The iconic Savoy hotel has stood at the heart of London’s Strand since 1889. But until recently, it lacked a green agenda. That is, until self-made environmental ambassador Debra Patterson came along. Debra was a secretary at The Savoy before seeing an opportunity to give the hotel a green makeover. In 2005, she set up The Savoy’s first ever Green Team, which promotes the hotel’s environmental policy, and has worked tirelessly ever since to make every part of Savoy life more sustainable, from its herb garden and organic menu to its very own green butler!
Why did you feel compelled to lead The Savoy’s green agenda?
I was introduced to Fairmont’s Green Partnership Programme in 2005, when The Savoy became a Fairmont managed property. The values and beliefs of the programme really appealed and at that time The Savoy didn’t have any green initiatives – it was a totally new concept.
What did you do to convince your managers that the hotel had to improve its sustainability and environmental track record?
Initially it was more about convincing them that I, as a secretary, should take the lead – that took determination, commitment and passion! Initially there were lots of meetings, presentations, poster campaigns and training days to help build environmental awareness into the hotel’s culture. Once the projects were running successfully the management got behind the culture change and were supportive. Winning Fairmont’s Environmental Hotel of the Year award in 2006 really helped! By the time The Savoy closed for restoration at the end of 2007, the management were fully aware of just how important sustainability and environmental issues had become and were prepared to tackle both head on.
The management agreed to an environmental assessment and energy review to help us set a benchmark for our carbon footprint and to understand what technologies were available to help us to tackle the main topics of energy consumption and waste reduction in the future. We held meetings to establish a vision for the future and establish policies and procedures as environmental issues were now a core value.
How did you feel when asked to put together the strategic environmental policy for The Savoy?
I’m sure the blood drained from my face! At the time I wasn’t even sure what one was, but what I did realise was that management were putting their trust in me and that this was an amazing opportunity. In accepting the challenge, I had no idea just how big the learning curve would be.
Who are the Green Team members and what do they do?
The Green Team are volunteers from all hotel departments who have a passion for environmental issues and want to help make a difference. They play a vital role in communicating information on our green initiatives to their department colleagues, but they are also green ambassadors for our clients and guests. Tasks range from carrying out audits, exploring new ideas, implementing energy conservation systems, organising events and giving green training – there is always so much to do.
Tell us more about your green butler!
The concept of a green butler is someone who provides all the usual butlering services, such as packing and making travel arrangements, as well as advising on green initiatives within the hotel and green places of interest around London. They can offer information on ethical shops, top organic restaurants, sustainable walks, outdoor activities, heritage sites, nature walks, cycle and jogging routes. They aim to give our eco-conscious guests a truly local and authentic experience.
What are you most proud of since you began making the hotel more environmentally-friendly?
I can’t take the credit on my own, but I’m very proud of our scheme that turns food waste into renewable energy, which diverts excess food waste from landfill. I love the fact that The Savoy now has its own environmental stay package, for eco-conscious guests. Achieving a gold award with Green Tourism for London was a real achievement, and launching the first green map of London’ with Visit England and Greentraveller.co.uk was a really proud moment!
Did you face any opposition?
As I mentioned earlier, the initial challenge I faced was to convince the management that I could do the job, but otherwise the challenges are about finding solutions and keeping The Savoy an environmental leader in the hospitality business. Every now and then I could say the management needed a bit more convincing on some subjects, like the environmental stay package, but never opposition.
What other businesses or individuals have inspired you in your quest to make The Savoy a greener hotel?
I find inspiration from all over the place. I am constantly keeping my eye on what other businesses are up to and what new technologies are available. Fairmont have green champions all over the world and they are all really inspirational in the way they tackle issues that are unique to them. I love networking at events, you can pick up some great tips.
What’s next in your strategy?
This subject is so dynamic and diverse that there will always be something new to look at, but water and cooling will feature strongly on the agenda for the future.
If you could change one thing about London, what would it be and why?
I would make it a rule that all businesses had to switch off their office lights after the last man out. I know it looks pretty, but it’s so wasteful.
Debra is an ambassador for the PEA Business Awards – These awards seek to champion the individuals within corporations who demonstrate exceptional leadership and vision in implementing Britain’s greenest business initiatives. Entries are free online at www.peabusinessawards.com