In an interview with Kirsten Brøchner of the Arthur Hotel Group in Copenhagen, Denmark, we discussed their journey to become the first carbon-neutral hotel group in the world, and how their 5-point climate action plan is not only good for the planet, but also good for business.
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Rahim Kanani: Tell me a little bit about the founding of Brøchner Hotels and the resulting Arthur Hotels group. Also, where did the desire to put sustainability at the core of the organization come from?
Kirsten Brøchner: Brøchner Hotels has been a family owned and family run business from day one in 1982. First by my parents, with my assistance, and later with the help of my brother. Until June 2013, Brøchner Hotels consisted of four hotels, but due to a generational change and different visions in management, my brother and I separated the company into two independent companies, and I thereby formed the Arthur Hotel group consisting of Hotel Kong Arthur and Ibsens Hotel.
Being climate-friendly was and is my mission, and this is why we continue our efforts for a greener planet with Arthur Hotels. I have been asked the question about why I have this desire to put sustainability at the core of the organization many times, and I have come to the conclusion that the reason must be found in the story of my upbringing. My family consists mainly of entrepreneurs and healthcare personnel—hospital professors, doctors and nurses—so I have always been inspired by both the desire to see new projects blossom and the desire to care for others. Quite a good combination when running a hotel group, when thinking about it. My philosophy has always been that if you value ethics highly in your business, the money will follow automatically.
When the climate debate began to rise, this immediately caught my attention. I found it important to take action, and this is why I decided that despite the hotel group being a very small player in the market, I believed we could make a difference and hopefully encourage others to make a difference as well. I am aware that we in my company cannot make a big change alone, but hopefully we could set an example, which we have done.
Kanani: What did it take to become the first carbon-neutral hotel group in the world, and what challenges did you have to overcome to achieve such a feat?
Brøchner: I felt that we as a corporation had a co-responsibility for climate change and that we therefore had to take action. We investigated and discussed what to do, and I discovered that with the Kyoto Protocol, all parties committed were allotted the right to emit a certain amount of carbon. If emissions were not utilized, because an energy producer had converted their energy production into a more climate-friendly solution, these emissions could be sold via the European Union Emissions Trading System. I figured that if we bought some of these surplus energy offsets and destroyed them, and took them off the market, these emissions would not be utilized. Further, by buying these offsets we would also financially support these energy producers that had invested in alternative production methods. Finally, if buying and destroying offsets corresponding to the amount of carbon that our hotels emit, we would be able to neutralize our total energy consumption.
We then took the investigation one step further and researched what other businesses and hotels had done, and we discovered that we, by doing this, would become the first carbon neutral hotel group, which was confirmed by the international hotel organization IH&RA. However, it was nearly impossible to find out how to buy these offsets, as they were only available for energy companies. I talked to a lot of people, ministries, government boards and others, spending a lot of time to investigate this. Suddenly, I came in contact with the small, Danish, independent, climate-friendly energy company Modstrøm, who offered to sell energy offsets via them. Ever since, we have bought energy offsets equalling our annual carbon emission at the hotels based on electricity, heat and linen consumption. This was how we were able to call ourselves the first carbon neutral hotel in the world.
Besides buying offsets, we have changed our whole mindset in the company, investigating all details on how we can be climate-friendly in every corner of the company. And we have done this by creating a 5 step climate plan that we have followed since 2008. As the offsets market have lost value, we are thinking about what we can do next. But due to the recent creation of Arthur Hotels, we must be realistic and I must admit that this will take time if we want to present a new thought-through initiative and thereby make an even bigger impact. Nevertheless, our 5-step climate plan is still ruling.
The challenges with the offset system were not the only challenges we faced. I had a lot of ideas that were not realized, unfortunately. For instance, I wanted to set up a climate school for companies with training courses for employees, teaching them how to choose the green option at work and at home. One example is when boiling water for tea—only boiling the water needed, so energy is not wasted on boiling extra. Or eating more light than dark meat, as the production of beef is more harmful to the environment than the production of poultry. Unfortunately, none of the many government agencies I asked for help were interested in supporting the idea.
