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Hotels, embassies go 'carbon neutral'

Hotels, embassies go 'carbon neutral'

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TRACEY SHELTON

The recently opened Quay hotel on the Phnom Penh riverfront is one of several operations in the capital working to minimize carbon emissions.

What do the British Embassy and one of the newest boutique hotels in Phnom Penh have in common? They are both going green.

While Phnom Penh may seem an unlikely place to witness the effects of policies devised in London, the British government's commitment to becoming a low-carbon economy has inspired its Phnom Penh Embassy to take steps to reduce their own carbon emissions.

"We volunteered to be one of the first posts to look at how to improve our carbon footprint," said Rob Bateson, deputy management officer at the British Embassy.

The Embassy formed a "green team" composed of both local and British staff and invited French NGO Geres to conduct a carbon audit. The results showed that air travel was the worst culprit, accounting for more than 50 percent of their carbon footprint.

Staff are now being discouraged from flying unless strictly necessary and video conferencing has been installed in an effort to curb work-related travel.

But the Embassy also looked for simpler changes that could quickly reduce their output of carbon dioxide, a byproduct of burning fossil fuels and the main culprit in human-induced global warming.

Standard light bulbs were changed to low-energy bulbs, air conditioning use has been limited, printers have been upgraded to models that print both sides of a page and recycled or renewable-sourced paper is now being used.

"We've begun the process of reducing our vehicle fleet and one of the vehicles is now run entirely on biodiesel," said Bateson.

"We know you can't reduce emissions to zero but you can get rid of as much as possible and what we cannot get rid of we will offset."

The idea is to "spread the word and encourage other firms, businesses and diplomatic missions to take [their carbon footprint] seriously," said Bateson. And it appears to be working: the Danish Embassy has recently followed suit. .

"It is about changing the way people operate," Bateson said. "You don't have to work in an arctic cold office. It doesn't have to cost businesses a lot of money - they just have to take a little time to think about how they can do it."

It is about changing the way people operate. You don’t have to work in an arctic cold office.

While the Embassy's efforts were motivated by government policy, one important player in Cambodia's booming tourism industry - Food and Beverages Solutions (FABS), whose portfolio includes the FCC Phnom Penh, FCC Siem Reap and Spanish restaurant Pacheran - has gone green with its latest hotel venture.
"We want to set a new benchmark," said Michelle Duncan, group operations manager for the FCC Phnom Penh. "It's definitely a marketing tool but as long as we can back ourselves up with Geres."

Like the British Embassy, FABS engaged Geres to conduct a carbon audit of all its properties and give recommendations on how to reduce its carbon footprint. The audit is still in progress and recommendations will be forthcoming when it has concluded later this year. 

Geres is now planning a "carbon friendly rating system for restaurants and hotels [where businesses will be rated] on emissions and attempts to improve these emissions in Cambodia," said Kimberly Buss, carbon offset analyst at Geres's climate change unit.

While the Quay - FABS' recently opened carbon-friendly hotel - has inbuilt "green" features such as waste water treatment facilities, energy efficient lighting, solar power to heat water and wood-free paper, the group hopes to "move forward to carbon neutral" at all of its properties, Duncan said.

But at the moment, much of what can be done is limited.

"Behavioral change is a big part of what you can do here," said Buss. "We are looking for things that are simple to change; turn off air-conditioning, teach staff to recycle - it's a start."

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