Ben Förtsch doesn’t just strive to raise awareness through buzzwords like “life cycle assessment” and “sustainability”. He actually has a message, a blunt one, and for some, even uncomfortable,: We human beings, as wasteful species, must act in favor of our planet. It starts with riding bikes and it doesn’t stop when visiting a hotel. However, he doesn’t really fit into the eco-friendly revolution, just as his hotel management differs from traditional hospitality management. Ben Förtsch’s green revolution acts at a subconscious level, and it actually looks good too. To quote someone who might be one of the youngest hosts in Germany and the initiator of the probably most ecological hotel room: “Sustainability does not equate sacrifice at all, but rather value awareness.”
Sisyphus – An interview with your host Ben Förtsch
In 2014, you took over the entire management of the hotel, which was founded by your grandparents and handed over to you by your parents. How do you face the task?
By trying to remain true to myself. I want to be authentic. I trust my staff and offer them as much freedom as possible, associated to responsibility as well, of course. Especially in day-to-day business, I try to delegate many tasks. I need a clear head. I have so many ideas. I think a good boss can sometimes be absent without fearing chaos. I take this liberty, which allows me to sometimes, for instance, arrange the stones in our biotope or paint walls myself. I need this kind of variety. If I were to just sit on my desk, I would have a fixed mindset and would always follow the same patterns.
That sounds like a nice job…
It is; for those who don’t know me, I may come across as a very relaxed manager (laughs). Naturally, this is only partly true.
You are definitely a very young Director.
That’s true. I don’t actually fit the traditional image of a hotel Director. That term actually makes me a little uncomfortable. At first, I was afraid I wouldn’t be taken seriously because of my age. Now, I actually consider my youth an advantage. For example, it allows me to remain unnoticed around the hotel. On the other hand, this invisibility is one of my weak spots. Sometimes I lack the connection to the guests. I have to show myself a little more.
Luxury is not about the price but about valuing quality. If you live sustainably, you have mostly a high-quality life, and also value awareness.
– Ben Förtsch
How do you approach your sector?
I don’t usually meet up with hoteliers, and I don’t attend the typical hospitality conventions. I never learned the trade and I don’t want to run a traditional hotel. This doesn’t mean that I shut myself out completely, and contacts are of course important. To be honest, I prefer networking with visionaries and pioneers, including people in the design industry. I’m a very visual person and I take great interest in aesthetics.
And with your hotel concept, are you a forerunner and pioneer?
My dad was called the “green nut“. And I don’t really mind being a “nutcase” myself. I don’t really know what the future holds for me. However, I do know what I aim to achieve with the hotel and personally. I’ve come to accept that this is my way of finding myself, by being in constant change. Maybe a constant work-in-progress.
And therefore a do-gooder?
Maybe. And still, not even us are doing enough to avoid what’s coming. The film by Leonardo DiCaprio, “BEFORE THE FLOOD” reminded me of exactly that. It makes you feel like Sisyphos. Nevertheless, you can’t just accept the apocalypse. The worst part is: We all know it, but only a few actually actively try to steer in a new direction. Some even deny climate change. Human beings are their own biggest enemies. Is it possible to survive in such a destructive rage? I know I can’t.
Who made you environmentally aware?
My parents did. I was raised environmentally aware and it was pretty early and unconsciously that I fell into it. I share the existing approach but I try to take it further and also give it a new meaning regarding our interior design. I want to sell sustainability to my target audience – not as a sacrifice but actually as an added value.
I don’t get the admonitory environmental activists. They do completely change their lifestyles, but act in a way that would never motivate others to follow suit. This “I’ve done my part” attitude isn’t helpful. If you want to achieve something, you need to see yourself as a multiplying factor. Many are frightened off by this sacrifice mentality. To me, sustainability has to do with aesthetics, but mostly with a new value awareness.
What do you mean?
The discomforting adjustment to a sustainable lifestyle is like a diet with a bounce-back effect. You make sacrifices and tighten your belt to later treat yourself, and you end up wasting more resources. To act sustainably doesn’t necessarily have to equal sacrifice, it should be more about setting new priorities.
Sustainability is not just connected to the environment. Everything is sustainable. Whenever I’m riding a bike, keeping my furniture for a long time, supporting the bakery around the corner – Sustainability has a lot to do with quality-consciousness. In our new rooms there’s a bed with only natural fibers, but most importantly, the mattress is very comfortable. And that’s what I mean by luxury. Of course, you have to pay more for sustainable products, but they’re not just ecological, most of all they’re pleasing to the eye and, in this case, very comfortable.
SQUARE METERS Of our surface have been restored to its natural state since 2010.
47 % LESS END USE ENERGY is what you consume per night with us compared to an average hotel of the same star category.
% LESS WASTE
is what we produce compared to an average hotel of the same star category.
TREES is the amount of trees we have planted in Panama since 2010.
Do you think your guests get this message?
I don’t walk around pointing fingers and pushing every guest to pursue sustainability, everyone can decide for themselves. However, if someone enjoys their sleep in our sustainable beds, they may buy themselves one mainly for this reason, while associating their personal comfort with a good cause. This would at least be good start.
Does sustainability always define the price?
I don’t think sustainability is just a privilege of the rich. Though it is true that the subject has an aftertaste in that direction, and that’s exactly why many people have initial reservations. However, the argument that not anyone can go to organic shops or healthy food stores because of the price doesn’t convince me. Germany still has the lowest food prices.
Economizing wisely- who says we need meat every day?- does help you afford better quality. We’re all looking for convenience, and everything is available everywhere; but that’s exactly the point: we’re free to choose. Sustainability is actually a very democratic subject. Anyone can live sustainably, we just have to consciously choose to do it. Buying a sustainable product will often be more expensive, but you will also get more out of it. It isn’t a luxury because of its price, but because quality is a priority. Living sustainably allows you to consciously choose quality and value. The times in which a sustainable version of a product implied limitations are long gone.
To act sustainably doesn’t have to equal sacrifice, it should be more about setting new priorities.
– Ben Förtsch
Your new rooms are a clear example. And they daunt the beginning of an integral transformation era. Is your hotel a work-in-progress?
I do have many ideas and I can’t turn them all into action at once. That wouldn’t be sustainable. These projects take time and money. Change is a condition at the Creativhotel. Of course, we do follow our green road and we still haven’t been able to integrate everything, and this is something we’re open about. If a guest keeps their eyes open, they’ll see it. Others don’t care. They just complain about the too small TV. I don’t want to dilute my parents’ approach, I want to continue it. Even consistency is sustainable. But I also want to set my own trends, maybe dare to do something crazy and rethink established ways.
What kind of host do you want to be?
I want each guest to feel comfortable in their own skin. I have very different target groups and, in the long run, I want everyone to feel good when staying with us. But that’s a process too. If someone is not interested in sustainability, here they can also choose not to deal with the subject. I can’t force anyone to identify themselves with our approach. Sustainability does not startle you here, but our design offers kick starting points to deal with it. The guest has the choice. However, if a hotel purposely rescinds of a TV and the guest wants to watch TV, that guest won’t be returning. That’s how it works with us. Sometimes you just have to compromise. “Before the flood” as a flipbook on recycling paper (laughs).