This zero-energy hotel sets new sustainability standards in the hospitality industry

(Readtime: +- 8 minutes)

 

Hotel Breeze may only be a few months old, but they’ve got some pretty lofty goals. Open in the Amsterdam neighborhood of IJburg since June 2019, they hold the great honour of being the world’s first zero-energy hotel. And while they’re happy with being special and unique for the time being, their ultimate goal is to set the standard for the hospitality industry, both in Amsterdam and beyond, and for zero energy hotels to become the new normal.
 

WALK THE TALK #2 - How Hotel Breeze sets a new sustainable standards as a zero-energy hotel 

We visited Hotel Breeze and spoke to Operations Managers Erna and Robin, to find out about their journey so far, and the extreme lengths they’ll go to in order to ensure that every single product in the hotel - from the ingredients to the furniture to the soap - is as sustainable as possible.

hanos plasticvrij

(On the photo: Robin Boer and Erna Verhoef, Operations Managers of Hotel Breeze. Credits: Monika Vaskorova).

Maybe we could start with you giving us a short introduction to Breeze?

Erna: We’re trying to be the first zero energy hotel in the world, both technically and operationally. We’re quite unique in that, especially compared with other hotels in Amsterdam. We’re working in cooperation with Professor Ben Bronsma, who developed the Earth, Wind and Fire concept. That’s all natural air-con. We’re self-sustainable and only need cold water: we generate everything ourselves. Within the operations, we want to have the lowest carbon footprint possible. We work only with local and seasonal products, and all of the operating equipment that we have in our hotel is manufactured in Europe. We try to keep everything as close as we can and look for the best possible option. Sometimes, you have to choose the best of bad options, but we’ve also made great partnerships along the way, including Straw by Straw, which fits our concept perfectly!    

Robin: The whole sustainability angle is embedded throughout the hotel, from the techniques we used to build the hotel, to F&B, housekeeping, reception… and also towards our guests. We’re aiming to create a snowball effect whereby in 10 or 15 years, this is the standard for all new hotels being built. At this point, we’re ‘special’ in doing this, but in the future, we want it to be the norm. 


In the time that the hotel concept was in development, did you see a shift in attitudes of other companies regarding sustainability?

Erna: Absolutely! We opened the conversations with all our partners, and since we were asking so many questions about sustainability, and because we had such high standards for our suppliers, they started looking for better options themselves. We worked with our partners to look at how we can do things better.


Robin: We literally pushed them to their limits! We always set out to aim for the highest level in terms of sustainability, and if there was literally no other option than to downgrade, that’s what we did. But initially, with all suppliers that we had discussions with, we had the highest standards possible. Not just the materials their products were made from, but asking questions like “Where does it come from?” We basically agreed with ourselves that we were looking at products and ingredients from within a radius of 500 kilometres. If not, it’s a no-go for us. Other questions we asked were “how are the products transported to our location? What material are they wrapped in” - because we didn’t want mountains of plastic at our property!

"We basically agreed with ourselves that we were looking at products and ingredients from within a radius of 500 kilometres. If not, it’s a no-go for us."

 

Wow, that must have been quite a challenge!

Erna: Yes, but it was also really cool to be a part of! Because people are so much more aware now. And when you take your time to do some research, you see that there are actually a lot of people working on these issues - they’re just not so well known yet, which is why we should work together and let people know that you can do way better.

 

Apart from the packaging, what have been other challenges you’ve faced?

Erna: Well, one problem is that some products are simply not being produced in the Netherlands. They don’t grow here. But we’re still a 4* luxury hotel, so we want to give a full offering to our guests. Chocolate, as one example, was an issue. We had to do a lot of research, but we finally found a new company here in Amsterdam that makes chocolate, and they actually transport the raw beans here by ship - it takes three months on the sea!

Wow, it had better be good chocolate then!

Robin: Yes, definitely! In the rooms as well, we have small coffee machines that work using those small coffee capsules. No company currently offers biodegradable cups, so we had to look for the best alternative. We found one company that delivers good quality biodegradable coffee capsules, still in plastic cups, but these cups are collected separately by a company called Clean the World. We separate them from the regular waste, and the 3 different materials in the cups (aluminium, plastic and coffee residue) are given new life. The coffee residue is actually collected and reused to produce soap bars! And other parts of the coffee residue are used for growing mushrooms. 

 

No way! You really have thought of everything.

Erna: Yes! There’s also a great story about the coffee cups in the rooms. There’s a lady who goes round kindergartens and collects left-over clay that kids play with, and uses it to make coffee cups. It’s fully recycled material. We have so many cool stories and partnerships, we could discuss this for weeks!


