On the rooftop of the Fairmont Waterfront (900 Pacific Place), you’ll find the loveliest of rooftop gardens, complete with a vegetable and herb garden, apple trees, and bee hives that produce hundreds of pounds of honey each year. Designated a Certified Wildlife Habitat in 2016 by the Canadian Wildlife Federation, the expansive organic garden embodies the Fairmont Waterfront’s evolving ethos related to sustainability and community.
When then Executive Chef Daryle Nagata started the garden in 1996, it became Vancouver’s first green roof. Then, in 2008, the Fairmont Waterfront‘s garden became the first site for honeybees among the Fairmont hotels. What started as a fun project quickly morphed into a deep passion for the hotel and its staff. “You can’t really have bees without falling in love with them because they’re such incredible creatures. They’re very sophisticated. They have language. But the thing that is the most powerful and impactful about bees is how altruistic they are. They work as a unit, as a team all the time, so it’s always for the good of the hive. For our team, that message really hits home,” says Kristyna Vogel, Director of Marketing and Public Relations at the Fairmont Waterfront.
Inspired by the bees’ giving spirit, the Fairmont Waterfront expanded their bee initiative by partnering with Hives for Humanity, an amazing non-profit organization that builds community in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside through bees and urban gardens. The two organizations worked together on the Pollinator Corridor Project, installing 24 mason bee habitats across the city in order to support struggling indigenous bee populations. Hives for Humanity also helped the hotel in building a charming “bee and bee” pollinator hotel, made from an assortment of local materials, like wood donated by the Haida Nation and fire bricks from the Downtown Eastside.
“We wanted to share our story. We really wanted other people to be as passionate about bees as we are. So, the best way was to literally tell them,” says Vogel. The hotel began offering daily summer tours of the garden and apiary; pre-pandemic, an impressive 1000 guests per day attended them and were educated about the wonders of bees and urban gardening.
The success of the tours caused the hotel to prioritize social responsibility. “We started to connect to other things in the community that are important to us because, at the end of the day, sustainability is about more than just the environment, it’s about creating sustainable communities,” says Vogel.
One of their most rewarding social endeavours has been a partnership with Growing Chefs and Britannia Elementary School, which gets chefs visiting an inner city classroom, as well as eager kids coming to the hotel kitchen to learn about nutrition, cooking, the hospitality industry, and gardening. Vogel gets particularly emotional talking about Kid’chen, an annual event where the kids raise money for cultural exchange programs by preparing and serving a four-course meal for guests.
Vogel believes that community sustainability makes for a happier work environment. “It energizes our colleagues. In our employee engagement surveys, people very frequently say they work at the hotel because they love our connection to sustainability. That really speaks to them. Many of our colleagues who volunteer for these things say it makes them really proud to work for our hotel,” she says.
Fairmont Waterfront’s commitment to sustainability extends to everything related to the guest experience and the running of a large hotel. As a 5 Green Key Hotel with a 4 Green Key Meetings rating and a host of green accolades, the Fairmont Waterfront does all it can to minimize its environmental impact. Efforts include motion sensors for their HVAC system, low flow toilets and shower heads in guestrooms, and electric charging stations for guest vehicles (it was the first hotel in the city to have them). “I can confidently say, on all our sustainable initiatives, we’ve only had positive feedback from guests,” she says.
Fairmont Waterfront has a Zero Waste Goal, and has pledged to rid itself of all guest-related single use plastics by the end of 2022. The pandemic has made things difficult but the hotel has been as determined as ever to get rid of plastic items. It was the first hotel to sign up for Ocean Wise’s Plastic Wise Challenge, replacing bottled water with glasses and coasters educating guests about the quality of Vancouver’s tap water. Filtered water stations were also installed on guest floors. “The definition of luxury travel has definitely changed because people want travel to reflect their values, and people want to leave as small of a carbon footprint as possible,” says Vogel.
The Fairmont Waterfront is certainly not alone in the city when it comes to sustainable-minded accommodation. The Listel Hotel (1300 Robson Street), an upscale boutique hotel, has been a pioneer in sustainable innovation and is also a 5 Green Keys property. Its restaurants, Forage and BeSIDE Forage, are emblematic of the approach that the hotel takes as a whole to the local environment. “The restaurants’ philosophy is that they want to have everything local, so they’re not purchasing anything from out of the country or having things on the menu that are not in season,” says Allison Donne, General Manager. Forage’s “Experience the Best of BC” four-course menu (available for pre-paid booking for Wednesdays and Thursdays) highlights ingredients from local foragers, farmers, and fishers.
Not only do chefs adopt a farm-to-table approach to the menu, but Forage also excels in energy-efficiency and sustainability. Its design emerged from partnerships with organizations and initiatives like BC Hydro Power Smart, the Green Table Network, and LiveSmart BC. The kitchen features a very efficient LEED qualified walk-in cooler and cooking equipment, such as hybrid gas/electric griddles, that conserve energy.
Aesthetically, the restaurant is both gorgeous and sustainable. The EVOKE International design team selected eco-friendly materials, such as hardwood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, floor tiles made of recycled content, and chairs upholstered with Greenguard certified leather. Even the dishware is low-carbon compared to the usual china.
The launch of Forage in 2012 set off a positive chain reaction in the hotel, as it continued to forge ahead on the sustainability path. In 2008, the Listel installed 20 solar panels on its roof and a heat recovery system in order to significantly reduce the amount of natural gas used to heat water as well as the building. The hotel also has an extensive water conservation program, such as high efficiency laundry equipment.
Donne says that the hotel staff evaluates every aspect of its operations according to sustainability. “Hotels can be extremely wasteful with people checking in and checking out, and the garbage [from that]. We want to do everything we can to eliminate that waste and do what’s best for the environment,” she says.
And because the Listel is a boutique hotel with only 129 rooms, its team can be very nimble when it comes to making sustainable changes. For example, all small individual bottles of products like shampoo and conditioner were quickly replaced with refillable bottles to cut down on waste. The hotel’s Zero Waste pledge extends to recycling and green bins in guestrooms, the composting of all organic waste, the conversion of non-recyclables into electricity, and the substituting of printed material with information on room TVs. “We like to offer an alternate that is of equal or of higher quality but less wasteful. Any guest who stays here can definitely see that we’re not just eliminating things, we’re replacing things with something else better – and better for the environment,” says Donne.
Donne emphasizes that sustainable upgrades continue throughout the hotel and that the Listel is constantly seeking and incorporating feedback from guests about how it can be even more planet-friendly. While the Listel has been a leader, she feels that the local hotel industry has been making great strides overall. “Everyone in Vancouver is definitely trying to make positive changes for the environment,” she says. Ultimately, this makes a stay in the city both luxurious and sustainable.