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Ask Guy Heywood how he gets his hotel owners to support the green cause, and the answer from the chief operating officer at Bangkok-based Six Senses Hotels Resorts Spas, is “get the right owners.”
One way the chain does this is to embed a clause in the management contract that stipulates that 0.5 percent of revenue must go toward a sustainability fund.
No other chain is believed to make it mandatory for owners to put aside a percentage of earnings into a sustainability pot — not even Six Senses’ new parent, InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG).
In another unprecedented move, the chain has also set a goal of being completely free of plastics from 2022, that is, not just eliminating low-hanging fruits such as single-use plastic straws and plastic water bottles, but every piece of plastic at its corporate offices and hotels.
When contacted by Skift if IHG intends to take a leaf out of Six Senses’ green book, CEO Keith Barr said, “We’ve worked very closely with the Six Senses team to understand their approach and over time we’ll consider any ideas that we can potentially scale and roll out across our broader estate of 5,700 hotels, working closely with our third-party owners.”
Six Senses’ Heywood told Skift in an interview during a sustainable tourism forum in Phuket last week that group has refused contracts in which owners don’t agree to give back 0.5 percent of revenue to the community.
“When you have that in the contract, you just exclude some owners who aren’t interested. Those who are interested come to us for what we stand for; they know sustainability and wellness are our key pillars. That makes it easier,” Heywood said of the chain that proclaims, “Sustainability is not something that we do; it is who we are.
“We discuss upfront about our values and key terms, and when we get to the contracting stage, they already know that’s a key element. Most owners are good about it.”
The amount goes directly to the hotel for giving back to the community where it’s located. As part of the chain’s tenet, “We could not hope to care for you if we did not first care for our people, families, and communities we are part of,” it could be spent on, say, learning and education projects. Six Senses operates in many remote areas, where access to education often is a challenge for women, children, and young adults.
Or, on providing funds and resources for disaster relief or to public institutions that are badly in need of renovations. As well, providing vital medical equipment to local hospitals such as incubators for premature babies, or clean water access to local communities by leveraging the chain’s expertise in filtering and bottling its own high-quality drinking water.
The causes are selected by the hotel as it has the local knowledge, plus every Six Senses property has a full-time sustainability manager who oversees green initiatives. The chain also has a three-member sustainability team at the corporate office. The head office in Bangkok approves projects before they can be implemented.
Last year, the fund, which also comprises 100 percent of soft toy sales and donations, and 50 percent of house-bottled water sales, sponsored $635,000 on ways that improve quality of life for communities.
The fund is separate from what a Six Senses hotel would spend, as part of its operating costs, on sustainability efforts as mandated by the chain, such as adhering to a “grown in and not flown in” policy where hotels host organic gardens, chicken farms, and beehives for honey harvesting, and make their own soaps and charcoal candles, said Heywood.
The chain said last year 72,000 kilograms of organic fruit and vegetables were grown on-site at its hotels. In a place such as Bhutan, it pointed out that this also represents an investment in the future of Bhutanese farming.
Traditional Bhutanese cuisine features local cheeses, vegetables, and spices, but a substantial portion of dairy produce, proteins, and grains is also imported. To get back to investing in local farming, Six Senses Bhutan is growing dozens of varieties of organic fruits, vegetables, herbs, and flowers at an eco-village in Damchena near the Paro lodge and introducing new crops and best farming practices there.
Already, hosts have held events to introduce people to new health foods previously not produced in Bhutan, such as beetroot chips, quinoa-sesame biscuits, and chia seeds, it said.
As the industry’s sustainability movement grows stronger in response to public backlash against climate change, overtourism, and irresponsible practices, Six Senses may find itself having to up the ante as competitors start to close in on its green gap, which has become such a competitive edge in the world today.
The chain, however, shows no signs of worrying about this. On the contrary, it appears to continue to be a step ahead of others in sustainability. While others, including IHG, are eliminating single-use plastics like plastic toiletry bottles, plastic straws, and plastic water bottles, Six Senses is aiming to be completely free of plastics from 2022.
“Changing all your plastics is hard, because it is in your everyday life. Eliminating single-use plastics is the easy part. It is the plastic in construction materials, for example, coffee machines, and the little coffee pods, or in computers,” said Heywood.
The chain has made an audit of all the plastics used in hotel and spa operations, thus enabling it to benchmark its progress in reducing them. “We identified millions and millions of plastic objects in 2017 and put together an inventory of all the plastics we have property by property, location by location. By March this year, we’ve achieved a 34 percent reduction in the amount of plastics used [based on the audit],” said Heywood.
The reduction is made through finding the sustainable replacement for a particular plastic item. Instead of, say, the little coffee pods in coffee-making, which are made of plastic, an alternative could be pods made of corn husks, or having the coffee going straight from bean to cup without going through the pod, he said.
It’s also through getting suppliers to not deliver food in plastic containers and persuading local authorities to agree to alternatives to plastic wrap.
“The good thing is technology is enabling us to find alternative solutions more quickly than before,” said Heywood.
Six Senses introduced water bottled in glass in the 1990s and eliminated plastic straws and F&B plastic containers from its hotels in 2016.
The merger with IHG does not change anything at Six Senses, in fact Heywood believes Six Senses’ values are rubbing up on IHG, and“ they have a good sustainability and responsibility messaging anyway.”
Just last week, IHG committed to setting a Science Based Target for greenhouse gas emissions. In July, it joined the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s CE100 network to accelerate its commitment to reducing waste across its global estate.
“At corporate level, we are talking to each other. But there isn’t an intention to merge us completely. They believe in leaving Six Senses as a brand owned by them but run independently so we don’t lose our DNA,” said Heywood.
That just made (seventh) sense.