Robin: Everywhere you look, and everything you see in this hotel, there’s a cool story behind it. That’s also important when we’re hiring staff. Like any company, we want to hire staff we have a connection with. But it’s also really important that our staff here are able to promote and tell the story of the hotel. As a guest, when you walk in, you see that everything looks really nice and that all of the plants you can see are genuine. But you can’t see the background of the whole building. We have all natural air-conditioning, we have a solar chimney, and that’s something that needs to be told by the staff. That involves a lot of training so that people can tell the story over and over again - it becomes part of their DNA.

"Everywhere you look, and everything you see in this hotel, there’s a cool story behind it."

Erna: There are also some things that you’d usually see in a 4* hotel that we don’t do, so it’s also important that our team explains the reason behind all of that. It’s not just telling people “no, we don’t change your bed linen” - there’s a reason why we chose not to do it. It’s the same for towel changes. The staff have to tell the story behind it, so that the guests don’t think “they didn’t even change the towels? What kind of hotel is this!”

Robin: We also have a very limited number of parking spaces here, just 35 for almost 200 rooms. But that’s really in line with our concept, so it was a specific choice we made. We don’t want to encourage guests coming to the building with cars. We also want people to go home having stayed here, thinking about what small steps they can take at home to be more sustainable. That already starts off the snowball effect for us, the thing that we want to achieve! 

 

What do you think is driving the shift making consumers be more aware of the environment?

Robin: It’s just becoming more of a common thing. We have meetings planned here on a weekly basis with all types of companies who want an inspiring environment for their team.

Erna: It’s also got to do with the news. All those documentaries. People are just starting to talk about it. Laws are changing in the Netherlands - just look at plastic disposables. Hospitality is trying to take the lead in taking small steps. All the big hotel chains have banned plastic straws and coffee stirrers, and some people just have to take the lead. Hospitality often leads the way, and if everyone wants a hotel that’s sustainable, the hospitality industry will provide that.

 

"Hospitality often leads the way, and if everyone wants a hotel that’s sustainable, the hospitality industry will provide that."

Robin: We’re also being confronted with climate change on a daily basis. In the media, but you can also sense it when you go out. Summers are shorter and hotter. Winters are longer and they start in a different season. Climate change is just a daily subject at this point, and people are finally realising that we actually need to take care of our planet.

 

When you were first starting out, what inspired you to go after this zero energy ambition?

Erna: It’s just something I’ve always been really interested in, also in my personal life. I love hotel openings: they’re kind of my thing. This is great because it’s so new. No one’s ever done anything similar before, so it’s so inspiring to be a part of.

Robin: Yes, the same goes for me. I used to work for standardised brands that had standardised operations as well. Whether you work in one branch or another, the operations will be exactly the same. Here, the challenge is great for our creativity. A hotel like this brings lots of challenges, and you have to approach it differently. You’re not talking to suppliers and only focusing on what the costs are. For us, the process starts with asking about sustainability, and then we can move on to questions like prices. 

 

What advice would you give to more traditional hotel chains who really want to become more sustainable, but who don’t have the advantage of starting their processes from scratch?

Robin: Migration takes a lot more effort, of course, while we got to start from scratch. If you can’t do that, it requires some change, but you have to start somewhere. You can ask yourself, “what can we do in our work processes? Do we still want to continue working with buffets?”, for example. Start with the work processes, get it into your company's DNA, and then you can start moving towards looking at the products you use and making the complete change to become sustainable. There were quite a few moments where even we thought that it was going too far, because you have to invest so much time into sorting out the sustainability part. 

 

Where do you think trends are heading in terms of sustainability in the hotel industry? If a hotel like this were to open in 5 or 10 years, what would they be able to do that you can’t at the moment?

Robin: That’s a good question. We’re in the middle of the transition phase of being conscious and aware that something needs to happen. As we mentioned, a lot of hotels are already taking measures to move towards a certain level of circularity and sustainability. That’s the current trend: we’re all willing. But are we also willing to invest financially, and in terms of time and energy? People are still working out how they’re going to approach the problem.

 

As well as your ongoing projects aimed at increasing sustainability, do you also run one-off initiatives?

Robin: Yes: we also cooperate with the local community. IJburg is very active within the sustainability movement, partly because we’re surrounded by so much water. There’s an organisation called IJburg Schoon (IJburg Clean) and they run lots of initiatives in the area. On our terrace, we have a big metal fish that looks like an art object, but actually also has a community function. It was developed by us in conjunction with the organisation. It has a mechanical structure inside that opens the mouth, the eyes light up, and people are encouraged to throw their rubbish inside. There are already a lot of initiatives around that we want to be fully involved in. 

 

What’s something that you wished you’d known before you started this journey?

Robin: Speaking for myself, I figured that it would be a tough journey to get to where we are now, but I wouldn’t have wanted to know it would be this tough! I’m just as enthusiastic as I was when we started, if not more so.

  

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