Article Summary:

High-profile initiatives such as bans on plastic get the public’s attention, but executives at hotel companies say their goals in sustainability are aimed at the greatest potential impact for the least potential cost.

Primary Category: Sustainability

Secondary Categories: Brands, News, Operations

GLOBAL REPORT—It might not be easy being green, but it certainly is becoming more popular in the hotel industry and beyond.

Companies and brands increasingly are touting their environmental consciousness, as more and more consumers are buying based on how a product or provider aligns with their own social values. Investment in sustainability is rising, with positions and departments created to manage it.

But sustainability managers and executives at hotel companies say there’s more at stake than making headlines.

Before investing, Marriott International examines any sustainability program or initiative to gauge the impact it will have on the communities in which the company operates, said Denise Naguib, VP of sustainability and supplier diversity.

Marriott’s Global Sustainability team consists of three full-time employees, which in partnership with the Social Impact team, manage a campaign called “Serve 360: Doing Good in Every Direction” that also involves stakeholders and associates across other departments, from engineering to design, food and beverage, and procurement, Naguib said via email.

“We must ensure that any sustainability initiative supports our focus areas and goals under ‘Serve 360’ as the strategy was developed by analyzing our operations, the needs of our stakeholders, and how we can make a positive and sustainable impact in the communities where we do business,” she said. “We must also consider the impact of any initiative—the impact we can have by implementing it, but also the impact on our operations, on our hotels, owners, associates and, of course, on our guests. We always want to ensure that sustainability initiatives are enhancing the guest experience, supporting our hotels and ownership groups, and in line with what our associates, stakeholders, communities and the environment need.”

Bangkok-based Six Senses Hotels Resorts Spas, employs a full-time sustainability manager at each of its hotels in Europe and the Asia/Pacific and Middle East/Africa regions, according to Jeffery Smith, the company’s VP of sustainability.

In evaluating a project, he said, “it’s about sizing up the challenge and measuring our positive impact to environments and communities, and seeing where we can get the best return on our efforts for issues that really matter.”

What’s important
Smith added that he doesn’t concern himself with public opinion.

“If an initiative can fall out of style, it’s a failure from the beginning,” he said. “Our sustainability initiatives are driven by science and commitment to our guests and local communities, not by public opinion.”

Wynn Resorts takes a similar measure of potential initiatives, according to the company’s Chief Sustainability Officer Erik Hansen, who said via email that he works in direct collaboration with Wynn’s Energy & Sustainability department as well as a committee of representatives from every major division within the company, from F&B to conventions and banquets.

“As with all of our initiatives, we have to ask ourselves some fundamental questions about each and every aspect of a proposed project,” he said. Those questions are:

  • Does this project positively enhance our guests’ experience?
  • Does this project in any way negatively affect our guests’ experience?
  • Does this project enhance the value of our company for our shareholders?
  • Does this project positively impact and support our corporate goals?

“After we’ve answered these seemingly elementary but critical questions and are satisfied that we’ve tested the answers to the max, we move forward with the project,” Hansen said.

InterContinental Hotels Group’s sustainability strategy starts with listening to its owners and stakeholders, as well as guests, VP of Global Corporate Responsibility Catherine Dolton said via email. But success also comes from observing and adopting what others are doing well, she said.

“To ensure our approach remains relevant, we regularly consult our stakeholders, and look externally to best practices to determine and prioritize issues that are most important to them and to our business. We also pride ourselves on our relationships with our owners, and we maintain an open conversation with them to understand what’s working and what could be done better. This informs a materiality matrix we use to align our responsible business priorities with IHG’s strategic approach and our principal risks,” she said.

“We also know that a strong track record for sustainability is important to our guests, partners and customers. For example, in 2017 more than 60% of our corporate clients requested key responsible business data relating to carbon footprint, water consumption and waste when making a booking decision. It gives our hotels even more reason to make sustainable changes—not only helping to create more business, but also in building meaningful relationships with our guests through shared values.”

Wynn’s Hansen said one result of more public attention around environmental issues is that sustainability issues don’t have to be spelled out to guests quite as much as they have been in the past.

“Our guests are becoming more sophisticated in their understanding of how a resort responsibly and sustainably provides their services and to that end, the days of putting a cardboard notice in the room asking guests to take shorter showers, or reuse towels just isn’t going to cut it for a generation of guests who have a vested interest in the environment and the resources they consume,” he said.

Involvement and investment
Dolton said at IHG, corporate responsibility and accountability, which includes environmental sustainability, is ingrained and embedded across various departments and functions.

“As one key example, we’ll be rolling out a new global carbon reduction performance metric to our hotels in 2019,” she said. “This is a truly cross-functional effort with partnership across our operations, finance, technology and communications groups to implement programming elements (i.e. reporting, measurement), raise awareness among stakeholders and provide ongoing support to help hotels meet their targets.”

Naguib said participation in and incorporation of sustainability efforts across departments is also growing at Marriott in line with expectations, both internally and externally.

