corporate sustainability without losing sight of the company’s strategic and financial goals?

IH: Sustainability has been a part of the company’s strategy and long-term goals since the very beginning. Our strategy is built on three pillars:

Think People, which is about caring about guests and employees, people in our supply chain and business ethics. With regards to this, it’s worth mentioning that the Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group boasts an employee satisfaction rate of 87.5%, one of the highest in the industry.

The second pillar is Think Community, which translates to contributing in a meaningful way to local communities around the world.

Finally: Think Planet, which is about reducing our carbon footprint, energy and water consumption. Since 2011, we have saved 24% on energy, and 29% on water since 2007. This means that our sustainability strategy is saving the company money. It’s very important that people understand that there’s a clear business case for focusing on sustainability.

From a marketing point of view, being sustainable contributes positively to our image as a brand, attracting customers, and as an employer, which gives us the opportunity to work with the very best.

PIE: What are your most important sustainability measures right now?

IH: Well, our group consists of seven brands which all focus on sustainability so we have many sustainability measures. I’ll zoom in on the initiatives of our Radisson Blu upper upscale hotel brand, which concentrates on water-saving with Blu Planet.

One of Blu Planet’s goals is to raise awareness about unnecessary water consumption. For every towel that our guests choose to reuse for a second night, the international water charity Just a Drop receives a donation. 250 towels reused add up to an amount to provide a person with safe drinking water for life. Funds collected through Blu Planet have enabled various water and sanitation projects in support of water-stressed communities in Peru, Kenya and India and have brought safe drinking water to over 10,000 people.

The Blu Radisson hotels’ unique meeting offering is Experience Meetings. As part of our Experience Meetings commitment, we ensure that our customers’ meetings and events are carbon-free. We offset the meetings’ footprint in water related Gold Standard projects, leaving a minimal footprint on the planet while creating a meaningful connection with the local communities and contributing to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Plus, our customers receive a special certificate to prove their meeting’s zero footprint afterwards!

As a group, we believe that volunteering is important. Last year, we counted 29,000 volunteer hours in the local communities surrounding our 1,400 hotels, which is an amazing number. Through strategic links in terms of volunteering, we can create meaningful connections, transfer skills level and contribute positively to our brand’s reputation.

PIE: Please could you tell us why the Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group supports our certificate programme?

IH: The meeting and events market is a very big, growing market with enormous potential. However, while global brands lead with embedding sustainability in their products and services, they tend to drop the ball when it comes to meetings and events because it’s something that other people within their organisations deal with. Thanks to partners such as Positive Impact Events, we can bring the topic of sustainable events to the agenda of sustainability networking events and conferences such as the Sustainable Brands '17 event in Detroit. It’s important to build awareness and a community of ‘green minded’ meeting planners. We need to make it clear that events are everywhere, as the B2B events industry revenue worldwide was worth 29.3bn USD, as of last year. Meeting and event planners must be part of the journey and become advocates and ambassadors.

PIE: Do you think that it would be easier to achieve the Paris agreement goals if all event professionals followed the certificate programme or similar educational workshops?

IH: I’m not sure if we can say that Meetings & Events directly contribute to the Paris agreement objectives, but the hotel and tourism industry definitely has the power to create change. As an industry, we are often forgotten, but we provide one in 10 jobs worldwide. We should be in the driver’s seat and this type of certificate programmes are a very good start.

PIE: Do you believe that the event industry needs the government’s help and why or why not? In other words, can private initiatives make a difference or should the government develop obligatory sustainability education programmes?

IH:. Governments can provide a framework, support energy and mobility shifts and drive investment in sustainability, which are very important foundations. The real change however needs to come from companies and consumers. Every one of us need to do our part and global companies are important actors in driving such change – by taking commitments like Science Based Targets, by inspiring employees and clients like we do at Carlson Rezidor in our hotels around the world. Governments cannot create a movement. Change must come from the companies and the people. We must inspire each other.

PIE: Following Trump’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris agreement, what are the important issues to think about with respect to U.S. businesses?

IH: First of all, let me express my disappointment at this recent decision by the Trump administration. It is sad to see an important nation and carbon emitter step out of this carefully balanced global agreement. Luckily, many U.S. states and companies are committing to the agreement, refusing to isolate themselves from the rest of the world. We must concentrate on these positive decisions. Unexpectedly the decision by the Trump administration seems to reinforce the commitment of all other players.

PIE: When you're trying to be more sustainable, how do you get customers to go along?

Good question. Firstly, sustainability must be seamless and initiatives must be easy to understand. We cannot overload our customers with information. A sustainable choice should be something natural. The Radisson Blu’s carbon free meetings are a good example. The only thing that our customers need to do is book their meetings in our hotel. We take care of organising a smooth meeting and in addition, offset the carbon and give the client a certificate to prove it.
Secondly, we have to make sure that we don’t compromise the guest’s comfort in favour of sustainability. Thirdly, there has to be something in it for the client, even if this ‘something’ is a good feeling. If guests know that we donate money to a charity such as Just a Drop when they reuse their towels, they feel that they’re giving back to society. It makes them feel good and has proven to increase the uptake of the program.

PIE: Is there anything else that you want us to know?

IH: In terms of Meetings & Events, I think that we need to stop thinking that everything can be solved by technology. I’m a strong believer of face to face meetings. A recent Oxford study found that every dollar invested in business travel results in $12.50 in added revenues and $3.80 in new profits. Personal face-to-face meetings prove to be the most effective and this will certainly help build the green meetings community.

PIE: It has to be more social?

Yes, more social and more personal. For example, when we look at the climate debate, it is very general and somewhat scary, fuelled by big numbers and doom scenarios, and for a lot of people it’s difficult to relate to that. That’s why our towel reuse initiative linked to bringing safe drinking water globally works: it speaks to human empathy – a small action in the hotel room makes a huge impact in a community in need elsewhere.
In other words, make it personal, make it local, make it social.

PIE: Many thanks for your time, Inge. Talk to you soon!

(This interview was posted on 20/06/2017)