Norwegian movers and shakers: Svein Arild Steen-Mevold, Scandic Hotels

PUBLISHED SEPTEMBER 12, 2018

Scandic Hotels has more than 50 000 hotel rooms in six countries. It was the first chain to introduce the system where guests hang up their towels if they want to use them again. This little step – suggested by an employee – has become standard hotel practice worldwide. On a daily basis, it spares the environment from large amounts of chemicals and reduces water consumption equivalent to that of several large cities.

The Explorer spoke to Svein Arild Steen-Mevold, Country Vice President of Scandic Hotels Norge.

What are the most important sustainable trends in your industry at the moment?

In addition to energy, waste and water, which have been the main focus of sustainability activities since 1995, we have been giving greatest attention to combating food waste in recent years. Scandic Hotels has made excellent strides here. In 2017 alone we threw out 85 metric tons less food. The aim is to cut food waste by 20 per cent by 2020 – and we’re already halfway there.

The process is run by the individual hotels, with good help from electronic aids. Among other things, we have scales that translate the weight of wasted food into a sum of money. This gives the hotels extra motivation because they can see the economic ramifications so clearly. And with hotels serving a steadily more varied menu, including foods for people with allergies and vegan dishes, this understanding will become increasingly important – and valuable – in the years to come.

We are also working on removing all plastic from our hotels, and on using even better technological tools. Better data management within all segments of hotel operations can help to reduce energy and resource use, while improving comfort and finances.

Which sustainable solution would you like to see in 10 years’ time? 

The first is less of a dream, and more a matter of time: entirely paper-free hotel operations. Paper receipts already seem so 1990s.

Otherwise, I’m looking forward to implementing technology and systems that can link together guests’ preferences and wishes from the time they reserve a room to the time they enter it. In this way, guests can make all their environment-friendly choices before they check in and we can tailor their stay accordingly. I think that putting the consumer at the centre of his or her own consumption will not only improve comfort, it will also improve resource use within all segments.

Today, hotels target everything towards the lowest common denominator. This is fine; a hotel stay should be a nice experience for everyone, and hotels shouldn’t be penny-wise and pound-foolish. But giving guests the responsibility for their own stay means that those who do not need certain products or services can choose to avoid them.

I also think that companies that do not manage to fully integrate sustainability thinking will not be able to attract the best heads. The young people who come to work for us have been raised with a sustainability mindset. Without the innovation that these young people bring, a company will become obsolete. My daughter, who is 23, does not have an education in sustainability, but she knows much more than I do – and I’ve been working with it for 30 years.

What are your ambitions for The Explorer? How can it be used to boost Norwegian exports? 

My principle is that there is only one area where hotels should not have business secrets – and that’s sustainability. You have to share all your good ideas if progress is to be made.

One of the most important things we can export from Norway, and the Nordic countries in general, is collaboration between employee and company – which can have tremendous results. Idea-driven codetermination is excellent for innovation, plain and simple. I also believe that our company must reflect our guests, and we must therefore see beyond skin colour or sexual orientation.

It is often unclear whether it is the fundamental ideas, or the results of these, that are easiest to export to other countries or business areas. But one thing is sure, the two are very often inextricably linked.