Q&A: The Intersection of Sustainability and Security
"Think People, Think Community, and Think Planet.” These three pillars drive Radisson Hotels’ joint safety, security, and sustainability missions, helmed by Inge Huijbrechts, global senior vice president for safety and security and responsible business at Radisson Hotel Groups. Combining safety, security, and sustainability under a single senior vice president may be unusual. However, in the face of growing global uncertainty and changes, the insight this lens can provide a global enterprise is invaluable—especially when backed by a high-functioning team of hospitality-minded specialists.
The program, Huijbrechts says, only really works when paired with engagement from employees, owners, and key partners.
After more than two years in the role of managing the joint mission, Huijbrechts finds the combination effective, and with the coronavirus pandemic, she says she knows ensuring that safety and organizational recovery needs to be sustainable for long-term success.
The following conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
What does the combination of security and sustainability look like? What does “responsible business practices” mean to Radisson, especially with regards to sustainability?
IH. For us, responsible business means that we try to be a responsible company in everything we do. We focus on three pillars, called Think People, Think Community, and Think Planet. Think People means that we always care for the people in our hotels and our supply chain. So, in our outwards communications, safety and security was always part of the Think People focus area. Making sure that we welcome guests in a safe and secure environment in our hotels is essential, so it was always part of our responsible business report to talk about safety and security as part of Think People. Think People is also everything we do on business ethics, on responsible supply chain management, and on our people development, so it touches on the work of our HR teams in terms of developing people.
Think Community is caring and contributing in a meaningful way to communities where we operate. We also contribute to communities in the areas of food, shelter, and a better future, so it entails everything in terms of providing employment and employability opportunities for young people and people who are in difficult situations. We donated €1.6 million ($1.8 million USD) last year to various nonprofits, we volunteered 43,000 volunteer hours—these kinds of elements all fall under our meaningful contribution to our community.
Finally, Think Planet makes sure that our footprint on the environment is as light as it can be in terms of energy, water, waste, and carbon, and making sure that we incorporate sustainability into our value proposition to the guests. For example, we’ve reduced our carbon emissions per square meter by 16 percent since 2017, and before that we had very successful energy consumption reduction. Since 2011, we’ve reduced our energy consumption and our water consumption by 30 percent, so those are significant actions to reduce even though we grew as a company. We have, for example, carbon-neutral Radisson meetings, which means that any meeting or event that takes place at a Radisson hotel is automatically carbon neutral.
How does one function inform or influence the other, and how does the intersection of these two departments influence your decision making?
IH. When you talk about responsible business, sustainability, and safety and security, they are very much expert environments. You need a team of experts who are in service of our hotels.
The other aspect that is essential is that they both can only be successful in a large hotel company if you get the engagement of all your hotels and all hotel teams. You can never force these things; you have to get the engagement of the employee base of your hotels, of your owners, of your key partners.
And the last part where they are linked is also on a geopolitical level. If we as a company know how to operate more responsibly in a location, we can gain the trust and the license to operate, which in turn then makes us more safe and secure as a business. On the other hand, for example, if you develop hotels in locations that see the impacts of climate change, you will see water security issues, you will see safety issues originating from your climate change. Those two, in terms of risks to the business, in terms of geopolitical or climate change risk, those are very much intertwined.
What do you look for when you’re putting together a team for these functions?
IH. I think I inherited a great team who are all people who have hospitality in their veins, which means this attitude of “Yes, I can.” You need to be serving the guests, serving the hotels, serving your colleagues, and you need to have that service mind-set in everything you do. If you want to get that engagement of your teams, which is so essential to making hotels safe and secure and making sure that everybody practices responsible business in their day-to-day job, you can only do that when you have a service mind-set yourself.
And then, of course, they need to have a broad view, and that’s quite unique. We combine safety and security under the same department, and then you add sustainability, so, we have to have people who can understand this broad spectrum. We don’t have a big team, so people need to have that generalist understanding on top of their special expertise.
What risks are important or a priority regarding sustainability? Why is this important for the security industry?
IH. The impacts of climate change. That’s it.
