Interview: Green Globe CEO Guido Bauer
The Middle East has some of the most sustainable hotels in the world
On a visit to Dubai from his California home, Green Globe chief executive officer Guido Bauer took time out to talk to Hotelier Middle East about the company’s latest auditing software, its new focus on the supply chain, and how the Middle East is leading the way with two of the most sustainable hotels in the world
How is Green Globe different to other sustainability accreditations?
Certification is when you have standard indicators and third party verification so you need to have an independent auditor in place. Maintaining an auditor body and maintaining a standard is a very expensive thing to do, and although a lot of companies call themselves a certification, they use a checklist, and anything with a question is not a certification. A certification tells you what you need to do and it is not a yes or no. In sustainability, there’s not one greener than the other; you either follow the standard or you don’t.
Surely a certification involves mountains of paperwork: doesn’t that defeat the purpose?
Audit reports are now cloud-based and immediately available. There’s drag and drop, no more uploading, everything is in real time, in seven different languages and with multiple log-in codes so that in one hotel, theoretically, 1000 people could work on the file.
Now we’re going to offer other certifications on the same platform, mainly ISO certifications. The new software is available to our current members and we’re moving them on now over the next three to six months. We launched it on September 1; first in the Caribbean and now the Middle East.
How often do you update the criteria and indicators?
We just renewed our standard and we update this on a regular basis and we’re the only certification doing that worldwide, because if you update your standard, it is very expensive.
You need new indicators, you need to do a lot of research, so we just introduced standard 1.7. Recent updates include the addition of new indicators for green meetings for the hotel sector. We have updated our standard seven times now since 2006.
Why don’t hotels just come up with their own sustainability criteria?
A lot of hotels started out on their own and they realised that over half of what they did was really for nothing. We have one hotel that had a corporate social programme in place that cost them US $1.2 million to run and it turned out that it was neither socially responsible, nor was it sustainable.
Now the hotel is running the same programme for a fraction of that cost and it’s actually for the benefit of everyone. So it is like anything; you want to ask an expert to do it. Also, it’s the communication part - that’s where we’re very strong.
If a hotel says they’re green, nobody believes them. We say they’re sustainable and they have the accreditation, and that has a lot of credibility behind it. In 2007 we launched our own newswire, our own PR department that writes about best practices at the hotels upon certification, or if they do something outstanding, and some of these press releases get millions of clicks online.
Name one thing all hotels should do to improve their sustainability?
A lot has to do with policies. We teach hotels to put certain policies in place and these can be as simple as buying the right printer. If it prints front and back you can reduce operating costs by 1%, or ink cartridges, we all know how expensive they are. It can be simply having policies in place such as the last person in the office should switch off the lights. Everyone knows that, but where is it written down, and is everyone educated on it?
So where can the biggest savings be made?
We have a system where we ask all of our members each year what their savings are. Usually it’s operational, last year the average was 8.2% worldwide. But many owners and GMs tell us it’s probably higher than that because we can’t measure staff retention.
They know they have a higher number of repeat customers and you don’t spend a single marketing dollar on a repeat customer. So we have hotels that say that overall, sustainable practices increase their repeat customers by 30% so that’s important to know. However, the greatest saving can be made through training.
If you educate staff and they are all behind it then that’s where the biggest saving comes from. A very good example is Mövenpick Hotel Group, which has trained all staff worldwide on procedures. You walk into a Mövenpick in Berlin or in Dubai, and you know it’s going to be Green Globe certified.
How do sustainable practices in hospitality in the Middle East compare to other destinations?
First of all, the growth of sustainability in the Middle East is three times as high as anywhere else in the world. In Europe they’ve already been doing it for a long time, but here in the Middle East it’s a different level of ‘yes I want to learn’.
Everything in the Middle East wants to shine in every category, and I think there’s a reason why two out of the five highest Green Globe certified hotels are now in MEA (Mövenpick resort Dead Sea and Mövenpick Cairo Media City). We certify in 96 countries and right now the Middle East Green Globe certified hotels make up about 15% of our global Green Globe certified hotels.
I think that by 2020, 30% of all Green Globe certified hotels will be in the Middle East. I think what will grow here faster than anywhere else is business certification because everything here is somehow related to tourism, and the hotels here are already very sustainable.
Does the world look to the Middle East for best practice in any aspect of sustainability?
Absolutely, and I think the world of property management systems looks to the Middle East to further develop for a very simple reason: there are extreme conditions here.
