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Balancing sustainability and experience

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Bilderberg Hotel De Bovenste Molen already finds itself surrounded by a beautiful, lush, and green natural environment. Located in the forests near Venlo, this hotel has been a Nedlin client since 2011. But its green character extends beyond the forest. It has been awarded the Green Key gold label, the highest status of this eco-label for sustainable accommodation in the hospitality industry. Hotel manager Edwin van Velsen and the director of Green Key, Erik van Dijk, explain what this eco-label is all about and talk about the sustainability challenges faced by the hospitality industry.

Van Velsen has just started his double role as General Manager of De Bovenste Molen in Venlo and Château Holtmühle in Tegelen. He has been in charge of these two hotels in north Limburg for just over six months but has been working within the Bilderberg chain for quite some time. "I have been closely involved in the development towards a more sustainable hotel industry. Bilderberg wants to lead the way, and all hotels have a silver or gold status with Green Key."

"It is always great to see hotels make sustainable choices based on their intrinsic values," says Van Dijk. His experience as director of Green Key shows that some companies use the quality mark as a tool to make the right choices. "This is not a problem, of course, but the hotels that make a very conscious choice for sustainability often go a step further." Van Velsen agrees, "Now that we have had the highest gold status for some time, we are looking for things that can be done even better, so that we can achieve bonus points. The hotel where I used to work, for example, kept its own bees on the estate and sourced its meat locally. I'm still trying to find out what exactly we're going to focus on, but the kitchen already works a lot with local products."

Green Key offers a starting point

Green Key is an internationally recognized quality mark that helps companies in the leisure sector to make sustainable choices that go beyond the requirements of legislation and regulations. The affiliated companies must use energy and water sparingly. These include the use of solar panels, low-energy light bulbs, light sensors, and timers for air conditioning and heating, as well as the minimum possible amount of washing and environmentally friendly cleaning products. In addition to the compulsory requirements, there are optional standards, which determine whether a company is awarded bronze, silver, or gold. "Because sustainability is a constantly changing process, these standards are updated every three years," explains Van Dijk. "For example, something that was optional three years ago may become compulsory now. We set the bar high, but not so high that businesses drop out because it becomes untenable.

Van Dijk has been the director of Green Key for eleven years, and the list of affiliated companies has grown from 165 to 700. "It is actually quite special that the hotel industry paid attention to sustainability during the economic crisis more than ten years ago. I rarely spend time on acquisition, as most companies get in touch with us on their own initiative. I will visit a hotel if it claims to be the "most sustainable hotel" and if it is not affiliated to us yet. Then I'd like to see what they have done in terms of sustainability."

The 700 companies in the Netherlands are inspected by five independent inspectors. Van Velsen acknowledges that the period prior to such an inspection is always exciting and that everything is intensified internally. "But these visits are also very valuable. The inspectors give us useful advice and help us to think about where we can improve." "We are very strict but fair," explains Van Dijk. "If the hotel has something that is not completely in order, it has six weeks after the visit to change it. But sometimes we really have to take a hotel off the list.

It is always great to see hotels make sustainable choices based on their intrinsic values.

Erik van Dijk
Guest experience still the biggest deciding factor

Both men agree that in the hotel industry, it is always a matter of finding the balance between the most sustainable choice and guests' comfort. "Comfort is still the biggest deciding factor," according to Van Velsen. "Sustainable choices must first and foremost be affordable, but they must also not negatively affect guests' experience. You can see that the use of local products in the kitchen, for example, really appeals to guests, such as the asparagus produced by the grower around the corner from here. But so far, we have not opted for organic bath linens, because it is more expensive than the current linen package and we don't yet know how organic linen is affected by frequent washing.” 

Nevertheless, he sees the developments going fast and expects these things to change in the long run as well. "I can imagine that we would opt for organic linen for the beds or sustainable workwear for the staff in the next tender. At Nedlin, you can see that they already have an organic option, but in a few years' time there will undoubtedly be more. But first we will write off our current linen, otherwise it will not be sustainable either."

Van Dijk adds that it must also remain realistic for companies. "We do indeed see that sustainable linen is not yet widely used, but as the supply increases, this will change. This can also be seen, for example, in the development of sanitary fittings in the bathrooms of hotels. We once had a ban on rain showers, but now there are rain showers that consume just 9.5 litres of water. That is significantly better than standard showers that use about 20 litres or a bath. So, then we change our policy, because we prefer a sustainable rain shower to a bath."

Maintainability

Van Velsen has observed the trend that baths are increasingly disappearing from hotel rooms anyway. "It is interesting to follow all the changes, including in terms of technology. Some technical tours de force seem great but then appear to not yet be fully developed. A motion sensor that registers whether a guest is present and whether the lights and heating need to be switched on is fine but does not work if it is only suitable for a square room and the room is L-shaped."

The sustainability measures continue to develop, concludes Van Dijk. "Instead of sustainability, I sometimes use the term "maintainability." Because that's what it's all about: everything has to be maintainable – not only for ourselves, but also for the world around us. It may sound strange, but in fact I hope that an organization like ours will be able to dissolve itself in twenty years' time, and that sustainability has become just as common in the leisure sector as hygiene."