Q&A: Radisson Hotel Group’s Inge Huijbrechts, global senior vice president sustainability, security and corporate communications

by: Felicity Cousins | January 11, 2024

Radisson Hotel Group has a robust sustainability history, with more than 20 years of best practice and initiatives across the globe. Sustainable Hotel News talked to Radisson Hotel Group’s Inge Huijbrechts, global senior vice president sustainability, security and corporate communications about the latest initiative to engage staff, Move to Zero, how pain points in hotel sustainability can come down to real estate, and how collaborating with global sustainability organisations are key to helping the sector achieve its goals.

Can you tell us a bit about Radisson’s staff engagment with sustainability?

IH: We’ve always been very much about enabling and involving our teams and anything to do with responsible business we’ve been active for more than 20 years. We train everyone on responsible business so it’s really something we have been doing for a long time. 

In our net zero transformation we have three pillars; green buildings, green energy and green operations. In green operations involving the team globally is essential, so we started that with ‘Own your Energy’. We had a series of pledges and people could choose them. We had a competition going on and a winner for every region, and then they got an amount, which they could spend on something sustainable together – so they could give everyone a gift or do a sustainable lunch. That collected over 2,200 pledges. 

And the next initiative is Move to Zero, which was launched at the end of October. Can you explain more about that?

IH: This is about what you do to move closer to zero in your personal life and in your work life. There are six different elements and the hotel has to choose a minimum of two to do in the next month. It means they have to really launch actions in their hotel and then prove that the action was launched between teams. This will run until the end of April 2024 and there is a competition between hotels. It’s structured a bit differently but it’s still a friendly competition.

So it’s gamification to incentivise staff?

IH: Inspiring I think more than incentivising because it’s not like it’s big gains, but with gamification it’s making it fun because net zero can be very overwhelming.

Yes I can see it’s a good idea to break it down and to make it part of everyday life.

IH: Yes, and actually that was the idea of the campaign last year. Of course we do the fundamental things. We are in a transformation, but the idea is that being smart with your energy habits you can save 3-5 per cent of your resources or your utilities. There needs to be collaboration with your engineering team who set everything right in the Building Management System (BMS), or the water temperature in hot water, but it can be such simple things as making sure in a hot country the curtains are drawn when no one is in the room, or when someone is cleaning a room, instead of blasting the air conditioning, you can open the window to air the room. 

And you have BMS at every property?

IH: Yes we have it is all set up, and of course in the new buildings more and more are LEED or BREEAM, or EDGE certified, if they are in an emerging market, so these controls are there. It’s in our standards to have a good BMS. For example, key cards are everywhere and it depends what they are connected to, but very often if you are opening a window there is a sensor on the window so the air con switches off. It is also a matter of when a person is travelling alone then give them one key card, because then when they leave the room everything switches off. 

Are you seeing new recruits being interested in what Radisson is doing as a Group?

IH: For central positions or area positions people actually ask, or they say ‘I applied because I read so much about Radisson’s responsible business programme’. So it is something that people really care about. 

We have a system working with responsible business champions, so in any hotel we have a  person who is a point of contact for responsible business and for campaigns like Move to Zero, We engage this network and very often it is actually a chance for someone who is maybe more junior to step up and take a role where they can bring together HODs, and talk to the GM, and bring forward proposals and get themselves seen. We have actually GMs who came through being a responsible business champion – and they are the most engaged GMs.

Radisson has been looking at responsible business for years. What do think of the many accreditations for sustainable hotels?

IH: You have to distinguish between green buildings, which is the conversation we are having with asset owners because we are asset light. So we need to talk to our real estate owners to make sure the real estate retains its value and doesn’t become stranded, and that it goes to net zero, so that is what BREEAM, LEED and EDGE and net zero versions of that are about. 

I firmly believe there is a potential of revenue in solid green sustainable hotels. So that means you have to prove it to the clients and we have to be truthful and not do greenwashing in these certifications. So they all need to be verified or certified – whatever you put out there needs to have been verified and proven by documentation or photos or certification with a visit on site. 

How do organisations like the Sustainable Hospitality Alliance help?

IH: We are a member of the Sustainable Hospitality Alliance and what you see is two very positive things – there is an expansion and an acceleration to include small and big brands and be like an eco system of not just the Sustainable Hospitality Alliance, but a partnership with key people like GSTC, WTTC and all these associations that are out there. I think that is the key. The fact we do things together in a non-competitive way.

And the other big thing is that in the past year and half we have defined the Pathway to Net Positive Hospitality and that works on the planet side and on the people side, but on the planet side it kind of streamlines the steps, and it gives you a framework and an academy and a maturity check. We have placed certain labels in those pathways and methodologies. So at the start there is Hotel Sustainability Basics, which is the entry level and it’s verified, and the next level is GSTC, or other eco labels…

And those are GSTC-recognised bodies?

IH: Yes and you have the leading ones, as there is too much proliferation, but as a principle you have a few like EarthCheck and Green Key and Nordic Swan and the EU Eco Label – they are the ones with solid criteria, solid verifications and solid auditing etc. And there are more of course.

