Long a standard bearer for world-class hotels in the Kingdom, Samuel Dixon is bringing the green revolution to Sofitel Phnom Penh Phokeethra and Sofitel Angkor Phokeethra Golf Resort & Spa
The threat of climate change is not new. For decades, scientists have been ringing alarm bells about the catastrophic potential of humanity’s influence on global ecology, with most concern directed at the fossil fuel and petrochemical industries. More recently, a broader understanding of the ways in which nearly all economic activity drives climate change has led to concerted efforts across industries to mitigate these impacts and reduce ecological damage.
The hospitality industry is part of this economic seachange, as those in the sector turn to environmentally friendly protocols and green business strategies to reduce their ecological footprint.
At the Sofitel Phnom Penh Phokeethra hotel, cluster sustainability manager Samuel Dixon has established and implemented a model for one of the Cambodian capital’s most luxurious hotels. With a Master’s Degree in marine environmental management, Dixon served the previous six years as resident marine biologist in the Maldives for Accor Group, Sofitel’s parent company. There he launched and oversaw a wide range of environmental and sustainability projects.
Rooftop and ocean-based solar arrays, coral propagation and sea-turtle conservation were all elements of his previous work at Accor properties. His team also launched the Maldives’ first recycling program and developed youth outreach to educate students about recycling, ocean conservation and sustainability.
Now comes the announcement that the Sofitel hotels in both Phnom Penh and Siem Reap have been bestowed the coveted 2024 Green Globe Certification, two of only three Cambodian hotels so honoured. (The other is Phum Baitong in Siem Reap.)
Focus Cambodia sat down with Dixon to discuss his role as Sofitel’s cluster sustainability manager, lessons learned during his time in the Maldives, and what the future holds for sustainability in Cambodia’s hospitality sector.
You previously worked at Accor properties on some of the most picturesque islands in the world. Now you’re responsible for the Sofitel hotel in Phnom Penh. Why is the role of sustainability manager so important to the hospitality industry and what does someone in your position do? What impact do hotels like Sofitel have on the environment and communities?
It is our duty to really change mindsets in how we conduct our business, to offset any impacts we have on the local environment and society. So a sustainability manager in the hospitality industry is essential as we try to guide hotels to implement more environmental policies. My role, I find, is a lot more about seeing how much we can reduce the impact we have by limiting the resources we bring in, and limiting the waste we are expelling, and guiding the hotel in each of its different operations into a more sustainable ecosystem.
I think hotels and hospitality in general are a very beautiful way to encourage travel and encourage our guests to experience the best of our location. In particular, for Sofitel, to be very deeply rooted in the local community and culture is one of the core pillars for the brand and one of the things that we like to passionately show our guests. In any impacts that we have on our local communities, we try to be as positive as we can – limiting our food waste that we send out into the environment, promoting local businesses, importing as much as we can from Phnom Penh or Cambodia in general, working with local farmers and producers. Trying to enhance and encourage and celebrate the destination is something that I really love about Sofitel.
Are there certain benchmarks or metrics you and your team use to assess and evaluate the hotel? What measures are you and your team taking to improve Sofitel’s sustainability?
In a hotel, the primary benchmarks to assess a sustainability portfolio will be: looking at the energy consumption the hotel is generating, looking at all utilities consumption, measuring the amount of waste that is being reduced, and also looking at and assessing how much the hotel is actually engaging with local communities, what impact it is really having there.
So, for me and my team, we are currently doing one of the well-known and prestigious sustainability audits, the Green Globe Certification process. That is providing me with fantastic benchmarks in order to take more initiatives forward in 2024. Looking at how much we are consuming, how much waste in different areas we are producing, and then once we have that baseline, we can integrate more policies to reduce impacts.
Does Cambodia present any specific or unique challenges to hotels or businesses in achieving sustainability targets? Are there any unique advantages?
I think celebrating Cambodia’s youth is important. About 49% of the country’s population is less than 25 years old. This kind of youthful energy can spark a huge potential when it comes to businesses as they expand and grow. So for us, we are passionately engaging, supporting and lifting educational institutions to really foster the professional growth and development of the next generation.
To see them grow and develop into the future business leaders of tomorrow is something that we are very proud of. We have partnered with a variety of schools and universities providing internship opportunities, hosting workshops, and carrying out fundraising events so that we can solidify a brighter future together. This is a really fun part of our sustainability strategy.
Given this unique environment, what tips or advice would you give other businesses in Cambodia trying to create more sustainable practices?
I would recommend – it’s the most simple thing – use the internet, ask questions. No question is a stupid question. Try to educate yourself. Visit places that are very sustainable and know that it doesn’t matter how big or small your changes are, if you’re making a change you are on the right path. You don’t need to panic or think you need to invest in a thousand solar panels so that you can be carbon neutral from the beginning. It’s a journey. You take these small steps and you grow your business and develop and integrate these policies over time. Don’t get me wrong: As much as you can do, as much as your resources allow you to do, do. But if you’re unsure or if you’re limited, ask questions and make small policy changes to start with. I guarantee it, you will see the benefit in the long term.
Looking ahead, are there any goals or sustainability targets you have in your sights? How does your team plan to achieve these goals? How can this contribute to broader sustainability in Cambodia?
Right now, we’re doing the Green Globe audit. I love this audit because it allows me to assess each and every part of the hotel’s operations and work with every single department and to see where we’re at and where we’re going. One target for us (was) to eliminate single-use plastic by the end of 2023. (That goal was achieved.) I will be obtaining a baseline on our food waste, a baseline on our energy and utilities consumption for the year, with the goal in the long term to work towards a reduction of our energy consumption by 25% and food waste by 30% by the end of 2025.
I think, with Sofitel and Accor in general, we really have a huge push and desire to create a positive contribution to society, from our local economies to our local environments. And that is really about putting people at the core of our sustainability strategies. The emphasis on people – again, we have a unique situation as a country with a huge and vibrant youth population. We want to foster that growth and development by providing opportunities through internships and workshop events, to guide them to be leaders of tomorrow and see that mindset shift in this generation into a more sustainable ethos. I think it shows great promise for Cambodia going forward, when it comes to sustainability – not just in hospitality, but in society in general.