It is probably a bad idea to drive a Hummer to a Scandic Hotel. It is probably a bad idea to leave it idling while you run in looking for a single-packed toiletry item (which you won’t find) and an equally bad idea to ask the staff to change your sheets every night. It is definitely a bad idea to ask for your own hermetically sealed packet of jam at breakfast (you won’t get it) or not to separate your trash from your recycling (because it means the hotel has to do it for you).
It might seem like a lot to ask of guests, but taking a hard line on some choices, and a gentler, encouraging touch with others, is all part of the Swedish chain’s program to reduce its carbon emissions to zero. The company is giving itself a little bit of time to get there—“By 2025, we shall not contribute to the carbon emissions at all with our operations,” says Jan Peter Bergkvist, the vice president for sustainable business—but Scandic is trying. And so far, its efforts are working.
Click on Scandic’s Sustainability Live Report on its Web site (www.scandichotels.com) to see a delightfully graphic tally of “the environmental savings we have made since 1996.” For now, the company shows the numbers for four target systems—measuring consumption levels for energy, water, unsorted waste, and fossil carbon dioxide—a framework created by the Natural Step, an international NGO dedicated to improving corporate sustainability. For now, you can calculate the environmental gains from your Scandic sojourn (achieved by drinking the tap water, sharing the jam, and staying in a place heated and lit by alternative energy sources) by clicking on how many nights you’d like to stay and seeing just how many lightbulbs pop up. That number is compared to a benchmark released by the International Tourism Partnership, a hotel-industry NGO set up by the Prince of Wales Trust. They’re not exact, but they’re close enough that Scandic can tell that it’s making a difference.
It might seem impossible to imagine a hotel with zero carbon emissions, given that everything we do produces some form of waste, but Bergkvist has real plans for the company. “Ten years ago emissions from our direct operations was five or so kilos per guest night,” he says. “Tonight we’re down to 2.7 kilos.” He expects that by 2011, halfway to its zero deadline, it will have halved that again. But how?
“How we heat our hotels, how we cool our hotels, how we light up our hotels, and the way we travel within the company—that’s where we have a hundred percent responsibility,” Bergkvist says. Since 1994, Scandic has been working on reducing its dependence on fossil fuels, a goal helped by the Swedish and Norwegian interest in hydropower, but hindered by the current reliance on district heating plants, many of which still use natural gas. “In a zero world, we would have only biomass for district heating and hydro and perhaps wave energy for electricity,” Bergkvist says of Scandic’s idealized future. “And obviously windmills.”
That’s the macroscale. On the microscale—or guest scale—there are the usual water-saving devices and a three-bin recycling system in the guest room. There is also eco-labeling, something that works particularly well in the Scandinavian countries since the 1989 introduction of the Nordic Swan. “It’s a symbol telling the customer that this is environmental—it’s a recognition thing,” Bergkvist says. “And Scandic is the first eco-label-total chain in the world.” In 2004, the company got the Nordic Swan for every one of its 68 Swedish properties, and it just received the stamp in all 109 of its Nordic hotels.
“It is doable,” Bergkvist says of getting to zero. “The technique is here. It’s just a question of putting the investment into the right one.” But why bother putting the investment in? Is Scandic just a company full of people who want to save the world and are willing to do whatever it takes to do so? Not quite. “There are two reasons for doing this,” he says. “One is that, when you understand how it all hangs together, it’s a given that you start to use renewable energy sources, biodegradable chemicals, and so on.” The other? “As a businessman, you want to be more profitable than your competitors,” he admits. “And one of the easiest ways today is to act in a sustainable way.” It might seem crass, but it’s actually refreshing. Besides, Bergkvist points out, if we destroy the world and only Scandic survives, “being there alone wouldn’t be fun.”