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Peninsula’s vision for sustainable luxury

Natalie Chan has been the Director of Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability at The Hong Kong and Shanghai Hotels, Limited since 2011. She leads the Group’s global strategy on corporate responsibility and sustainability. With a passion for corporate responsibility and sustainability issues, she drives the Group’s long term vision for sustainable luxury.

EarthCheck sat down with Natalie and discussed the publication of the Group’s Sustainability Report and their Sustainable Luxury Vision 2020. We investigated Peninsula’s unique approach to combining sustainability and luxury, as well as sustainability choices, such as their 2011 decision to ban shark fin from all its properties globally.

EarthCheck (EC): Sustainability means different things to different people. What does it mean to Peninsula?

Natalie Chan (NC): Our philosophy towards sustainability really centres on business sustainability. Our approach itself is encapsulated in our vision statement for Sustainable Luxury in 2020. We aspire to deliver the highest standard of luxury in a sustainable way, and we aspire to grow responsibly and sustainably.

We want to integrate our sustainability principles and practices into every aspect of our operations. That is why our vision for 2020 covers a range of topics, from guest experience to governance and management. They are all aspects of how we run a business.

EC: In terms of how that approach is integrated across your business, what are the key sustainability initiatives for the Peninsula group?

NC:  In our sustainability report we have highlighted the different initiatives that we have been undertaking. The report covers many areas and the actions discussed will help integrate sustainability into our daily work.

For instance, Governance and management is an important area that lays the foundation of our work. The Group takes great care in planning for sustainability. Our initiatives are not after thoughts. As part of governance and management, we have a corporate responsibility budget planner that helps all operations to include sustainability programmes in the annual budgetary process. This way, we make sure that the right budget is put in place.

There are lots of individual initiatives. For instance, The Peninsula Tokyo has managed to use silica particles from volcanic rock that are found in Japan in their water filtration system. In a year, they saved around 5,000 bathtubs of water.

EC: Another of your initiatives is called ‘Ambassadors for Good’. Could you tell us more about it?

NC: The Ambassadors for Good program is a training program designed to engage staff. To deliver our vision for 2020 we need everyone in the organisation to understand the challenges that sustainability presents for our company, for the community and for the planet. The objective of Ambassadors for Good is to ensure that staff can act sustainably within their own sphere of influence. That is, within their work, community and home.

EC: Natalie, we know that in 2011 the Group made a decision to ban shark fin. How do you approach ethical sourcing and interactions with your supply chain?

NC: Well, we are aware that our procurement decisions have a direct impact on the environment and the communities where our products originate. An example of how we influence supply chain is our decision to switch all paper products used in our operations to certified sustainable sources, such as FSC, by 2017. This is to ensure that we work with suppliers who share our values in conserving the world’s forest and forest biodiversity.

In the major room renovation at The Peninsula Hong Kong, we partnered with contractors who were certified by ISO 14001 and OHSAS 18001 because these contractors share our values of environmental management, and health and safety management. 

Another example is responsible sourcing on products. In November 2011, we were the first international hotel chain to put a ban on shark fin. We enforced this policy from January 2012.

EC: Considering your food and beverage clientele, that was a very early move. What was the key driver for the change?

NC: We had been looking at this issue for a long time. There was already enough awareness and desire within our organisation to act on this issue. But because we are in the service industry, we had to ensure that guests shared the sentiment. With our sustainability team acted as facilitators, we engaged external organisations and analysed the trend. Then, thanks to our management team, a definitive decision was made. The positive response to this move was overwhelmingly.

EC: In terms of sustainable sourcing and your supply chain, I noticed in your sustainability report that you introduced a new collection of bathroom amenities. Are you passionate about introducing these sustainable products?

