Ben Zoll is director of Corporate Relations for CI-Singapore. Yayue Peng is a communications coordinator for CI in China. Together, the two recently traveled to central China on a trip with Marriott International — and made some interesting discoveries along the way.
“Nobility of Nature,” the joint sustainable rural development and conservation program between Conservation International and Marriott International, celebrated its one-year anniversary last month in China. The project helps rural communities start sustainable businesses that reduce strains on natural resources, especially fresh water and forests.
We marked the occasion by accompanying Marriott associates on a trip to Pingwu County and Yingjing County, in central China, to look at the past, present and future of the program. What we got was a look at how a strong partnership can protect nature, benefit people, improve business practices, and even create some amazing food—all at once.
Our group, led by Marriott President and COO Arne Sorenson, included executives from Marriott’s corporate and Asia-Pacific offices, as well as eight associates from hotels in China and Hong Kong who were selected for their leadership in conservation efforts. Together, we traveled to the mountainous Sichuan Province, which had been devastated in the 2008 earthquake, to monitor how communities and the environment are benefiting from Marriott’s investment.
The associates got an up-close view of sustainable honey production in Guanba village, a small village of 400 people. The village leader, a 28-year-old woman name Tang Hong, demonstrated how honey yields would be tripled with the new hives and training that “Nobility of Nature” provided. Marriott purchases and uses the honey in its Chinese hotels, with a pledge to return profits to the village. For their part, the villagers pledge to clean up the local waterways, refrain from illegal logging and conduct wildlife patrols. This not only protects the valuable freshwater catchments in the upstream Yangtze basin, but also ensures that bees will have yearlong access to flowering plants and clean water, improving honey quality and quantity.
The honey hives proved to be a test of mettle for all on the trip; Marriott team members even handled racks from the new hives without gloves. At the celebratory lunch of organically grown food from the village, Tang Hong told us that even the bees were excited to welcome Marriott to Guanba.
A smaller group of us then braved another adventurous road trip to Yingjing County, about 10 hours away by car, to look at the next site for Marriott’s investment. Yingjing County officials and those from the state forestry administration warmly welcomed Marriott and CI’s interest in expanding the program to Yingjing.
After a quick breakfast at a local noodle shop, we traveled with officials to the rural village of Changfu to tour the potential site of a future beekeeping operation. We wrapped up the visit by tasting some of the Yingjing honey, which will soon be featured at Marriott hotels throughout China.
Altogether, it was an uplifting — and delicious — trip, one that demonstrated both enthusiasm for our continued work together in China and great benefit for the environment and local communities visited.