Hand in Hand: TSH’s Societal & Environmental Efforts Explained By Our Director of Sustainability & Impact
This year our 2020/2021 Impact Report highlighted our efforts to bring people and communities together. More than just a measure of our sustainability efforts, our Impact Report quantifies our societal impact through our programs and policies. With a true belief that we’re all in this together, The Student Hotel works year-round to live up to our core values and uses this report as a benchmark for progress.
“I hope what people see in this report is that our societal footprint is just as important as our environmental footprint,” Amber Westerborg, our Director of Sustainability & Impact, explained. “While there is a clear roadmap for the environmental footprint, we are also very serious about the societal footprint and trying to define our targets. I think in this year’s report you really see the balance between the two, and that’s only going to be strengthened in the future.”
To provide further insight into our Impact Report and the work behind it, we sat down with Amber to talk through some of the biggest takeaways and strategies.
“We’ve been quite explicit with our ambitions — we want to minimize the negative impact on the environment and maximize the positive impact on our community. And I feel like if you want to start communicating your plans like this, you also have to have some form of public accountability to engage your community and show how you’re actually doing.
I think we need to shy away from only wanting to paint a pretty picture. Because for us, this is about showing we take this seriously, as well as taking everyone along on this journey with us.Amber Westerborg
So for us, the impact report is really our way to show others what we’ve been working on and how we’re doing — regardless of whether that’s good news or not. I think we need to shy away from only wanting to paint a pretty picture. Because for us, this is about showing we take this seriously, as well as taking everyone along on this journey with us.”
This is your first Impact Report as the Director of Sustainability & Impact. How do you feel about the results for your first year?
“I was already working on sustainability of course, but what's changed is our ambition and the fact that now I report directly to (our CEO) Charlie. And with that, came a new title. These changes have provided a major shift in terms of how our sustainability plans are viewed within the company, but also how they're supported. We are serious about making headway, so it’s very much about ‘what do you need?’ and ‘how can we get there?’
In terms of this year’s report, I think it’s clear we’re ready to level up. We’ve been doing this for a few years now, we’ve learned the basics, and we know how everything works. We know what we as TSH stand for, and we’re ready to go even further.”
I think when it comes to an Impact Report, there are also misconceptions that it is really just focused on the environmental impact. Can you talk to us about the importance of the societal impacts as well?
“You know, the other day I was just giving a lecture at the Hogeschool van Amsterdam, and I asked the students what the first thing they thought of was when asked about sustainability. And immediately, their associations went to the environment. But if you really look at the definition of the word, it’s about creating longevity and an equitable society for people and the planet. So, it’s okay if you just want to focus on the environment, but I think it’s more interesting if you focus on the entire definition.
I also think the intersection between the two is what makes the biggest impact. You need a strong, fair and inclusive society so that we can work together and collaborate to realize system changes — and that includes sustainability.”
That's also something The Student Hotel has been working on from the inside out. For example, implementing the Diversity & Inclusion board. Tell me about the impacts we’ve already seen in the first year.
“I have absolutely loved heading the Diversity & Inclusion board alongside our head of recruitment. When we first started, we already had a feeling of where we wanted to go with it. But, we also realized we can’t hit the ground running without benchmarking ourselves first. So, we sent out a survey to our employees.
The goal was to understand how diverse we already are at this point, and then to also understand how our employees feel about D&I, too. We were really pleased to see that our colleagues agreed D&I was an important topic for us to be working on. But, at the same time, we saw some differences in how people defined diversity. That already gave us quite some insights as to how people view diversity and where we stand. And then based on that, we started working on making some changes and creating awareness and understanding, covering topics such as equal opportunities, micro-aggressions and unconscious bias.
The Pledge Workshop was another big initiative this year. This workshop was designed to look at the basic definitions you need to know about diversity and inclusion, but also to have in-depth conversations and assignments to help our colleagues understand and gain more insight. We were really proud to have all of these workshops fully booked, to the point that there were waiting lists. I think this was a really positive step for us. Now, our executive board is also on a D&I journey to define what the future strategy should be. So, a lot of development is happening.”
TSH also works within the community to support and promote these efforts. What are some of the organizations that The Student Hotel has worked closely with in the last year?
