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Earth Day: Beyond the Towel Rack.
By Arne Sorenson, President and CEO at Marriott International
Saturday, 5th July 2014

When you stay in a hotel room, do you reuse your towel? Do you read those little cards that ask you to consider it? Would you be more inclined to hang up that towel if you knew the vast majority of other guests reuse their towels?

The average answer: Yes, yes and yes.

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On Earth Day, it’s a good time to think about those cards and other ways we can combine individual conservation efforts with business initiatives to maximize results.

When hotels first introduced those cards, it was a radical ask. We weren’t sure how our guests might react. We thought some of our guests might object to not having clean sheets and towels every night (even though I have never met anyone who bothers to launder their linens every single day at home).

We thought some guests might think we were using “the environment” to save money and object on those grounds. The more our work evolves in this area the less bashful I become about admitting that there are financial benefits to taking care of our natural resources. That is not only true but it is essential. It is only when we can find environmental solutions that work financially that we can be confident that they will be replicated over and over again, delivering much more substantial benefits to the environment.

The cards in our guestrooms are ubiquitous now; they became a brand standard in our hotels in 2012, and guests worldwide now not only understand them, but appreciate them. Guests who re-hang their towels have helped us save countless amounts of water, energy and detergent.

Like many other companies, our work on environmental initiatives continues to evolve. The industry and corporations in general have become smarter on the environment. We’ve come to understand that conservation is more than a moral imperative. It also makes good business sense.

A big step for us came in 2007 when we set stretch goals to reduce energy and water consumption 20 percent by 2020, build green hotels and develop a more sustainable supply chain, including seafood.

We're right on target, and this week in China we will announce that our two-year campaign to reduce shark fin consumption is working. After taking it off the menus in our Asia hotels in 2012 and promoting sustainable alternatives, we have cut consumption by more than 80 percent and we will stop serving it globally by July 1, 2014, as part of our “Spirit to Preserve” commitment to protect the world's biodiversity.

In China, this includes efforts to stop deforestation through our “Nobility of Nature” strategy to help move rural communities from logging to beekeeping and sustainable honey production. In the Amazon rainforest of Brazil, we have protected 1.4 million acres by educating local communities to be guardians of the forest.

We also worked with the US Green Building Council to make the LEED certification process faster and less expensive for our hotel owners. We're starting to see the results. The Courtyard Kansas City at Briarcliff is a good example.

This new hotel was constructed on top of a mine, on land previously undevelopable. Ten percent of its building materials contain recycled content. And, like the 30-plus other Marriott LEED hotels (more than 100 others are in the LEED certification pipeline) this hotel features elements that focus on energy conservation, water efficiency and recycling. Some of those elements include:

  • White roofing materials which reflect heat to save energy,
  • Low volume plumbing fixtures,
  • A salt water pool, reducing the number of chemicals used in treating the pool,
  • An electric car charging station and preferred parking for low-emission cars and carpoolers,
  • 20-foot floor-to-ceiling glass wall of windows in the ballroom for day lighting and optimal view, and
  • Low energy-consuming LED lighting and controls.
These kinds of features make the hotel better for our environment. They also often speed the local permitting process, making the entire development process less expensive: a true win-win.

Okay, your turn: How have your conservation efforts evolved -- and how can individuals and the business community work together more often to protect the resources we all need?

Photo: Marriott International
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