Lord Forte, ladies and gentlemen - after all that you've heard this morning, from the experts, as it were, you might well ask whether there's anything at all to be added!
But I am delighted to be here this morning, and to see an initiative which I first heard of at least 18 months ago eventually come to fruition. It was then that the manual developed by John Van Praag for Inter-Continental Hotels was brought to my attention, along with the suggestion that 'all' it needed would be a little bit of encouragement from someone like me to persuade other leading hotel chains to take it up and work on it collaboratively.
As we can all see today, it needed a great deal more than that! It needed the personal backing and enthusiasm of the chief executives of the ten hotel chains who decided to join up with Inter-Continental in producing the manual that is being launched today; it needed the foresight and diplomatic skills of the Business Leaders Forum to provide a home for the initiative, and to use it as a singularly powerful example of best practice actually in practice; and it needed the dedication of all those involved in the drafting and editing of the manual. And in my opinion it marks a real step forward. Afterall, the hotels business is a fiercely competitive one, and it's no mean feat to have achieved such an impressive level of collaboration in such difficult economic times.
There is a message here that many other business sectors might take note of: the challenge of achieving sustainable development (as laid out so clearly during the course of last year's Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro) entails not just higher environmental standards and better environmental performance, but new ways of cooperating and learning from each other.
As we've just heard from Lord Forte and Geoffrey Lipman, there is indeed a lot going on out there within the whole travel and tourism industry. But there needs to be a lot going on in what is already the world's largest industry in terms of turnover and new investment, and there have been many who have justifiably criticised parts of the industry for not getting to grips with their environmental and social responsibilities. 'Green lip-service' was the phrase most used, I believe. But the signatories on the charter that appears at the front of this manual demonstrates something far more substantial. As do the case studies, the hard-edged working examples of what 'best practice' really means - in the lobbies of the hotels involved, in the bedrooms, the kitchens, the laundry rooms, the offices, the gardens, the waste bins, the bathroom - and even in the individual cisterns. How much more down to earth can one get than the saving of 1.34 litres per individual flush achieved through the London Hilton's simple expedient of bunging a brick into each and every cistern of the hotel! Today, we see the glamour of high-profile initiatives of this kind - but their success depends on the very unglamorous business of reducing environmental impacts step by step, pound by pound, flush by flush!
Which is of course where the importance of motivating and training the staff involved comes into its own. These are the people who actually have to operate initiatives of this kind, or use manuals of this sort, and a lot will depend on the skills of your senior and middle managers in conveying the appropriate feeling of urgency and the importance of participation. This, I know, is one of the key issues to be considered in the Focus Groups that follow.
There will of course be some who will argue that just a little green enthusiasm goes a very long way, particularly in a recession. Some may even be inclined not just to push environmental issues onto the back burner, but to take them off the stove altogether. This seems to me a little short-sighted at a time when there's so much new environmental legislation just coming into operation or just emerging from the legislative pipeline; when local authorities and planning bodies throughout the developed world are only just gearing up to produce their own local version of the Rio Agenda 21; and when so many people are now so much more aware of the issues and their individual part in addressing them.
At this point I can almost hear a few hard-headed Financial Directors muttering under their breath about how much of this applies to the business people who make up such a large proportion of guests in the hotel chains represented here today. What matters afterall is value for money and quality. But it really is worth emphasising frequently that environmental performance is very much part of that quality challenge.
Just imagine a UK-based multinational company, itself committed to improving environmental standards across the whole range of its activities in every country, including relationships with its suppliers. In this context, a hotel is just another supplier. And if two hotels are vying for the business of that company, offering equal value for money and equally high standards, but one with added environmental value and one without, which way do you suppose the business would go?
When it comes to holidaymakers or leisure users, there are some very interesting trends which show a steady increase in people specifically seeking out a different sort of holiday in terms of eco-tourism, more activity-based holidays, or people simply looking for some kind of commitment from a hotel or airline.
One beach, for instance, is no longer just like another beach. Increasingly, potential holidaymakers today want to know much more about the range of services and facilities available, about the quality of the beach itself, and about exactly what's in the water that shouldn't be in the water! The success of the Marine Conservation Society's 'Good Beach Guide' demonstrates the way in which consumer pressure - backed by effective legislation throughout the European Community - helps to raise standards and simultaneously raise expectations - and I am not just saying that because I am the Society's Patron!
Such information, however, is not yet easily available to holidaymakers or business people planning to stay in a hotel. But it's a reasonable assumption that it soon will be.
Looking at the manual itself (in its first edition, as it were), I can't help thinking it is rather a pity there is such very limited coverage in it of the responsibilities of hotels to the local communities in which they are located. This area of concern obviously goes well beyond the more familiar territory of narrowly-defined environmental performance, but it is nonetheless firmly within the remit of sustainable development as laid out in Agenda 21 and other Earth Summit documents. If sustainability means anything, social, cultural and economic concerns need to be taken fully into account.
You don't need me to tell you that big hotels can play a very important part in the lives of literally thousands of local communities throughout the developing world. In many cases there is often a somewhat regrettable leakage of income through hotels away from those communities.
For many developing countries, this is at least as big an issue as some of the environmental impacts caused by those hotels, and clearly demands a fresh and conscientious approach to supporting local economies, by training and employing local people, by using local suppliers and local produce and local materials. Not hugely difficult - but hugely important.
The will to address and eventually to resolve these issues is clearly there in many parts of the industry, and greatly to be welcomed. Travel provides too important and too valuable a range of benefits to be prescribed as an unacceptable, unsustainable activity.
I needn't extol thses benefits to an audience such as this, but it is as well to bear them in mind lest the monetary value of mass tourism overwhelms the educational and recreational value of purposeful travel.
For what it's worth, I can't help thinking that as the number of travellers increases dramatically, and as the environmental impacts for which they are directly and indirectly responsible become more damaging, the efforts which will have to be taken by the travel and tourism business to minimise those impacts will need to be on an heroic scale.
The International Hotels Environment Initiative and its accompanying manual may not have quite reached the heroic level as yet, but it is nevertheless a very important and welcome step down a new path. Conceived by the hotels business for the hotels business, it is exactly the kind of hard-headed practical guide that hotel managers will need to meet the environmental challenges ahead of them.
Ladies and gentlemen, I have said quite enough on this topic and it is now time for you to get on with some hard-headed practical work in the focus groups. I shall look forward to hearing the reports from these groups in the closing session before lunch.