Get to Know Matt “Dickie” Dickinson

Create - Change - Sustain

Get to Know Matt “Dickie” Dickinson

I had the great fortune of meeting Dickie in Nicaragua over 4 years ago.  The co-founder and creative director of Maderas Village, Dickie lured me up the hill from San Juan del Sur in what would be a life-changing experience, all in 48-hours.

Dickie’s passion and zest for life have morphed into clear, tangible ideas and solutions for sustainability within hospitality.  He is a profound voice within the industry and was a catalyst for growing the seed of “Create to Sustain”.

Now in Lisbon, Portugal, Dickie is creating a project which will not only add to the Lisbon community, but continue to change the focus of what to expect from hospitality.

I took a jaunt to Lisbon last month to connect with Dickie and write the first “Create to Sustain” Q&A blog.

Ellen – For some sustainability is a buzz word, but what does it mean to you personally and professionally?

Dickie – For me it’s more of a lifestyle than anything. I try to look beyond the direct environmental impacts of a particular project or action and rather think holistically and pragmatically about how the project will be maintained, and whether it’s contributing to my underlying values or a solution that the world is in need of.

E – When considering sustainability, where does hospitality get tripped up?

D – Traditionally there has been a gap between the type of experience that a hotel guest wants to experience while on vacation and the sustainable operational goals of a hospitality company. Like everything, the change needs to be consumer driven. The more guests that walk up to the front desk and question why there are plastic bottles in the mini fridge, why strawberries are available in the Alps in January, or why the linens are being changed daily, the easier it is for hospitality companies to make the right decisions regarding operational systems and processes. Ultimately, I believe everyone wants to do the right thing, but this has to be balanced with responsibility of serving the guest that support your business. The more we can encourage consumer driven sustainable standards, the better it will be for everyone.

E – What are the main pain points you see frequently?

D – The major pain points are having to compromise sustainability goals to satisfy pragmatic constraints and guest requirements. It’s not ideal to drive 5 hours in a Diesel truck to pick up one guest at 2am, but its also not realistic to ask those guests to wait on their ride until other people land the next day. It’s also just not practical to have a better solution to transportation until 4 wheel drive trucks are electric and available throughout the entire world at accessible prices. Ultimately, a lot of the changes that need to be made will take some time. It’s important though that we focus on the process and continue moving the conversation forward in the right direction.

E – In your experience, where are the simple opportunities to advance sustainability?  What are the common missed opportunities?

D – In my experience, there’s a lot of easy, low hanging fruit that can make a big difference and have minimal impact on the guest experience:

– We use recycled wine bottles filled with purified water, rather than offer plastic bottles. There’s no need and no excuse to use plastic water bottles any longer.

– Outside of a few remote examples, there is no reason why you cannot set your f/b menu based on what is available locally. The ingredients will end up being more fresh and the associated carbon footprint will be significantly less than if products are imported. As an added sustainability benefit, this will also have a greater impact on the local economy.

– Give guests the option of having sheets/towels washed when they want, rather than daily. Most do not need the room turned over entirely on a daily basis, and laundry is a massive contributor to water usage.

E – As you are an expert in both sustainable engineering and green building / design, what was your moment in time of getting involved involved at this level?

D – I’m not sure I would call myself an expert in either of these areas, but I have encouraged as many responsible decisions as possible from the inception of Maderas. There was no moment where everything changed, but rather this is an approach that I have always tried to take towards everything in life. All of our initiatives just seemed like the right thing to do, so we did them. Just as I wouldn’t feel altruistic about not beating my kids, I don’t think its right for developers or hospitality operators to promote or feel altruistic about making responsible decisions. It’s just what we should all be doing. We’re past the point of encouraging people to do what’s right, what we now need is more social shaming of those that do not do what’s right. The time for excuses has passed, the world is a different place today and the largest consumer base wants to see real solutions being implemented by the brands and experiences that they support.  Those who don’t participate in this shift will be left behind.

I wouldn’t say this led me to get involved with sustainable initiatives, but when the generation of your peers and clientele all agree on a set of standards it makes it a lot easier to make the right decision. The more we can all agree on these standards, the better the world will continue becoming.