If Porsche invents a new car, they’re going to drive it in Death Valley California in the summer. Why? Because it’s the most extreme temperature they know. If what you develop works in the desert, chances are it will work in other places in the world too.
With climate and waste issues, will the Middle East ever be a leader in sustainability?
An average Middle Eastern hotel produces twice as much CO2 as a European hotel of the same size. It has to do with the heat and with the air conditioning. There’s a long way to go, but you have to see that something that was done in Germany and France over the last 50 years, the Middle East has accomplished in six years.
Hopefully in the next six years you will see that the Middle East is the leader in sustainability. I think this will happen with the determination I see right here.
People know exactly where the shortcomings are in sustainability and they are talking about it and it is only a matter of time before the right person hears that, and they can a make change, because here in the Middle East that’s what it’s known for. If you speak to the right person, and put the right proposal forward, they will change things. Not tomorrow, right now.
What is the major problem in the Middle East in terms of sustainability?
As far advanced as they are in many other areas, I think waste is the biggest issue. The first complete waste management company opening up here will change things. We know that tyres are shredded and bought by a German company that makes the materials for playgrounds. We know glass is recycled, but this needs to be done on a larger scale, not only shipping it out to the desert and building a mountain out of it.
Who is the green traveller?
Sustainability, according to Google, is the number four decision maker. The eternal question is: ‘who is the green traveller?’ The answer is everybody. I have yet to meet a person who tells me, ‘I don’t really care where I go on vacation’ or that says they don’t care if the streets or beaches are dirty. You expect that you go to a place and it’s clean, and you know sustainability, internet, food, CSR is all taken care of — so there is a green traveller in each and every one of us.
What are the current trends in green travel?
Green meetings has the largest growth in any part of tourism. Any business that does meetings or conferences requires the hotel to have sustainability in place, and many already require certified sustainability so I reckon that in the next three to five years this will be the standard.
Luxury hotels don’t want to take shortcuts when it comes to housekeeping. Don’t sustainable practices conflict with luxury service?
There is a misconception there; sustainability does not interfere with luxury at all. The Burj Al Arab, which is arguably the most luxurious hotel in the world, is Green Globe certified. They have paperless check-in and many other features in place, and then there’s Mövenpick, and Jumeirah.
It is true that they ask guests to reduce towel washing and housekeeping, but actually that all started in luxury hotels because guests complained they didn’t need towels washed every day. Even if you wash towels every day, this can be done sustainably; it depends on what kind of machine and detergent you’re using. Luxury operators that have gone for Green Globe have been surprised and have learned they can push it even further because the products are available.
How can luxury operators offer sustainable amenities when guests expect high-end ones?
Most of the luxury goods in the world, such as soaps and cosmetics are very sustainable because that’s the only way of producing things into the future.
Specifically four- and five- star hotels have the most sustainable products out there. People are surprised when they walk into a Mövenpick or Anantara and say ‘how can this hotel be green globe certified?’ Because they have done a lot behind the scenes — from soap, to laundry, to energy management.
Does Green Globe certify suppliers?
Yes. Actually, if there is a certified supplier, a Green Globe hotel has to take that supplier over a non-Green Globe certified supplier; we mandate that. Unfortunately, there are very few suppliers that are sustainable. Logistics is the next big step for us and we are in talks with one of the logistics suppliers here.
Should hotels increase their rates once they are Green Globe certified?
Green Globe certified hotels have never become any more expensive after certification. You don’t spend more on a sustainable hotel. I think it helps hotels reduce operating costs to maintain their room rates, and hotels increase business by keeping room rates on a good level.
What are the cost implications of going green?
It needs to be budgeted. We’ve had hotels in the programme for seven or eight years now and they just budgeted for five years into the future and they chose sustainable sources and sustainable ways of doing things. So they may start out at 68% and then move to 71%, then 80–90%.
Who drives sustainability within a hotel operation?
It is the commitment of this new generation of engineers; they live and breathe sustainability and wouldn’t know how to operate any other way. The Green Globe certificate gives recognition to their departments; they pull the strings, they have clear guidelines, they don’t have to look outside of this and they get a corporate certification to show their managers. It is very much driven on a personal basis. Once someone has done one Green Globe certification, they take it to another hotel, and sometimes over continents. I’m almost certain that 30% of our growth is based on that.
So why should hotels in the Middle East aim for Green Globe certification?
There’s a reason why average occupancy rates of Green Globe hotels is more than 86%. All of these hotels have very good management and I think this plays into sustainability. We invest in the future of our members and that’s what they enjoy.