Ethical Performance
inside intelligence for responsible business
 
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interview

Serving up CSR at Whitbread

November 2014

Having been inspired by a former KPMG partner who lectured on corporate responsibility while doing his MBA, Mark Parker, CSR Programme Manager at Whitbread, tells Ethical Performance how he drives sustainability in the UK’s ever-growing hotel and restaurant group. Whitbread’s brand include Premier Inn, Table Table, Brewers Fayre, Beefeater Grill, Taybarns and Costa.

 

What do you consider to be Whitbread’s key CSR achievements so far?
Whitbread’s CR efforts are focused on its Good Together initiative, launched in 2009, which is based on three pillars: Team and Community, Customer Wellbeing and Environmental Management. They’re all given equal status and my role cuts across all three pillars.
Our key achievements in my view so far are, in Team and Community, our WISE programme which is investing in young people. It’s an apprenticeship scheme where participants can progress and earn qualifications. It’s part of our ethos that ‘anybody can be successful in Whitbread’. It’s about creating employment opportunities for those who don’t think they are capable of such.
Our charity partnerships are very important. We asked our team members who they wanted to support and Great Ormond Street was a clear winner, polling 7:1. The goal is to raise £7.5m by 2017 and we’re well on course for that. The money raised will result in the opening of the Premier Inn Clinical Building (at Great Ormond Street) which will be part of the Mittal Children’s Medical Centre, where parents will be able to stay at the side of their sick children.

Tell us about developments in Whitbread’s sustainable supply chain.
It’s a very exciting time. Under the Customer Wellbeing umbrella, we are launching this soon. Working with suppliers we’ve been assessing where the risks are and where the opportunities lie. And through that identification process, we then tackle those risks through policy creation. It’s been my baby for the last two years.
We could have built a very stringent policy but this wouldn’t effect real change and, in all likelihood, frustrate suppliers.
For example, take cotton (used in laundry and bedding products throughout Premier and the restaurant groups). The risks are pretty obvious, such as human rights and working conditions. The opportunities are strong: R&D is one route. We’re asking what’s the next step in cotton (and using bamboo may be a way, though currently it is too expensive an option).
So the strategy is database driven. Suppliers self assess and upload evidence. The system then implements a traffic light system that will flag any potential risks. This will be backed up by audit and we’re building that process right now. It’ll launch officially in February 2015.

Where does the environment figure for the company?
It’s a significant pillar for Whitbread, as it has been reporting on this particular aspect since 2004. Traditionally it’s been the starting point for many an organisation’s CSR strategy and Whitbread benchmarks and excels on this front. For example in 2011 we set a water management strategy of a 15% reduction by 2017. We’ve actually achieved that a lot earlier - leak detection is a key part of the strategy and we’ve now fitted 40,000 low flow showers - and so have revised the target now to 25% by 2017. It wouldn’t be right to set targets that are easy to achieve. Where would be the challenge in that?

What’s next?
The challenge now is to communicate our sustainable strategy to our customers. We need to explain, for example, why energy efficient hand dryers are a good thing. We currently take a softly, softly approach but we’re asking ourselves what else can we do? How do we make it relevant? Can we be a bit more bullish? After all, our message needs to flex with the brand be it Premier, Beefeater or Table Table. We have some upcoming plans where we’re really going to talk to customers.

How do you involve employees?
Engaging team members [Whitbread employees] is paramount and key to environmental changes. Our Switch It Off campaign is a good example which encourages change for saving energy. It’s promoted by Whitbread’s online platform, Avenue, which also incorporates interactive video games such as Waste PacMan and Carbon Space Invaders.
CSR at Whitbread benefits from top down involvement. Andy Harrison, the ceo, is very engaged. His belief in our ‘Customer’s Heartbeat’ model means strong and robust teams deliver a strong customer heartbeat which in turn drives profitable growth. The Good Together initiative underpins this whole strategy. Driven like this from the top, it galvanizes the CSR side and pushes it out to the whole company. It means that different people take ownership and it just doesn’t boil down to the CSR team.

What should we look out for?
In November, we are launching a new hotel concept called Premier Inn Hub. The first one is in Covent Garden in London and it’s the most technological hotel in the UK. You can control everything in your room from an app.

If you could influence one major thing in sustainable business practice, what would it be?
It would be to change the short-term outlook some organizations have. Since the recession there has been huge growth in quarterly earnings reporting. If we could change those horizons, to a more long-term outlook, we could make fundamental changes.
 




Whitbread | UK & NI Ireland | CSR

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