Business of Happiness

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NICHOLAS LEE

CHIEF ENGINEER

SWISSOTEL MERCHANT COURT

How long have you been in the industry? I’ve been in the hotel industry for 12 years.

Can you tell us more about your role and what you do on a daily basis I manage an engineering team and our main focus is to resolve any technical issues that arise so that the hotel’s daily operations will not be affected. There are about 15 of us in the team, consisting of engineers, carpenters, painters and technicians. We maintain all areas of the hotel, from the kitchen to the fitness areas and even common areas around the property. We also carry out daily preventive maintenance measures to make sure that everything in the guest rooms is working perfectly before we assign rooms to the guests.

How did you get started with engineering, and what made you decide to join the hotel industry? I’ve always had a passion for engineering. It’s about problem-solving, and it’s very satisfying whenever I am able to come up with a solution to some issue. I started off as an engineer in a commercial building but I joined the hotel industry because I felt it would be more enriching and fulfilling.

Since I started working in a hotel, I’ve been able to come up with new ideas that benefit both the hotel and the environment – and turn those ideas into reality. It’s a very rewarding experience for me. It also helps that my colleagues and managers are very supportive of my ideas. That really drives me to want to achieve more. I don’t think I could have experienced that had I continued working in a shopping mall or an office tower. So I’m really happy to be working in a hotel.

You seem very passionate about environmental causes and waste reduction. Can you tell us why? I believe that climate change is a serious problem for the entire planet. So I want to do everything I can to raise awareness about the importance of protecting the environment through sustainable practices. I want the future generation to be able to live comfortably, and hopefully see some of today’s endangered animal species during their lifetime.

Can you share more about the ASEAN Energy Award that you received in 2017? It’s an energy conservation award given to hotels that efficiently use electricity, gas, and water. That year, we implemented a cooling system that allowed us to reduce the electricity consumption of the air-conditioning units by 45%. We also installed motion sensors in our bathrooms and staircases that turn the lights on only when someone is using them, and off when no one is around. These changes helped us become the first hotel in Singapore to receive the ASEAN Energy Award. I was very honoured to receive it.

What other sustainability projects have you implemented? One other programme I’m very proud of is the implementation of our eco-digester machine. Essentially, the eco-digester machine takes food waste and turns it into ‘grey water’. Currently, the ‘grey water’ is channeled to our sewage line, but we have plans to one day be able to use it to water plants, or for cleaning the hotel. So not only does this machine help to reduce waste and provide financial savings for the hotel, but it also helps to save the planet.

I’ve trained all the hotel staff on how to work the eco-digester machine, and I make sure that all new staff members are familiar with it as well.

Why do you think it’s important to make hotels more environmentally friendly? Green travel is on the rise and the number of travelers who want eco-friendly travel options is projected to continue growing. On top of that, I feel like it is our social responsibility as an industry to do our part to spread awareness and set an example when it comes to sustainability and helping the environment.

How do you think hotels can become more environmentally-friendly? It can be as simple as taking small steps every day to reduce our energy consumption. My team is working towards achieving optimal energy efficiency in the hotel. On top of that, Swissotel Merchant Court is proud to be the first hotel to undertake a behavioural change programme in conjunction with the Building & Construction Authority (BCA) and Singapore Green Building Council (SGBC).

Basically, we get all our team members to participate in the programme where they will learn about small behavioural changes that can add up to make a big impact on the environment. For example, taking the stairs instead of the elevator or turning off appliances wherever possible. These are just some of the many small ways we can help the environment every day.

What has been your most memorable moment in your career so far? I once had to locate the source of a serious water leak in the hotel. I had to conduct the search late at night when our hotel’s operations were not running, and when most of our guests were asleep. This was to ensure that the hotel’s water usage was at as minimal a level as possible, so I can accurately locate the source of the leak.

It was a tough challenge because the hotel has such a large plumbing and piping system and I could only work on the issue for a limited few hours a day, but I finally managed to locate the leak and fix the issue after three months of searching. It was a huge relief because I was able to help to prevent the hotel from losing another 60,000 cubic metres of water. That’s enough to fill up about 24 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

Do you have any goals that you hope to achieve during your time in the hotel industry? I hope to continue implementing sustainability programmes. I believe we can do so much more to make hotels a little greener. I also want to continue raising awareness about the environment and the importance of sustainable practices to all members of the hotel industry.

What advice would you share with someone who is interested in joining the hotel industry? Working in a hotel gives you a different experience altogether – one that you cannot get when you work in other fields. If you do join the hotel industry, work with a passion for perfection and have plenty of patience.

For example, as an Engineer, I may come across problems that may not be resolved so easily. It takes a lot of perseverance to fully understand the complexity of the issue and to try all possible options to resolve it. It may take some time, but it all pays off when I’m able to fix the issue properly.

But most importantly, remember to care for your colleagues as much as you care for your guests.