The insider - Arnaud Herrmann

16 December 2016

AccorHotels sustainable development director Arnaud Herrmann has the important responsibility of implementing initiatives throughout the group’s properties. He is committed to combining business growth with sustainability goals, and getting the support of the entire team along the way.

I have only been at Accor for three years now, so not for that long, but at the beginning, I was expecting difficulty when trying to convince people. This has not been the case. We all agree we need to do this.

The biggest challenge with a group consisting of 4,000 hotels and 220,000 people is that it takes a lot of energy.
It requires discipline to advance at all levels at the same time. We are a big, decentralised organisation, and we have to be very consistent in the way we implement corporate social responsibility (CSR).

My role is quite broad. I define the sustainability vision and strategy for the group and make sure it is correctly implemented to promote energy and dynamism. I also try to create momentum among employees by giving them a chance to be part of the story, so that we can achieve sustainable action.

If you are not sincere and consistent over time, it’s a big problem. You have to understand that CSR is a long-term transformation programme. If you are only doing it for the short term, it will fail, for sure.

At AccorHotels, sustainability is in our DNA. We have been working on CSR for 20 years. We know what we have to do and we have serious ambitions. We have five years in front of us with our current programme, so that’s definitely a long-range approach.

Another thing is you cannot build a programme if you don’t integrate everybody. So, if you make some improvements or implement programmes in a single business unit in one part of the world, it is a good way to start, but you can’t succeed with this limited action.

You really have to integrate as much as you can, as fast as you can, across the whole scope of your business, because it has to be a full transformation and the full ambition for the company.

Another thing is to be sure about the objective of sustainability. If your CSR is a must-have due to legal pressure or because of your reputation, then it will be a limited approach. That’s a message I shout very loudly. CSR is a business opportunity and a business risk.

Planet 21, our sustainability programme, has been very easy to adapt because it has been built in a business-oriented way. Having formalised CSR strategy in this way, it was easy to explain the competitive advantage of driving sustainability. It is easy for top management to understand the issues of cost on traction, tension and design.

I think the major success we have seen from Planet 21’s first season was highlighting the importance of sustainable development. I think a major shift was to speak to top managers, explaining why they should do this kind of thing. If you tell someone to plant trees, he may not understand why, or maybe he isn’t a big fan of planting trees. If you explain that it is because of client pressure, agricultural issues, environmental stakes and the produce going back into the restaurant, then the message is more powerful.

The context has changed a lot. We know what customers want. There are money issues and pressures from civil society, NGOs and politicians; the stakes are real and there is no longer any time to waste. Just being aware of how we present things and how we connect them to business is very important.

AccorHotels is one of the top performers in sustainability in the hospitality industry, but we lack visibility. Only a few people outside the company know about our wonderful achievements, which is a complete shame. So this is something we want to work on.

We work in an area where human capital is key. The service we provide is built on the quality and motivation of our employees, so the social aspect is very important. We know a hotel essentially survives because of the interaction with suppliers, the local community and everyone living near the hotel.

I think it is important to have very far-reaching and ambitious goals if you are to make the whole organisation move. Speaking to people in the company, we hear and see that the dynamism around the new programme is very strong. Just as an example, we have a target of creating 1,000 vegetable gardens by 2020, but within four months we created more than 200.

I am sure the proportion of the economy being driven by social and environmental aims will continue to grow, so we have two options: either we let them grow bigger than us, or we become a part of the story and pioneer it. It will be an investment in the future. We are helping to create the future of the hospitality business.  

Interview by Bradford Keen.

AccorHotels sustainable development director Arnaud Herrmann.

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