What do hotel uniforms made from recycled plastic bottles, a machine that converts organic waste into nutrient-rich gray water, a “brewery” system that produces and bottles fresh drinking water on-site, solar panels that produce hot water and electronically-delivered paystubs have in common?
They are all winning ideas submitted and selected by employees of Starwood Hotels & Resorts — one of CI’s partners through our Center for Environmental Leadership in Business (CELB) — in the company’s recent “Challenge for a Better World” contest.
The company recently launched the contest to generate employee — “associate” in Starwood parlance — enthusiasm, support and buy-in for its ambitious sustainability goals. Through a multi-phased effort, Starwood’s global properties — which include the Le Meridien, Westin, Sheraton, St. Regis, Luxury Collection, Aloft, Element and W brands — submitted ideas to support the company’s 30/20 by 20 initiative.
Launched in 2010 with support from CI, 30/20 by 20 is one of the key priorities within Starwood’s sustainability platform, which incorporates goals across more than 1,000 hotels to reduce energy use by 30% and water use by 20% by the year 2020. Minimizing waste is another key tenet of the company’s sustainability strategy.
Kicked off in June 2012, the “Challenge for a Better World” was the collaborative brainchild of the CELB team and our Starwood Global Citizenship colleagues. Employee suggestions could stem from an existing strategy already implemented by a hotel that could be scaled globally, a best practice from another industry that might be applied at Starwood, or a brand new creative idea that could be tested and implemented for the first time.
Not quite knowing what to expect since this was a first-time effort, we were very impressed by how associates rose to the challenge. The final tally included more than 450 submissions from 280 properties, from Angkor Wat to Puerto Vallarta. Entries were evaluated by a team of judges composed of Global Citizenship staff, divisional sustainability leads in the company’s four regions — North America, Europe/Middle East/Africa, Latin America and Asia/Pacific — as well as sustainability experts from Sustainability Partners and CI. Judging criteria included factors like the impact on consumption and practicality of the ideas.
Submissions were all over the map, literally and figuratively, ranging from the practical (replacing plastic key cards with wooden ones) to the ingenious (harnessing the air whooshed through moving elevators to cool the boiler room) to the comprehensive (using kitchen compost to fertilize vegetables, which were then harvested and served to hotel guests). What all these ideas had in common was a demonstrated enthusiasm and commitment to helping Starwood become more sustainable.
Ultimately, Starwood associates selected the grand prize winners through a voting process that also benefitted CI; for each associate who voted, Starwood donated US$ 10 to CI’s Save a Mile campaign. Grand prize winners — one per division — were each rewarded with US$ 5,000 toward implementing their winning (or other) sustainability projects, and congratulatory phone calls from Starwood CEO and President (and CELB Executive Council member) Frits Van Paasschen.
Research has shown that engaging employees in conservation has proven benefits to companies, on both environmental and economic fronts. In addition, many companies are finding that making sustainability a part of the work experience increases overall job satisfaction; Starwood’s recent experience supports this notion. This is perhaps best summed up in a comment from one of the contest participants: “These types of activities create a better world for all of us.”
Joan Ochi is the senior director of corporate marketing and communications in CI’s Center for Environmental Leadership in Business (CELB).