Then the next level is net zero. There is a net zero hotel methodology that was also defined collaboratively in the industry, and then net positive which is a level we are still defining because that is much more transformative than anything net zero already is. 

I would say that it’s not the full solution and there is still a lot of things out there but we are trying to bring everybody into the conversation and we are trying to streamline that and to give a clear message to the world to say this is quality and this isn’t – and verified and certified is actually the basis of everything.

And auditing? With the CSRD and RFPs won’t it all come down to that audit?

IH: CSRD of course won’t work on the level of a hotel but if you look at the conversation about green claims in the EU, that’s the direction this is going. We shouldn’t burden the SMEs, but there is methodology about carbon footprinting (HCMI) that was defined by the Sustainable Hospitality Alliance, and all of us collectively, so there needs to be verification and validation and auditing, which is certifying and verifying and a third party looking at what you say and what you do.

So what is the sticking point now for hotels and sustainability?

IH: Now we have come a long way on collaboration it’s not 100 per cent where it should be, but it is much better than where it was. The next is to make sure we are still in the same framework with real estate owners, because they come in from a bit of a different angle and they have other obligations e.g. taxonomy, so we need to make sure that conversation is fluid, but better. 

Where do we go from here?

IH: I think speed and scale now –you know it’s getting hotter and hotter, and with COP28 you find these very clear and very scary diagrams and tables. We are at 1.4 degree warming already so every business and every country needs speed and scale. I can give you many, many reasons why it’s difficult – because it is – due to the complexity of the landscape, and who is going to pay for what, and everything else but that is what we need to do.

Radisson has been showing its carbon emissions per guest per room per night for years. Should everyone be doing this now?

IH: We have been publishing our responsible business report for 20 years and over time they have evolved to showing much more data. They are fully based on real KPIs and data. The hotel carbon measurement initiative (HCMI) takes into account the carbon footprint of the product including laundry, transportation and emissions to give you a very good carbon footprint estimate – it’s a good calculation, it really is, and that is per occupied room and per sqm. So the methodology is there and it’s free. It can be used by everyone.

I think the difficulty is how to reach everyone – because it is managed and leased hotels for scope 1 and 2 and franchises for scope 3 – even though you make it mandatory it is not 100 per cent perfect. 

So does change come from having a fully engaged staff, is that what is needed?

IH: Yes but we cannot just do the engagement without the fundamentals, because that is a very technical conversation with the new owners who sign up, and net zero clauses in the agreements, and talking about capex, and talking about the transition to green energy. Those fundamentals have to be there otherwise the rest is greenwashing. You need to bring everyone along, but it needs to be on the foundation of net zero transformation.

Radisson is halving its footprint by 2030 and is aiming for net zero by 2050. Iberostar is aiming to get to net zero by 2040. Do you think Radisson can get there earlier?

IH: Let me first say that Iberostar does amazing work. They really are leaders and we look at the work they do and applaud them because it’s from the top and engaging everyone. So we are big fans of the work Iberostar is doing.

They own the buildings. That’s my answer. If you own the buildings you control the cash flow, you control the investments. I’m not saying they have an easy task, absolutely not, I really don’t want to play down the great work they are doing, but that’s the key. Our portfolio is 1250 hotels, of which 760 are in operation, the rest is the pipeline for the next two/three years and we have roughly 70 leases, which we control. And even there we don’t really control everything because it is still asset light.

And this is the key stakeholder conversation we are having with owners. The good news is that I really, really see an uptick in conversations with new owners – not everywhere – but an uptick of owners and developers coming onboard with the plan already there, saying ‘we want to certify this building’. So we are getting more and more certified buildings, not everywhere, we need to expand to all regions.

Buildings which aren’t certified won’t have a future will they? Radisson won’t go into a building that’s not certified soon?

IH: We are not at that point yet. We give all the tools and we help owners if they don’t know how to do it, and we even try to have conversations with entities to bring funding for these kind of projects so we can help. We are not excluding them yet but that will come over time in the market in general.

So maybe when you get to 2030 you will look around and say they won’t be on track…

IH: Yes we have to have buildings that comply with certain standards and in certain geographies that will be law, and a legal requirement, and in other geographies it will come to that eventually. It has to because the whole built environment, not just hotels, is 30 per cent of the carbon footprint globally. It’s about the built environment, how it’s built and how it’s working. If you look at the book Drawdown [a seminal text on climate solutions] there is a list of 100 workable solutions for climate change and the number one solution is cooling.

What else needs to be done together as an industry? 

IH: We need to look at how we can be smart about our supply chains. Our chief procurement officer has been in Washington launching the Hotel Alliance for Responsible Procurement (HARP). We are part of that, so let’s see how fast they can do things, but this is the spirit; let’s collaborate and if we are thinking about collaboration in the supply chain, then we can think about insetting.

Can you explain insetting?

IH: Making sure we are reducing carbon by enabling not carbon compensation, but carbon insetting, meaning we are enabling suppliers to be more efficient. But that is the beginning of the conversation, and I think we really need to collaborate. We can’t do this alone.

You can read more stories from Radisson Hotel Group here.

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