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Inspiring Female Founder Spotlight: Eleni Andreadis

Eleni Andreadis is the Director of Sustainability and CSR at Sani Resort, which has won numerous awards at the World Travel Awards 2022 including World’s Leading Family & Beach Resort and World’s Leading Luxury Green Resort. Andreadis is a sustainability specialist and has worked as a strategic and environmental consultant for various companies and organisations, as well as a variety of channels and media organisations in the UK, the US and Greece. She is an author of ten environmental books for children that have been translated around the world, and also a member of the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Leadership Council in Greece.

Can you tell us a little about your background and the company?

I grew up in a family of hoteliers but was always drawn to sustainability and non-profit work, perhaps because we were lucky enough to grow up in nature and come to understand how we are a part of it. It didn’t occur to me at the time that sustainability and hospitality could be combined or that I could make a living through sustainability work – that was very rare back in the mid-90s in Greece. That started to change when I worked in London in the non-profit sector after my studies in the UK and after completing my Master’s in Public Policy at Harvard University, where I focused on environmental policy and media. I was very drawn to storytelling as a way to get people to understand environmental science and the urgent action required to prevent climate catastrophe. During my work in London as an environmental consultant on the documentary Climate of Change (Participant Media), I learned about a group of children in India campaigning on plastic pollution and became more drawn to environmental education and work with children. When I returned to Greece after twelve years of studies and work abroad, I started a non-profit that has carried out environmental educational programmes with over 100,000 children in Greece and also started writing children’s environmental books, one of which won the National Book Prize.

At the same time that I returned to Greece, I decided to join what was then still a family business. We launched Sani Green, a comprehensive program aimed at enhancing the sustainability performance of the 5-star Sani Resort. The programme encompasses a wide range of sustainability efforts, such as including energy efficiency, investment in renewable energy, water conservation, sustainable procurement and creating a circular economy model. There is also a large emphasis on biodiversity protection. The company actively supports various biodiversity projects, such as the Sani Wetlands Project in partnership with the Hellenic Ornithological Society, as well as the Dolphin Project, through a partnership with iSea, a marine conservation organization, that aims to document the local dolphin population. Our latest biodiversity protection initiatives include the creation of the largest interactive Bee Spot in Greece and the implementation of the EcoCarbon project with the Forest Research Institute of Greece, aiming to document the local forest flora and fauna, as well as protect the nearby forest. We support over 40 organisations annually, including schools, hospitals, and refugee shelters.

How did the idea come to you for the company?

The business was started by my grandfather and his partner back in the 50s. It slowly developed into what it is now, which is five-star hotels in a one-thousand-acre forest reserve with forest trails and long, sandy beaches. The development accelerated when investors came on board alongside the Andreadis family, and our French business partner, Matthieu Guillemin, and that has enabled us to make strides when it comes to sustainability, in terms of greater investment in infrastructure. Our goals are very ambitious, as they should be considering the urgency of environmental issues. Today, we monitor more than 100 Key Performance Indicators, on everything from waste to water use to chemical use. We are the first certified carbon-neutral resort in Greece since 2020, and we run on 100% renewable electricity purchased through Guarantees of Origin, to name a few of our achievements. We are focusing on delivering our triple zero promise: to be zero plastic and zero-waste-to-landfill by 2024 and net zero by 2030.

How did you achieve awareness?

In terms of our own people and their awareness, I think creating a sustainability team from the get go across all functions of the organisation helped a lot, as well as having all stakeholders co-create the programme together. We did a vast amount of training, which we still do, to help our staff understand why we are doing this and how, say, a housekeeper’s way of servicing a room might contribute or help ease plastic pollution. Goal setting has been very important and communication on results, as well as getting backed up by trustworthy third-party certifications, as well as involving the local community. Making our guests part of our sustainability journey has also been key, for example with eco-guided tours, kids club activities and sourcing local produce highlighted on the menu.

What are the key successes?

