Fairmont finds it’s easy being green

Hotel chain has expanded homegrown environmental program to 40 locations
By Sarah Dobson
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 03/27/2007

While the health of the world’s ecosystem is a topic de jour, it’s been a priority at Fairmont Hotels and Resorts since 1990. With the debut of its Green Partnership — “a commitment to environmental stewardship, designed to minimize operational impacts on the environment” — the Toronto-based company initiated a chain-wide environmental program. Since then, the program has expanded to 40 locations around the world, garnered several international awards and been an inspiration for others in the hospitality industry and beyond.

The move to greener pastures was prompted by the company’s locations (then known as Canadian Pacific Hotels) in sensitive environments, such as national parks, biosphere reserves and coastal zones or wetlands.

“We realized we had to mitigate our operational impacts on the environment, because if you take care of the environment, you take care of the very resource that brings your guests to explore in the first place,” said Michelle White, director of environmental affairs at Fairmont.

Looking to have a gentler environmental footprint, the company first focused on waste management (recycling, organics diversion, food and goods redistribution), energy conservation (lighting retrofits, HVAC upgrades, alternate technology and sustainability) and water conservation (tap aerators, low-flow showerheads, low-flush toilets and wastewater recycling). More recently, Fairmont launched “eco-innovation signature projects” at each hotel, such as turtle conservation in Mexico, coral reef protection in Hawaii and whale adoption in Quebec.

The rise of responsible tourism has also meant Fairmont is sharing the benefits of business with the community, particularly in emerging markets where economic development is a challenge. A Fairmont property in Mexico is selling local tours and giving part of the proceeds back to the community and the rest to a conservation fund for the biosphere.

“Over time, we realized you couldn’t be a really green hotel and good corporate citizen unless you also look at your community involvement,” said White.

Beyond helping the environment, Fairmont has seen gains in areas such as guest loyalty, brand identity and media interest, while developing a reputation as an environmental leader and demonstrating corporate social responsibility. There have also been cost efficiencies, such as lighting or retrofits that reduce utilities consumption, though White admits costs can vary, depending on the supporting infrastructure.

The focus on green is certainly on track with consumers. According to a national study in 2005 by the Hotel Association of Canada, 60 per cent of Canadians said they would prefer to stay in an environmentally friendly hotel. And a 2007 poll of 1,000 Canadians by Environics Research Group in Toronto found 67 per cent were likely to switch to retail or service outlets that have demonstrated a commitment to the environment. More recently, on the corporate side, Fairmont has seen growing interest from meeting planners interested in “eco-meet events” that offer green meetings for conferences, said White.

And Fairmont has garnered award-winning praise for its efforts. In 2006, it received the global tourism business award for the best corporate social responsibility program at MKG’s Worldwide Hospitality Awards and the global tourism business award from the World Travel and Tourism Council. Its Green Partnership guide is also very popular with hospitality schools, hotel associations and the competition, said White. First published in 1990, it was revised in 2001 and a new edition is scheduled to be released in April.

But behind it all is the commitment and enthusiasm of its 26,000 employees around the world, including 10,500 in Canada.

“Before implementing a program of this scale, you want to make sure you have a lot of employee buy-in,” she said. “If they care about those things at home, they like to see that brought over to their workplace as well.”

And new employees are always given an orientation session on Fairmont’s green program.

“The biggest challenge in any environmental program is making sure your employees are engaged, and that often comes with making sure employees are informed,” she said.

For every new hotel or new market, the green program has been heartily embraced, said Mike Taylor, manager of media relations for Fairmont.

“It’s definitely something new employees latch on to and feel passionate about and are very connected to from day one,” said Taylor. “At every single hotel, that’s the predominant program that really resonates with new employees.”

While the program is administered corporately, volunteer “green teams” at each property meet monthly to discuss and review ways to improve the operational performance in various departments. Fairmont also runs an environmental incentive program that recognizes the green team that has performed the best, on a quarterly basis, and rewards two hotels that have had the best overall environmental performance each year. There is also an “enviro-star” award for the employee who embodies the principles of the Green Partnership “above and beyond.”

The green focus is definitely used as a retention tool and makes employees feel empowered “because they have an ownership or a management group that supports that approach to sustainable tourism,” said Taylor. “And at the end of the day, it’s the right thing to do and it’s the right thing for the planet.”

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