How the chain is fighting climate change
From the Royal York in Toronto to the Queen Elizabeth in Montreal, the properties of Fairmont Hotels & Resorts are rather well-known here in Canada, the company headquartered in Toronto. With 70 properties in 20 countries, the company is certainly a big player in the travel industry. However, it’s also a big player—and a game-changer—in terms of eco-efficiency. Fairmont joined the World Wildlife Fund’s Climate Savers Program in 2009, where they were inspired to change their thinking in regards to climate solutions. And, boy, did they deliver, reducing their CO2 emissions across the board by 20%! How’d they do it? We spoke with Jane Mackie, vice president of the brand, on their achievement, and how they implemented changes both big and small to their properties.
You’ve reduced your CO2 emissions by 20%. How did you go about achieving this goal at your resorts and hotels?
WWF had reached out to companies who are the industry’s “best in class”, requiring that the majority of their CO2 reductions actually come from the hotels. “So we had to really change our behaviour knowing that 20% is a dramatic change,” Mackie begins. Fairmont boasts various properties both new and old, the oldest (The Banff Springs Hotel) having been built in 1888. “With extreme climate in an old building, [this required] structural changes,” she explains. With regards to newer constructions, such as Vancouver’s Fairmont Pacific Rim, it was built for energy efficiency in mind to begin with. “It all still required concerted effort, with teams at every hotel worldwide. Ever single department had to look at and see what could be done differently.”With a five-year timeframe, they made many low-cost and behavioural changes, such as moving towards LED lighting, and asking employees to act in more eco-efficient ways. But there were also bigger infrastructural changes, such as at the Savoy in London, which was built in 1889, and had a complete overhaul and renovation done in 2010.
And there were even smaller changes, such as with two hotels that adapted their air conditioning systems: “The Fairmont Le Montreux Palace [in Montreux, Switzerland] now uses water from the depths of Lake Geneva to power the A/C during summer. You may think winter is the most popular time in Switzerland, but with the Montreux Jazz Festival taking place in July of each year, summertime has the most CO2 emissions.
“As for Fairmont The Palm in Dubai, which is a newer hotel, we were able to realize [that during] wintertime in Dubai, we didn’t need to be manufacturing cool air, and that it could be filtered from the air outside.”
What other WWF targets did you achieve?
Mackie said their hotels and resorts achieved in energy management, addressing many other sustainability issues in the process. Such as? “In areas where water is more scarce, water consumption was an issue.” Her prime example comes from Fairmont The Palm in Dubai: “The committee noticed that tap water was coming out in a high flow. We paid a lot of attention to appropriate water pressure for guests (such as in the shower, making sure it wasn’t too high, but just enough for guests’ comfort), but sink tap was never a focus. And we realized the pressure was way beyond what it needed to be. So with slight adjustments, we saved 1 million gallons of water per month!” As she told us, small ideas can make a huge impact.
Was it an easy transition?
“It was a lot of effort with many multi-year initiatives,” Mackie admits. But the hardest was definitely that first year, “where we were [implementing the] tracking system and [changing] people’s behaviours, and then identifying which hotels had capital plans to make a difference.” And then there was the last year, when they were racing against the clock to make the target, with 1 to 2% still left to go. “Especially with last year’s cold in Canada [Fairmont properties in Canada is approximately 1/3 of their portfolio], we made it by about an eyelash,” she continues.
What else is down the pike for Fairmont in terms of making everything more green and eco-friendly?
“What we’re focused on now is a new industry initiative: we’ve joined International Tourism Partnership, where global hotel companies are focused on sustainability.” With Fairmont as one of its most active members, Mackie’s focus for the Canadian properties now is the meeting industry: “We’re looking to educate colleagues and meeting planners about what CO2 emissions meetings can leave behind,” she says. “To have a standard measurement to gauge carbon total footprint of meetings, for both guest rooms and meeting rooms. On the business-to-business side, corporations are looking at their supply chain in a little more detail.”
What do you think other hotels can learn from your success in going more “green”?
“I think it’s not about thinking of sustainability as a function,” Mackie explains. “But how to integrate it into every colleague and how they do their job every day. It’s about how you do business, and thinking long term is the best possible scenario, in regards to how buildings are built and renovated.”