Sani Green has grown into a multi-awarded programme – we’re proud of that but know that we have so much more to do. 2020 was our first carbon-neutral year and as part of our Zero Carbon Footprint initiative, we’re greatly increasing our renewable local energy capacity, while cutting down on carbon emissions, through electrification of all our operations, extensive energy metering and efficiency initiatives. Working towards becoming zero plastic we’ve reduced single-use plastic by over 90% in the last twelve years, switched to 100% green-powered electricity, fully recycle our wastewater in a closed loop, and annually recycle more than 300 tonnes of waste. Over 60% of our produce is from within 100 miles of the resort. In 2021 the Sustainable Human Settlements in collaboration with ECOSOC awarded Sani Resort as the Global low-carbon Ecological Scenic Spot which was a great honour and we’ve won the World Travel Awards Best Luxury Green Resort for three years in a row (2020, 2021 and 2022). We were the first company to take out a sustainability-linked loan in Greece and I think it is a great honour to be considered leaders in the field in our region.

What were/are the challenges and how have you overcome these?

It has been a long journey. Sustainability has been at the heart of our company since it was founded and it was in 2008 that it took the official form of the Sani Green programme. In the early days the focus was more on the “green” component, e.g. how do we recycle (which was no easy task as the municipality didn’t offer it – we had to partner with private companies). Then, community and fair trade came under the umbrella of the department and in the more recent years it has all come together, as sustainability in a more holistic approach and what we call ESG. Our challenge has always been to prove that sustainability is possible at a larger scale and at the luxury level that we operate on. We’re addressing these challenges by raising awareness, focusing on the why and staying true to our vision and beliefs of operating like a family, which at the core of it has caring for our people, the local community and the nature that we’re privileged to operate in. We’ve got huge challenges ahead still, such as our triple zero goal, but I’m confident with the resources that we’ve allocated and the fact that we started working on these very early, that we’ll be able to meet them.

What would you like to share with others to encourage them to start their own entrepreneurship journey?

My experiences as an entrepreneur are more through the non-profit I started and run. My role at the company – which I entered as a third-generation member of my family – has however felt entrepreneurial at times, as I was for some time in sustainability a department of one, with very little to no resources. What I have learned that might be useful is that it helps to start with small steps, document the results, change course if needed and continue. We often get dissuaded from even starting because we want it to be bigger. But small actions can add up and before you know it you’re making leaps. It’s often hard to find the beginning but you’ve got to start somewhere. The other piece of advice I would offer is to surround yourself with people who love your project as much as you do, and who are curious, hard-working and inspired. It may take some time to find these sort of co-workers but you absolutely can’t do it alone or with people who don’t share your passion and aren’t inspired by the idea.

Can you share your top tips for entrepreneurial success?

Working on something you love and that you’re passionate about, something that creates meaning for you. I don’t think just doing it for the money will carry you through the difficult times when you need to persevere. Also, thinking big and not being afraid of change. Everything is changing every day.

Who are the 5 people who inspire you the most and why?

My father probably tops the list. I feel privileged to have the chance to observe his business acumen, passion and big heart as we have worked together over the years. He is a true inspiration to me and to so many of our employees and business leaders in Greece and in tourism. Not from my immediate environment and more from the sustainability arena, I am inspired by grassroots activists and organisers like Bill McKibben of 350.org to the older legends like Jane Goodall and David Attenborough. I also greatly admire Christiana Figueres, the Costa Rican diplomat and one of key architect of the Paris Climate Agreement for her achievements and work on stubborn optimism, something I think an entrepreneur also doubtlessly needs. Their fight against all odds and relentless will to persevere in the face of adversity is probably what defines all of five people that I’ve mentioned.

What are your favourite inspirational /motivational quotes?

Maybe because of the topic of our conversation and discussing success, I’ll go with a quote by Marianne Williamson. “Success means we go to sleep at night knowing that our talents and abilities were used in a way that served others.” That along with Mother Teresa’s “When you’re feeling helpless, help someone,” has served as a guide through times in my life when I felt powerless and lost. I’ve felt happiest in life and gained much strength when being true to those words.

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