New Relais & Châteaux President Is On A Sustainability Mission

Relais & Châteaux—the global association of independent hotels and restaurants—was at the forefront of having a mission that incorporated sustainability as a core element. But the recently elected new president, Laurent Gardinier, says that effort will be kicked into high gear.

As early as 2014, the Relais & Châteaux association declared its vision to “preserve culinary and hospitality diversity, share a passion for all that is good and beautiful, and work together to create a more humane world” with 20 commitments at UNESCO. Under former president Philippe Gombert’s leadership, the association presented its ambitious vision to UNESCO, pledging to “make a better world through food and hospitality” and to “elevate the fine art of living.”

This vision, drawn up with Vice-President Olivier Roellinger and the association’s chefs, defined hospitality and cooking as an art form that respects the future of the land and its people while taking into account the uniqueness of its 580 independent properties across 65 countries.

Since then, the association has monitored its members’ progress in responsible purchasing, sustainable sourcing, biodiversity conservation, social policies, community development, and cultural heritage preservation through its “Moving Forward” platform. The association, in partnership with Ethic Ocean since 2009, regularly brings its members together for environmental causes, such as World Oceans Day and Food for Change, starting in 2016.

Now, under the leadership of Gardinier (who is the owner of the property Domaine Les Crayères in Champagne and of the Parisian restaurant Le Taillevent), Relais & Châteaux taking a major step forward with a three-pronged approach to sustainability. The association has adopted a sustainability action plan with three key pillars and 15 ambitious objectives for 2025 and 2030, has implemented a comprehensive and international reporting system based on 60 indicators, and recently published its first sustainability report.

“I am focused on three main areas: reducing our environmental footprint with economically realistic solutions; preserving biodiversity, working in particular with our chefs; and enhancing respect for each of our employees and increased social responsibility, all while maintaining the financial health of our association,” said Gardinier.

The three pillars of the action plan are Environmental Conservation, Sustainable Cuisine, and Social & Societal Empowerment. The former focuses on climate change, water use, biodiversity, and plastic pollution, while the latter prioritizes local suppliers, the preservation of culinary heritage, and the empowerment of employees, gender parity, and local activism. The 15 objectives, ranging from decarbonation and local and organic cuisine to gender parity and employee well-being, are already being pursued by some leading members of the association, and the association is confident that others will soon follow.

“While Relais & Châteaux is an association of independent operators, leveraging their entrepreneurial creativity and flexibility will speed our progress towards the ambitious goals we have set,” said Lars Seifert, Chief Communications & Sustainability Officer of Relais & Châteaux. “Together, we can show that hospitality, travel, exploration, and enjoyment of the world’s varied cultures can be a force for good.”

Gombert, who served as President for two successive terms, will continue to play an active role within the association as Honorary President, member of the Commission Network, and co-owner of the Château de la Treyne in the Dordogne. And though he is stepping back, he’s confident in the future of Relais & Châteaux, noting, “Our civilization, our world, is at a fundamental turning point, but Relais & Châteaux has the right people and the right tools to adapt, evolve and advance with it.”


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