A Conversation with Mortimer Capriles
In 2017, the Fairmont Hotel Chateau Lake Louise won an Emerald Award in recognition of their outstanding Sustainability Program. The hotel’s commitments to sustainability and an eco-friendly practice is commendable, especially seeing as hotels have an immense environmental impact. I recently sat down with Mortimer Capriles, the former manager of the Sustainability Program to talk about the work the hotel had done, the future of sustainability in the hospitality industry and creating meaningful connections between communities and the environment. Speaking to Capriles, it was clear that he is passionate about community and sustainability, and speaking to him on a dreary February morning in Downtown Edmonton, his energy was infectious. Here’s some of our conversation.
When did you first start at Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise?
In June 2015. I worked there for almost three years.
Was the Sustainability Program in place when you arrived?
Yep. [Chateau Lake Louise] has a program: No Net Negative Environmental Impact. That's an agreement that [the hotel] has with Parks Canada [to] incorporate good environmental practices in all areas of operation. With this agreement Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is in charge of checking the water quality of the lake and Louise Creek and has to check the three times a year. So I used to go to the lake, check the water quality and those samples are sent to a lab and the results are shared with Parks Canada. We have infrared cameras in the trails around the hotel and they count how many people are using the trails. This data is analyzed and is shared with Parks Canada as a way to understand people's habits around Lake Louise.
Chateau Lake Louise has an orientation program for all new staff and we have people from Parks Canada training new colleagues about the surrounding nature and the rules of Banff National Park. [The hotel] also trains employees to be good ambassadors for Banff National Park.
What makes up the hotel’s Sustainability Program?
The Sustainability Program is composed of the Water Sustainability Program, the Energy Conservation Program and the Waste Management Program. Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise has been investing a lot of money in the replacement of lightbulbs, replacing all the incandescent and CFL light bulbs with LED light bulbs, which saves a lot of energy. And the energy consumption at Lake Louise has been going down consistently in the last few years. They’ve been replacing the conventional boilers with energy efficient boilers--they're EnergyStar certified. The hotel is 127 years old, and it is way more difficult to retrofit an old building than just build a new building with great environmental standards.
What is the future of the Chateau’s Sustainability Program?
Most recently, the hotel did something called Planet 21 [which is] the sustainability program for all Accor hotels. The main areas of attention are building performance and food waste. Accor has the goal of reducing food waste by 30% by 2020 and so Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise has this commitment. [The hotel] has a beautiful program called Clean the World--all the shampoos, soap and bottled amenities that are not being used are donated to Clean the World, who process it to make new shampoos and soap which are donated to homeless shelters all around Canada. They also want to grow their own microgreens like basil [to be used in the kitchen].
How is the community involved in the program?
In 2015, 2500 coffee capsules were recycled and have been replacing the Keurig with Nespresso
The hotel replaced all shower heads in both the hotel and staff residences with low consumption models that only consume 6.6 liters/min compared to the 9.5 litres/min of the previous ones.
In 2017, Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise recycled 25,000 natural corks and 1-million cigarette butts
Water consumption in the hotel has gone down 40% since 1995.
Whenever possible the hotel donates to organizations in the Beau Valley area and Calgary. donated more than $200,000 to all kinds of organizations in 2017 including the Canadian Red Cross. All the money Chateau Lake Louise collects through the recycling of cigarette waste was donated to Canmore Collegiate High School. Tools from the engineering department and stuff that the hotel isn't using anymore is all donated to Habitat for Humanity.
How do you think the Sustainability Program grew while you were there?
Everyone was aware of the commitments we had with Parks Canada and the Accor program. That hotel, all the staff was informed and was committed. You can have a new program that is really cool like solar energy and that program might have a few guys installing the solar panels and it's done--you're saving energy. At Lake Louise, all the staff was involved in some way. People in Accounting or Human Resources, they were all involved in [at least] one initiative.
Can you give an example of how the staff got involved?
There is a huge event called the Lake Louise Shoreline Cleanup that happens three or four times per year, and its volunteers of the hotel cleaning the shoreline and trails around the hotel. It’s people that work really hard in the hotel and after working they help with the cleaning of the lake because they want to make a positive impact. The last cleanup up we did in 2017, we had 45 volunteers. Without the cooperation of the staff there's no way [the sustainability program] could succeed.
How do you encourage guests to make better choices when it comes to eco-conscious choices?
We have information available for guests about sustainability in Chateau Lake Louise. We encourage guests to do their best when they stay at the hotel, and the Director of Sustainability is willing to talk to anyone about sustainability in the hotel.
You’re really passionate about sustainability. How did you first get interested in the topic?
My mum is a geographer and she used to be the environmental manager of a big company back home [in Venezuela]. She was really passionate about the environment [and] she worked all her life to make a positive impact, not just in the environment, but also in the community. I learned a lot about the environment and I went to the same university that she went to and took the same program she took.
I was in the Geography and Environmental Science program in university and I was working with the local government and we were planting trees and talking about recycling in the communities and the importance of saving the environment. I could see the impact that my job was making. I feel really lucky that I get paid to make a positive impact in communities everyday. That for me is meaningful.
What is the future of sustainability?
I feel Sustainability is changing a lot. It's a huge challenge to get the balance between the environment, the community and business. The opportunities right now are huge. There are so many innovations that happen everyday that are helping the sustainability movements grow and make a positive impact in the community and on the planet. The main challenge in hospitality is to reduce. Hotels have to start reducing food waste, start changing purchasing habits. Big hotels and restaurants have a huge role in protecting the environment and some of the issues we're facing right now is because we are purchasing too many products that cannot be recycled or reused. It may cost a little bit more [to buy a greener option] but it can make a huge difference in the environment. You cannot buy the cheapest option, you have to buy the greenest option. Hotels have to make these changes. And the only way that is going to happen is if guests ask questions and push this change.
You can learn more about the hotel’s sustainability program on their website, and to learn more about how you can make a positive environmental impact when you travel check out the rest of this series