We have resources in general, but in our 24/7 business, you can’t operate without energy, you can’t operate without water, you can’t operate without a stable food supply chain, and you can’t operate without your team. So, the availability and the stability of all those aspects are essential in terms of risk management. That’s where we have a responsibility to have our footprint as light as possible in terms of resource use, as local and as stable as possible in terms of food supply, and as long-lasting, sustainable, and responsible as possible in terms of caring for the workforce.
Because if we care for our workforce in a correct way, every person you employ in a developing country ensures more financial stability for a wider group. It’s not about that one person, it’s about their family, it’s about their network that you helped sustain through a responsible job. They are not just sustainability risks, they are security risks as well.
How did you convince the C-suite that this combination was an asset to the company?
IH. I think that was kind of a gamble and, to be honest, it took a while to convince people who expect security to be only focused on the expertise that a lot of people have coming out of the military or coming out of intelligence services, police, or diplomatic security. But you see in the security world that there’s more of a shift away from that very strong expertise to a more global view on security.
It took time internally to convince certain people that somebody without the expertise of law enforcement, military, or the intelligence community could actually lead security and safety. But of course, I could not lead this on my own. You need a team of experts who help you with this and who will work with you as a team to make it work. To set a meaningful strategy and understand how these departments serve the business, you don’t need to be a specialist—you just need to see how they work together and how you can help by bringing them together.
You can, I would say, bring a perspective that is broader but also at the same time shows that you can handle, as a leader, a crisis and that you cooperate across the business. The trust from the business itself was rapidly there, so our operational leaders trusted this move quite quickly because they had seen me in action as a leader for responsible business in connection with operations. It was more the C-suite who was thinking in silos, and some had difficulty seeing that this would work. I think the proof came through certain crises and taking the company through those crises.
What fundamentals should a business leader focus on if they want to incorporate or merge sustainability into security?
IH. The first thing is to pitch it from a strategic level, because you need to pitch it to the leaders of your company. That’s a very strategic conversation to have, but in terms of having conversations with operational leaders, with finance, with insurance risk functions, this totally makes sense.
I think it also makes sense in a service business like ours because it’s so people-centric, and if you have that mind-set, I think you can start combining. Keep in mind that you will need experts in sustainability, in community engagement, ethics—you need to bring those fields of expertise under the same leadership.
I think a first step to move in that direction is already making sure that as part of your sustainability and responsible business reports, there’s also a mention of safety and security.
When you’re dealing with global-scale issues—like impacts of climate change, the impacts the pandemic will have on food security and the rise of crime, and preventing modern slavery and the impacts that can have on hotels—all these things that have global impact, you need to approach them in a holistic way.
What are some of the benefits to hotel security or business continuity that sustainable practices and/or responsible business practices can provide?
IH. I think it’s a matter of efficiency and credibility of a responsible company. You break down the silos and you look at things holistically, and many of the global issues need a holistic approach.
What helped is whenever I look at a risk now—with a growing expertise in safety and security—you actually look at things from a different angle. For example, in Freetown, Sierra Leone, three months after we opened a new hotel there, the Ebola crisis hit.
When a new hotel opens, it takes time for business to pick up—it takes usually a year. The gentleman running that hotel kept all the staff they had hired, trained them, and he and others agreed to reduce their salaries to do so in a responsible and ethical way. So, he kept the team together and safe, and he kept their families safe, because he trained everybody on how to prevent Ebola. That contributed to a more secure situation, as well, and the hotel recovered business. They had built that reputation of trust in their community so that it contributed to the safety and security of the place.
One of our hotels in Bangladesh contributed on a regular basis to the local community. They involved the local community with their local projects, whether it’s around food donations, clothes donations, trainings, employability—in doing so, they actually built that trust in the local community. So that means that the hotel becomes a safer place to be, even if you’re in an emerging market, because you do the right thing in terms of responsible business and safety and security.
They influence each other on a micro level, but they also influence each other on a macro level. When we look at the coronavirus pandemic, we know there’s going to be instability in a lot of places. By being a responsible citizen in these places, we are going to build trust, and the trust is going to be needed for our business to operate successfully again in those local communities.