Through the years, I have met the Minister of Climate several times and have discussed my ideas. I have asked for more public information on how to choose green in the supermarket. How are we supposed to know, from a green perspective, what is best to buy: tomatoes grown in Danish greenhouses, or organic tomatoes transported from Spain? In my opinion, the government should create a system with which the average consumer will be able to understand how to shop with a carbon-minimizing mindset in the supermarket. I have also suggested the Minister carry out a governmental plan to help both citizens and companies finance the building of houses or renovation projects carried through by using alternative energy sources—giving people access to “cheap money”. Unfortunately, these are challenges I have yet to overcome.
Kanani: What are some of the details to your 5-step climate plan?
Brøchner: As of 2008, our plan is as follows:
1. CO2 neutralization now and in the future.
2. Create energy savings.
3. Involve guests.
4. Establish a CO2 neutral hotel network.
5. Collaborate with climate networks/alliances including climate friendly suppliers.
We have made many small adjustments such as changing to more energy-friendly sources when it comes to light bulbs, heating centrals, guest amenities, groceries and other items and always choose as green as possible when introducing new products. We bought electric cars for our guests to rent, and we have charging stations at Hotel Kong Arthur for guests arriving by electric car.
The biggest change must be the reduction of our linen consumption by 22 per cent. Reducing our linen consumption means, from a green perspective, that less laundry detergent, which is harmful to the environment, is used, energy consumption from the washing machines is reduced, the transport of linen to and from the hotel is reduced, which reduces carbon emission from the transport and so on. And all of this is due to a simple idea put forth by one of our maids: instead of leaving all towels visible in the bathrooms, we leave some of the towels in the cupboard with a cute hand-written post-it message on the bathroom mirror inviting the guest to help us protect the environment by only using the towels needed – and if needed, more towels are available in the cupboard.
Of other ways we are enacting out a climate-friendly agenda is by collaborating with suppliers supporting the green initiative. A green chain collaboration so to speak. We buy primarily organic food products and bread, and actually our organic bread supplier, the bakery “Det Rene Brød”, even bought electric cars to deliver the bread to us after having seen our own. We have reduced transportation by, for instance, having milk delivered every other day instead of every day. And all of these great initiatives are based on ideas from employees in the company. Whenever someone gets a new climate-friendly idea, we discuss it and see if we can implement it.
Kanani: The city of Copenhagen intends to become carbon neutral by 2025—the first goal of its kind in the world. Were you inspired by the city’s ambition, or was the city inspired by yours?
Brøchner: This is a difficult question. When the Municipality of Copenhagen launched their Climate+ campaign, which has now resulted in the goal of becoming the world’s first carbon neutral city, we were appointed Climate+ Frontrunner, and I gave a speech at the opening ceremony. But I will say that the city’s ambition and our ambition were two parallel stories or processes. And I am very happy that the city and we share the same ambition, because it is only by working together towards the same goal that we can make a difference.
Kanani: Is pursuing a sustainable and climate-friendly agenda good for business?
Brøchner: Definitely. And in several ways. First, in relation to the market, being sustainable has always been good for us as a small player, as we have achieved great attention. Not only do we receive great media coverage, but it has also meant that we have expanded our client portfolio. Before becoming carbon neutral, it was difficult for us to attract the attention of big companies. However, a few years ago, the Danish government passed a law demanding that all medium-sized and large corporations in their annual accounts report their CSR accounting. These companies are welcome to report that they do not do anything at all, but who wants to write that? So when this law was passed, this definitely put pressure on, for instance, these companies’ green chain collaborations which meant that suddenly international companies like Novo Nordisk wanted us as their hotel partner.
Second, there is no doubt that being sustainable has an economical advantage for all types of businesses. Saving energy for instance also means saving money.
Third, thinking and acting green also has an impact on the company internally. When making an effort for good causes such as protecting our planet, companies will automatically attract the passionate fireballs who want to be part of that company, contributing to the good cause. In this way, sustainability is sustainable; it becomes a positive impact causal loop.
Fourth, being sustainable has had a great impact on me personally. These efforts have expanded my network. Suddenly, I was having dinner with Nobel Pease Prize winner Muhammad Yunus. I have met so many inspiring and creative people throughout this process, and continue to do so—people who have helped me develop my business in many creative ways. I believe that inviting innovation inside is always good for business.
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