“The need to operate responsibly and sustainably is no longer a nice-to-have—it is a clear must-have in today’s world,” she said. “This means that sustainability initiatives must be holistic, well-thought-through, correctly executed and impactful. Doing the basics of linen and terry reuse is no longer enough as we must look to embed sustainability across our operations in order to sustain the resiliency of our business, and that of the communities and environments in which we operate.”

It’s important that decisions on these initiatives are not made “in a silo,” she said. Involving many in the conversation ensures that “they will enhance the guest experience and provide higher-quality products,” she said.

Six Senses’ Smith said as the company looks to expand, its investment in sustainability will also grow. The company’s annual sustainability conference, held at an organic farm in Bali last month, drew 24 participants from its home office, hotels and spas.

He added that investment in sustainability doesn’t come into conflict with directives to cut costs, because sustainability is seen as a net cost-saver.

“We take the ‘triple-bottom-line’ approach to sustainability: people, planet and profit,” he said. “To be truly sustainable, any business must deliver highest possible value at lowest possible expense.”

Hansen agreed.

“Responsibly controlling costs isn’t a new concept for Wynn,” he said. “In fact, the majority of our renewable energy and sustainability programs have been designed and implemented in a way that reduces annual costs while being environmentally responsible and forward-thinking at the same time.”

Marriott also favors sustainability that has the added benefit of cutting costs, Naguib said.

“Many of our sustainability initiatives support the efficiency of our operations and therefore assist in controlling costs,” she said. “Other sustainability efforts help to mitigate risk and therefore contribute to cost avoidance.”

Dolton said sustainability initiatives offer an opportunity, rather than a challenge, in the profit-and-loss analysis.

“We know that P&L will always remain a top priority for our hotel owners and operators, and we often see greater success in getting initial buy-in when we’re able to frame potential initiatives through this lens as a jumping-off point,” she said. “For instance, this year, we’ve really focused on encouraging our hotels to upgrade to more-efficient LED lighting. This is a fairly straightforward undertaking, but one with great potential impact given that utilities are often the second-largest P&L expense and lighting can account for 25% to 40% of a property’s energy use.”

Such “quick wins with cost-saving solutions like lighting upgrades, water-efficient bathroom fixtures and waste-control initiatives,” she said, might lead to a hotel owner having “a greater appetite to pursue further and/or more ambitious sustainability initiatives” later.

What’s next?
Those more ambitious, and attention-grabbing, sustainability initiatives recently have included bans on single-use plastic straws, aimed at reducing plastic waste, which has been shown by conservancy groups clogging the world’s oceans.

An early adopter, Six Senses reached its goal of eliminating single-use plastic straws from its properties in 2016, which Smith said took “several years.” Before that, the company transitioned from plastic to reusable glass water bottles in 2003.

Now the company is looking to expand that to eliminate all plastic from its properties over the course of the next three years in a program it calls “Plastic Free 2022,” he said.

“Plastic is of growing concern, while climate change is still a very real and unaddressed hazard to our global civilization,” he said. “Staying ahead of the curve, we are taking a close look at how microplastics may impact wellness, for example with microplastic testing of our water.”

He added that for the rest of the industry, the public attention, or buzz around sustainability “over the next two years may likely involve those public commitments around plastic straws being achieved, or not achieved.”

Marriott has pledged to eliminate plastic straws at its more than 6,500 properties around the world by this July, and Naguib sees that as a trend likely to grow.

“The concentration on reduction/elimination of single-use products will most likely continue, as the understanding of the impacts of living with a disposable culture becomes more and more mainstream,” she said. “We are seeing this on a regular basis as guests and customers increasingly inform us of their thoughts and feedback on the use of disposables in guestrooms.”

She added that public attention and scrutiny around the impact of overtourism is increasing pressure on companies to evaluate and reduce their ecological footprints.

“The concept of overtourism seems to be becoming more mainstream and is no longer just a sustainability buzzword. As the tourism industry continues to grow, it will be more important than ever that we work to maintain the ecological health of the destinations in which we operate.”

For Six Senses, those efforts extend to F&B.

“We’re also very excited about permaculture, composting, healthy soils and productive gardens that reduce the carbon footprint of our menus,” Smith said.

Hansen predicts: “2019 is going to be a year in which we and the communities which we operate within focus heavily on energy issues at the legislative level—in particular, the potential of an increasing Renewal Portfolio Standard, the best way to integrate energy storage solutions at a utility grid and individual property level, as well as looking at direct carbon-reduction initiatives.”

He said one area in which Wynn is staying ahead of the sustainability curve is energy use.

“Over the last two years, Wynn has focused on developing a sound energy policy that has resulted in the build-out of a 20-megawatt, 160-acre utility-scale solar facility, and a rooftop solar project that provide for more than 75% of Wynn Las Vegas’s summer peak energy needs,” he said.

Other leading-edge initiatives at the company, he said, include: “In Massachusetts, our Encore Boston Harbor project has invested (more than $68 million) in site cleanup and remediation, built a living shoreline, as well as creating a microgrid that includes solar, co-generation, as well as battery storage.”

Although initiatives might fall into and out of the spotlight, the work of sustainability is never done.

“When initiatives solve the problem they are set to achieve, they can be happily retired and resources directed elsewhere,” Smith said.

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