“We don’t ever want to be a standalone hotel, but a building where we have community engagement. So we look at organizations and institutions that fit with our vision for sustainability impact and the goals we want to realize. One partnership, which was running for its second year, was with Codam College, which is a coding school in Amsterdam. Together, we provided 10 scholarships for students so they could stay with us for a full year and totally focus on their studies.
But, both of our organizations are also disruptors, and we wanted to do something more together. So, we also launched the Tech for Good conference where we looked at how technology can create a fairer and greener world. It’s a great example of how an initial partnership can evolve into something even bigger.
Of course, we also have a longstanding relationship with Movement on the Ground, as our CEO is one of the co-founders. Unfortunately, this year there was a lot more humanitarian aid needed. So, besides our general support and creating awareness, we also worked together on their humanitarian efforts to help the people of Ukraine who are in the middle of a war right now.”
From the Impact Report, it seems like TSH has also made some solid strides in terms of environmental sustainability — from reducing food waste to planting 10,000 trees and developing a new water management policy. What are you looking forward to focusing on next year?
“For next year, we are already in the process of setting science-based targets for our greenhouse gas emission reductions. While we’ve already been working on projects related to emissions, we’re now working with the consulting firm Metabolic to get real insights into what our footprint consists of. We’re going to be able to say, ‘Okay this is where the biggest chunk of our footprint comes from.’ And if we want to reduce by X-percent, we will have a clear understanding of where we should do that within our business operations.
For next year, we are already in the process of setting science-based targets for our greenhouse gas emission reductions. I think these science-based targets are really going to create a roadmap that makes our buildings even more futureproof.Amber Westerborg
I think these science-based targets are really going to create a roadmap that makes our buildings even more future-proof. And I’m very excited to see where we can go from there.”
And as a hotel, a homestay and a workplace for so many individuals, the company’s sustainability efforts also require help from residents. So how do you think that TSH can come together with the community going forward to keep improving on these goals?
“This is one of my favourite challenges. We’ve done a lot of work to understand the community, who they are and what they value. This year for example, we sent out a survey to understand their values, but also ask if they act differently when at home versus a hotel. We had our own assumptions, but we really needed to test it out. We were pleased to see that residents rated our sustainability efforts with a 3.15 out of 5, which is good. We’re not perfect, but we’re on our way.
Plus, a majority said that they think sustainability is something that we need to work on together. You know, they were honest in saying, ‘I probably shower more consciously at home’. Which makes sense, right? At home, you’ve got parents telling you to hurry up and get out. We don’t do that here! But, for example, we do have the Amphiro water saving device in the shower to inspire them to just take a 7-minute shower instead of a 30-minute one.”
TSH did some other experiments as well with the Living Lab, too, right? Can you talk to us about this initiative?
“Yes, so together with the sustainability solution consultancy Innovation Lighthouse, we wanted to test and understand how people interact with different prompts in the room. Especially for hotel guests who might only be with us for just two or three nights, they definitely have a more luxurious approach to staying with us. So we wanted to know — how can we get them to be more mindful during their stay without making them feel like something is prohibited or that they can’t do something fun?
We tried to do things like nudge guests to use a reusable water bottle, hang and reuse their towel or use the smaller button on the toilet to flush less water. And we tested different methods, too. What does copywriting do? What do visuals do?
We found that people were quite visual. So, if you put a sticker on the toilet that says 6-litres and 3-litres, people easily see the difference and choose the 3-litres. We experimented with these small interventions to see how guests responded or changed their behaviours, and it’s been very helpful having that insight when upgrading existing hotels and working on new ones.”
“I think there are two big takeaways. First, there are going to be some changes in terms of our targets. There are some deadlines that we’ve now passed, and some that we've missed. But, that’s also because there’s going to be new long term plans thanks to our science-based targets. I think you can see that we’re really in this phase where a transition is happening — we’re learning more and that’s going to lead to more interesting developments.
I also hope what people see in this report is that our societal footprint is just as important as our environmental footprint. While there is a clear roadmap for the environmental footprint, we are also very serious about the societal footprint and trying to define our targets. I think in this year’s report you really see the balance between the two, and that’s only going to be strengthened in the future.”
Like Amber said, The Student Hotel is only just getting started. As a company dedicated to sustainability, we want to expand our reach when it comes to leaving a valuable footprint for future societies. Download the Impact Report now to see our efforts today and get an idea for the roadmap to a more sustainable future for TSH and our communities.