NC: I could go on and on about our operation teams’ great work in introducing sustainable products! The one you mentioned, our new bathroom amenities were produced in partnership with Oscar de la Renta launched last September. It is a bespoke product that really embodies the Peninsula spirit of thoughtfulness towards every single detail. It’s carefully crafted to contain no sodium lauryl sulphate which is a chemical found to promote hair loss. We also made sure that the packaging was not only beautiful but also recyclable and FSC-certified.

EC: We get a sense of leadership from Peninsula; you are very committed to sustainability. How do you think that reflects on other businesses?

NC: I can’t speak for other organisations. But, for Peninsula, sustainability is a way of life going forwards. We don’t look at luxury and sustainability separately; rather we strive to create a new paradigm of sustainable luxury. We want to deliver luxurious experiences to our guests in sustainable ways.

You can see the commitment to this vision in our report. Last year we launched the commitment that 100% of paper used had to come from certified sources. All our teams worked hard to see this through and, by the end of 2013, more than 50% of our products are switched over.

EC: Do you think there is one topic in sustainability that people tend to focus on?

NC: I think that, in terms of macro-trends, climate change, population growth and water stress are recognised as global challenges. I don’t think that one issue is more important than another; they are all very significant and interrelated.

EC: You have many destinations across the globe. When you visit these regions, do you notice a generic theme? Are people talking in the same language about the same topics?

NC: While we might expect different regions would focus on different concerns, we have found that there are much commonality among them. Many of these sustainability challenges are global. They transcend continents and economies. The only variations are to do with areas where one issue is taking precedence. For instance, California is experiencing water stress here and now. It isn’t a future problem for them.

Within the framework of our Sustainable Luxury Vision 2020 we are educating our staff around the world about sustainability issues that will resonate with them. By working on these issues collectively, we aim to build long term good practice and to help contribute to the long term sustainability of the local communities we are living within.

EC: Natalie, Peninsula is a prestigious brand with the ability to work with a variety of certification groups. Why did you decide to partner with EarthCheck?

NC: Our Sustainable Luxury Vision 2020 and EarthCheck have closely aligned values and missions. EarthCheck is a holistic program that complements our work.

EarthCheck complements our internal management and governance process by ensuring that we have systems in place to manage sustainability concerns.

You provide the benchmarking report that allows us to measure ourselves against our peers, while our internal reporting process benchmarks our individual hotel’s performance within the HSH Group. Your benchmarking gives us a reference for where we can improve. EarthCheck provides valuable resources to support our commitment to sustainable practices.

EC: Was it easy to go through the EarthCheck process?

NC: Nothing is easy! The level of luxury service we deliver is not easy. It is through determination and looking at ways to making things happen that we achieve.

EC: How does Peninsula approach guest engagement? Will you make compromise for sustainability concerns?

NC: For us at The Peninsula, it’s not about compromising or making a display for our guests, but about serving our guests. We are here to offer the highest standard of luxury experience to our guests, but we see it as our responsibility to continually look for better ways – the most sustainable ways possible – to do so. We see helping our guests take care of their sustainability impact as part of the luxury experience that we bring to our guests.

EC: One thing we are starting to see is the recognition of community and neighbourhood experience, as well as hotel experience. Do you see guest engagement destinations as a focus?

NC: Our guests come to experience our hotels and the iconic cities where we are based. That’s why we put a lot of effort into the local heritage and local culture. Part of the Vision 2020 is engaging guests in terms of preserving the local heritage. We use the Peninsula Academy programs to raise awareness of local traditional practice and culture.

EC: One last question, Natalie. How do you feel about the future? Do you feel hope for sustainability?

NC: I think that we are facing a lot of challenging issues. Yet, we look into the future and we feel hopeful, because of the commitment we have and the support of our management board and staff all around the world. This is hugely encouraging. In the last few years, as we have put in different frameworks and initiatives, we have seen changing attitudes. People are embracing the concept of sustainable luxury.

We are very positive about going into the future where we will embrace sustainable luxury and raise the bar for our environmental, social and economic performance.