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Clean and green17th of May 2011
Reporting from Sweden, Tom Crockford examines the credentials of the Scandic hotel group, which claims to be industry-leading in its sustainability policies.
I recall making a trip in the early 1990s to Umea in Northern Sweden to visit the Scandic Hotel there. The reason was Scandic had just embarked on a programme emphasising its commitment to environmental sustainability, and apparently Umea was where the initiative began. I wanted to find out what it was all about.
It was with considerable scepticism that I listened to the chief housekeeper as she explained the background to this story. It all began, she said, with the idea washing slightly used towels and bed linen everyday was very wasteful. It used water, detergents and energy, so in future the hotel would only wash these items if the guest so requested, and of course when the room was vacated. My scepticism was based on the thought that perhaps the real motivation was more to save the hotel time and money than to save the environment, but maybe I was being unfair.
Nevertheless, from this modest beginning the initiative has grown and today it is a central element of the company’s overall marketing strategy. Scandic now proudly boasts that it has "the industry’s leading sustainability programme". Citing the fact that good environmental, economic and social considerations feature in its everyday decisions, the company’s website goes on to proclaim that: “Scandic is proof that you can be progressive in these areas, and achieve even better profitability along the way.” Maybe my scepticism wasn’t so misplaced after all!
So what exactly does this all mean in real terms? What is that Scandic actually does to help protect the environment? Well for one thing it strives to save water – even to the point of watering the plants with the water from the carafes left at empty restaurant tables. Bottled water might be available for sale, but guests are encouraged to refill from the tap, and an empty water jug is always available in the room. Nordic tap water is, after all, clean, very drinkable, and every bit as good as bottled water.
The cleaning staff use only eco-labelled cleaning agents, and at some hotels they have started cleaning with steam to evaluate whether this could be used more widely. Lighting is controlled by the room key, so that lights and the TV go off when one leaves the room, and all waste is sorted into no less than 22 different categories. All company cars are ‘environmental’ cars, and suppliers are prioritised according to whether or not they have a clear environmental policy and environmental certification.
All this has resulted in Scandic Hotels being awarded a number of eco-labelling certificates, including the Nordic Swan label, the EU's Flower label, as well as other well known symbols, such as KRAV, and Good Environmental Choice. Today four out of five Scandic hotels – more than 100 in all - feature the Nordic Swan eco-label.
Clearly the Scandic programme has developed a lot since my visit to Umea. Good corporate governance certainly includes taking responsibility for the impact on the environment of the company’s operations. Scandic appears, however, to be going a step beyond this, and actually using it as a marketing tool, which is fine. There are worse things to market than being clean and green.