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It’s time to tell our sustainable stories

A Chinese proverb says, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” The quotation is from the classic Chinese text “Tao Te Ching” ascribed to the philosopher Lao Tzu. And for Germain Hotels, those steps to sustainability include rethinking slippers.

Sustainable hotel operations became a recent focus of the World Tourism & Travel Council (WTTC). The organization is made up of members from the global business community and works with governments to raise awareness about the travel and tourism industry. According to several business publications, WTTC is known for being the only forum to represent the private sector in all parts of the industry worldwide. Its activities include research on the economic and social impact of the industry and its organization of global and regional summits focused on issues and developments relevant to the industry.

In March 2023, WTTC launched its Hotel Sustainability Basics guidelines. The WTTC’s criteria for sustainable hotels was a 12-item action list under three main categories: Efficiency, Planet and People. For Efficiency the WTTC lists measuring and reduction of energy use, water use, waste and carbon emissions. For Planet, the criteria are linen reuse, green cleaning products, vegetarian options, no plastic straws and stirrers, no single-use plastic water bottles and bulk amenity dispensers. For People, the WTTC expects community benefit and a reduction of inequalities.

It may be necessary for some parts of the world to have such guidance, but Canadian hoteliers have been implementing these and similar ideas for the last 30 years. We didn’t always call it sustainable, we spoke of “greening the bottom line” or as an element of eco-tourism, but the reality was—and is—being good for the climate is now better for business. That said, our inherent national modesty can make us seem behind trends in the public consciousness as we read headlines across channels and bemoan “They should do more.”


While people are keen to suggest hotels and other travel partners should do more, most guests have little to no idea about the thoughts and actions which have gone into operations. Canada’s problem is that we don’t tell our story. The public expects U.S. and European properties to be trend leaders, overlooking Canadian innovation. As the adage goes: “You can never be a hero in your hometown.”

It’s time to tell our sustainable stories, starting with those slippers.

Marie Pier Germain, vice president of sales and marketing for Germain Hotels, says, “Sustainability is a top priority for us and we have set ambitious goals. New technologies and innovation in construction allow us to reduce the impact of our operations. The design of our hotels includes several aspects that make them more energy efficient” like the use of geothermal energy, energy-efficient service with LED lighting, lighting control and power supply controlled by key cards.

“Most of our standards, like the ones related to construction and local purchasing have existed since our beginning in 1988, and are just part of who we are. For the new actions, we were inspired by the 17 Goals to Transform Our World from the United Nations, ISSB (International Sustainability Standards Board) standards, Green Key certification, and the Five Rs: refuse, reduce, reuse, repurpose and recycle.”

In rethinking the removal of single-use items in guest rooms Germain asked local suppliers what they could do together. “For example, we wanted to get rid of our single-use slippers and switch to reusable slippers. Nothing was available on the market so we had to co-create a prototype with our local supplier. We now have something made in Quebec, with Quebec recycled fabric.” Recognizing that buying local can cost more than a cheap import, Germain opted for a change with a bigger impact. “When we choose an item, we look at the durability to ensure changing for the eco-conscious/local option will have an interesting return on investment AND will enhance the guest experience. For example, our slippers were 10 times more expensive, but the fact we can reuse them up to 25 times makes an interesting ROI within four years.”

A key element of the slipper program, as with all change “is to communicate well to our teammates, train them well and give them the right tools. For our slippers project, we started with the superior rooms to ensure the laundry and housekeeping teams were able to deliver this new item in time.”

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Communications also armed team members with talking points for guests who were unhappy about the removal of plastic water bottles in rooms and the need for key cards for power. Germain adds, “The best way to avoid greenwashing is to communicate with transparency about our sustainable journey, our vision, our goals, and every step of the process.”

Innovation to sustainability is scalable. Canada’s largest property, the 48-year-old, 1,590-room Chelsea Hotel Toronto is another property which long ago embraced sustainable operations. Tracy Ford, Chelsea’s director of public relations, is also a Green Team member and an ongoing expert contributor to STAY Magazine. She says, “Environmental protection is one of our four focus areas in our corporate sustainability program—CONNECT, as we recognize that our property uses significant amounts of energy, water and other natural resources, as well as generating waste. We endeavour to minimize these impacts on the environment in which we operate.”

The Chelsea Hotel is committed to the criteria provided by the EarthCheck Company Standard and undertakes independent auditing, monitoring and annual benchmarking exercises, living up to its commitment to continually improve its environmental and social sustainability performance. The Chelsea has attained 4-key status under the Hotel Association of Canada’s Green Environmental Program, Green Key ECOmmodation and Green Key Meetings as well as the EarthCheck Gold certification.

As foundational elements to translate ideas to action, the Chelsea has an EarthCheck coordinator responsible for ensuring ongoing environmental performance and a dedicated Green Team to deploy and monitor environmental initiatives and sustainability programs in-house as well as with suppliers.

For the guest experience, providing the option for electronic receipts saves three million sheets of paper annually. They also offer guests the use of electric vehicle charging stations. Starting with their 2023 guestroom renovations was the installation of motion-sensor thermostats. They have removed water bottles in guestrooms, and added LED lighting and low-flow shower heads and toilets. Bath amenities are provided by Canada’s Truterra, which focuses on local, natural ingredients.

An earlier renovation saw the installation of an “aspirated” living wall in the lobby. Ford explains, “This draws in contaminated air through the hydroponic wall by use of the natural convection air movement. Pollutants are then broken down by beneficial microbes associated with the plants and clean air is then returned to the occupied space as forest fresh outdoor air.”

While there is a lot of media and social media discussion about sustainability, the Chelsea team’s experience is that meeting planners will ask about it, but not leisure guests. The only noticeable guest resistance seemed to occur when they switched from individual amenity bottles to bulk shower dispensers, but with familiarity and understanding that has been embraced by travellers.

The question for hotels is to audit their messaging to see if they have shared their sustainability story, which can detail past actions, current actions and future actions—let’s be proud of our Canadian sustainability efforts. Read more about the Green Key Global-HAC/AHLA partnership on page 12 in this issue.

This is the first of four parts, where STAY looks at sustainability from the guest experience, back-of-house heavy lifting, green meetings and community involvement.

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