Sustainability Spotlight: Rotana Hotels

Rotana Earth, the group's new sustainability platform, seeks to improve performance at a reasonable rate

Harmony House in India is among the charities Rotana raises funds for.
Harmony House in India is among the charities Rotana raises funds for.

Since its introduction in 2012, Rotana’s CSR programme Rotana Earth has evolved into a strategic framework that will help the group achieve its goal of 100 hotels by 2020 in a sustainable manner

Established in 2012, UAE-based Rotana Hotels’ sustainability platform Rotana Earth aims to underpin future operational strategy as it works towards its goal of 100 hotels by 2020. The programme sets targets for reduction of energy and water consumption as well as targets for waste management, and increasing recyclables from its portfolio of properties.

“It’s a comprehensive framework that addresses environmental, economic, and social sustainability equally. So the main focus is not only on the environment, but we are also targeting social and economic sustainability,” explains Rotana corporate director of environment, health, and safety Christiane Abou Zeidan.

“The main goal of Rotana Earth was to guide our transition to sustainable development. We’ve expanded very quickly, we are almost doubling our portfolio. We currently have 49 properties, and by 2020 we are hoping to have 100. So we are adding more than 14,000 rooms and are expanding into 21 countries and 40 cities.”

As part of Rotana Earth, the group has identified several focus areas, which include colleagues, guests, the environment, suppliers, and the communities in which they operate. When it comes to colleagues, the group focuses on factors such as education, learning and development, health, safety, and other welfare opportunities.

Under its environmental programme, Rotana Earth focuses on energy, waste, and water reduction, and increasing the amount of recyclables from its portfolio of properties.

“We are trying to assess the sites where we have new or upcoming properties to make sure it doesn’t have any impact on the wildlife or biodiversity there as well,” Abou Zeidan adds.

Rotana also focuses on responsible procurement as part of its supplier programme. The group encourages hotels to use more locally sourced products, especially produce.

For the communities, the group looks at the contribution of hotels in different locations, either through volunteering or monetary contributions. “We engage a lot of our communities in the different activities we do related to health, safety, and environmental awareness,” Abou Zeidan says.

A Solid Structure
When putting together the structure for Rotana Earth, the team decided early on that the initiative would not necessitate a separate team.

“We didn’t want to have a separate team because we believe that in order to achieve successful development, it has to be integrated within the daily operations and daily business. The way we managed that was to create a corporate sustainability committee,” she explains.

The committee consists of the corporate vice presidents of the various departments in the company — engineering, marketing, HR, IT, housekeeping, procurement, F&B — and Rotana CEO Omer Kaddouri.

The role of this committee is to oversee the implementation of the sustainability programme, make decisions about the implementation of initiatives, and to communicate information from the corporate office on policies and targets.

A similar structure is then replicated at individual properties, where each hotel has a dedicated environment, health, and safety committee in charge of sustainability. The members of this comprise the various department heads and the general manager.

While developing the structure however, Rotana worked in partnership with the Abu Dhabi Sustainability Group, participating in a series of training programmes. Rotana also benefited from one-on-one meetings with the organisation to work on specific programmes such as sustainable procurement, energy management, and stakeholder engagement.

“The purpose of working with the Abu Dhabi Sustainability Group was to build our internal capacity to develop and create the sustainability platform and implement it gradually in our hotels,” Abou Zeidan explains.

KPIs for the programme are determined by the corporate sustainability committee based on reports that have monitored past performance across the group’s portfolio.

The group also takes into account the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI). “That’s the disclosure framework that Rotana is using for its sustainability report. These indicators are mainly for economic, environmental and social aspects of business performance,” Abou Zeidan says.

In 2014, the group’s target was to reduce energy consumption by 3% and water by 5%. For waste, the target was to increase recyclables by 10% and reduce general waste production by 10%.

“We did very well last year in terms of environmental KPIs. For energy consumption, we were able to reduce it by 4.3% kilowatts per hour per occupied room, and for water consumption, we reduced it by 9.1% per guest night per occupied room. Landfill waste was also reduced by 10.4kg per guest night, and we were able to increase segregation of recyclables by 7.3%,” Abou Zeidan enthuses.

When put into numbers, these savings amounted to almost AED 3 million (US $800,000). The group’s properties also planned and participated in 335 activities to engage with communities, and made a combined monetary contribution of $500,000.

Based on these achievements, the group has set the KPIs for this year. The environmental targets for hotels in 2015 include a 2% kilowatt per hour per square metre reduction in energy consumption, and 3% for water. General waste must also be reduced by 5%, and waste recycling has to increase by 10%.

“We don’t want to set very ambitious and unachievable targets, because we want to make sure that every year we have smart KPIs to help our hotels to monitor and improve their performance gradually,” she adds.

In order to meet these targets, the group has implemented an environment, health, and safety management systems manual at all its properties.

Every hotel has to develop a management programme for recycling and the reduction of energy, water and waste.
“So the hotels have KPIs and they set the plan each year to achieve their targets. For the group overall, we offer support from the corporate office for different initiatives.

“For instance, all Rotana hotels have to switch to more energy-efficient lighting such as LEDs; we have different initiatives for lighting. It’s an exercise that we started two years ago, which to date has resulted in replacing 55% of our bulbs with LED lamps in UAE hotels.

“Then we have building management systems installed in the majority of our hotels, and a room management system to control the energy use and room temperature. These help to manage the cost as well as reduce energy consumption.

“We also have other initiatives in IT, and even for procurement, we buy electronics and equipment with an energy star rating. Under IT we also reduced the number of servers, so that helps with energy conservation,” she explains.

While Rotana Earth developed its programme in-house, some hotels, such as the Al Ghurair Rotana, also work with external consultants such as Farnek to set individual long-term goals in order to determine the budgets for investment.

Long term plan
Now in its third year, Rotana Earth has added two new initiatives to its framework. The first of these, ‘Responsible Procurement’, involves developing a system that requires Rotana properties to continue meeting their needs for goods, services, and utilities in a way that optimises product lifecycle value by cutting long-term procurement costs, averting sustainability risks, and reducing operating costs.

“We will have certain criteria that suppliers must comply with, like environmental awareness, environmental protection, and carbon footprint reduction. “We will also look into their labour practices and human rights, as well as their materials consumption, how they produce, how aware they are of the environment and the lifecycle of products, among other things.

“So there will be a screening to make sure they match our goals for sustainability. At the next stage, we will audit certain suppliers, and maybe we will have a corporate agreement with them,” Abou Zedian reveals. The group has also introduced a Stakeholder Engagement Plan, which, through surveys and targeted interactions, aims to listen to stakeholders better and respond to their concerns in a mutually beneficial way.

Rotana hopes this will help the group build better relationships with the communities in which it operates, ultimately resulting in improved business planning and performance and reduced impact on resources. “With previous assignments, we assessed the key issues ourselves. But now it’s time to engage with our stakeholders.

“This will include a series of one-on-one meetings or discussions with guests and suppliers. We will also ask our colleagues what is important for them when it comes to sustainable practices. “That really helps us to listen to our stakeholders and engage with them to understand what they are expecting from Rotana in terms of sustainability.

“What is really important for us is finding out what we have to do to improve and achieve a more sustainable company,” Abou Zeidan states. Once Rotana has its stakeholder engagement plan in place, she says the group will look at any issues identified to revise the strategy.

“That is when we will set the 2020 long-term goals. “For now, we have only set short term annual KPIs for all the hotels in the group to achieve,” she concludes.

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