A new CEO at Carlson hotels makes room for sustainability

A new CEO at Carlson hotels makes room for sustainability

When Hubert Joly announced his hasty departure recently as CEO of Carlson — the multi-billion dollar hospitality giant and parent of Radisson, Country Inns & Suites and T.G.I. Friday's — the decision to name CFO and 15-year Carlson executive Trudy Rautio as his replacement was almost immediate. "[The Board’s] decision was quick, decisive and unanimous," said Molly Biwer, VP of communications and public relations for the Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group.

Rautio’s track record demonstrates that she’s a well-respected, two-way leader who’s ready to embrace the aggressive growth strategy set in motion by her predecessor. But where does she stand on sustainability?

Under Joly’s command, Carlson limped in with a disappointing four-year average of 12-out-of-100 points on the Climate Counts company scorecard, marking the bottom of the pile in the hotel sector for its approach to measuring, managing and reporting GHG emissions. As a privately held company, there has been little to suggest in recent years that Carlson is interested in anything other than growth and expansion — justifiably so as the company emerges from a recessionary period that deeply affected the entire hospitality industry.

In what may have been a sign of transformation, however, Carlson announced in January an expanded partnership with Belgium-based Rezidor Hotel Group, of which Carlson is now a 50.1 percent stakeholder. Rezidor has been lauded as one of the fastest-growing hotel companies in the world with a penchant for world-class corporate citizenship. The group also has been honored with numerous awards, including a nod from Ethisphere on its 2012 World’s Most Ethical Companies list.

In terms of environmental performance, Rezidor has demonstrated a long-standing commitment to reducing its impact on the natural world, from CEO Kurt Ritter on down to new-hire employees. Beyond its Living Responsible Business and Leading Responsible Business training program (which Carlson Hotels has adopted worldwide), Rezidor has posted some impressive numbers related to hotel energy management:

  • 90 percent of guest rooms are fitted with low-energy light bulbs
  • 70 percent of guest rooms have key card controlled power and lighting
  • 71 percent of hotels use occupancy sensors or motion detectors to control lighting in intermittent use areas
  • 71 percent of hotels have a Building Management System

These figures dwarf similar achievements by U.S.-based hotel chains in both breadth and intensity. As Glen Hasek noted earlier this month, though, the greening of American hotels is on the rise, and the hospitality industry as a whole is taking greater ownership of their supply chains, waste streams and carbon footprint.

In order to emerge as a lead horse on these trends, Carlson will need to identify the business case for embracing sustainability and leverage its association with Rezidor — not only with regard to emissions accounting and reporting, but to overall management.

For new infrastructure, a commitment to investing in smart hotel design with low-energy lighting and high-efficiency HVAC systems would offer palatable pay-back periods and long-term wins on the balance sheet. Where Carlson plans to repurpose existing properties to achieve growth, solutions would be more complex, but low-hanging fruit abounds. In both these cases, having Rezidor’s understanding of sustainability best practices on its side could flatten the learning curve for Carlson significantly.

Another area where Rezidor could give Carlson an edge is in how it positions sustainability. As Nelson Barber points out through his research at University of New Hampshire’s Whittemore School of Business, not all American travelers are willing to give up lavish amenities for the sake of the environment. Rezidor has found tremendous success in marketing the value of its eco-performance as a benefit to customers with no sacrifice to the guest experience.

With a finance-minded CEO at the helm in Trudy Rautio, the road to growth for Carlson bears great opportunity in the area of sustainability. As a decades-old family company with only one other non-related CEO to its credit (Hubert Joly), environmental integrity could very well be the defining cornerstone of Rautio’s legacy. The test now will be to see if it is even on her radar of priorities as incoming chief. 

Image of Hand of a man using a hotel bell by Andrey Burmakin via Shutterstock.