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The Caterer and Hotelkeeper Interview – Brigitta Witt

16 December 2011 by
The Caterer and Hotelkeeper Interview – Brigitta Witt

Having launched Hyatt Thrive, the hotel group has attempted to put environmental processes at the heart of the company. Vice-president of corporate social responsibility Brigitta Witt explains to Rosalind Mullen the local steps they've taken and why they make a difference to staff, the business and the community

Why has Hyatt been so quiet about its environment programme? Local relevance is important to us. We've got hundreds of stories of small initiatives that are making an impact, but not one headline. We're trying to make a real difference.

So why does Hyatt believe CSR is important? You can't not have a policy on it today. If the community and environment don't thrive, we don't attract guests and employees become harder to find.

Socially responsible investment groups put pressure on us and corporations that make large bookings ask about our CSR policies because they, in turn, have company policies about partnering responsible businesses.

With the economic downturn, you'd think people would ask about it less, but in the USA, for instance, 100% of corporate clients ask about it. Questions are increasingly about carbon emissions and water consumption in the hotel - people are getting down to that level of detail.

How much has Hyatt invested in being green? It's hard to put a figure on it. We've integrated ecological processes into the fabric of the company. We have systems to measure energy consumption on the one hand, but we also have Green Teams who spend time on issues in each hotel. And as well as large capital donations, there are hundreds of smaller local initiatives - whether it's printing on both sides of the paper or collecting used batteries. The view is shifting about CSR. It's not just about donating money.

What's special about Hyatt Thrive? Hyatt Thrive is global, but the execution of it is local so that every hotel can deliver. In short, it provides a framework so that individual hotels can identify issues in their local community. We have 450 hotels and 85,000 employees in 43 countries, so we can't have one size fits all.

For example, we have big capital projects through our Hyatt community grant such as the $20,000 (£12,750) our Jakarta hotel pledged to build 10 homes in a village in Indonesia where 70% of inhabitants have no sanitation. Conversely, we have small ones that make a big impact, such as the Green Teams at the two Hyatts in Baku, Azerbaijan, donating used bottles of shampoo, lotions, linens and slippers to local orphanages.

So how does Hyatt Thrive work? There are four key areas where we know we can make an impact:

â- Economic development and investment in communities to stimulate local economic growth.
â- Education and personal advancement, so providing opportunities for staff and the community to develop and achieve their potential.
â- Programmes to enhance the health of staff, guests and the community.

We achieve these goals through two staff initiatives, Hyatt Earth and Hyatt Community. Hyatt Earth concentrates on environmental schemes, while Hyatt Community makes our impact on the local population positive through volunteering, philanthropy and disaster relief.

Can you give us some examples of what you do? Well, for instance, in Nepal we work with a local orphanage, providing fresh water and food and we do their laundry using our facilities. Guests and staff regularly volunteer at the home, providing entertainment and activities such as swimming lessons for the children. Then, through the Hyatt Community Grant, we can make one-off donations such as the $10,000 (£6,375) that helped the orphanage to buy school supplies and cover tuition fees.

Our hotel in Sao Paolo, Brazil, works with young people from the slums. It's a big issue as they often can't get out of that environment, so we train disadvantaged youths in areas such as basic finance, grooming and other skills specific to hotel work with the hope of being able to employ them. We've had a high success rate. The result is that we get highly engaged loyal employees who can earn money and take their resources back to their families and thereby improve their communities.

In Seattle, we focus on disadvantaged and homeless people. We've partnered with FareStart to teach them cooking and housekeeping. Rather than give them money, we look at how to enable people to acquire the skills to improve. We can see the positive impact on the individuals - the training and the health benefits we pass on to them goes back to their families.

What initiatives do you use to curb energy and water consumption? We use energy-efficient lighting back of house, for instance, and reduce water flow in faucets in public areas. We also follow sustainable building design criteria in our new properties.

Since 2006, we have reduced consumption of energy and water per guest night by 10%. The aim by 2015 is to reduce energy consumption, waste and greenhouse gas emissions by 25% and water consumption by 20%.

What are the latest initiatives? We've just launched My Green Touches, which incorporates five sustainable tasks for each job role. For instance, housekeepers have to check the curtains are closed in bedrooms to keep out the sun, switch the lights off, and so on.

We are also starting to work with human rights organisations. We're training our people to look out for human trafficking and know what to do if they suspect it is happening in or around their hotel.

How receptive have Hyatt employees been to your initiatives? I thought it would be hard to turn this ship around, but people at Hyatt were already engaged and cared. We put a framework around that passion and gave it a global name so they could understand our goals as a company.

I do things deliberately slowly so everyone can keep up. We are in the business of running hotels and I am mindful of that. You have to be realistic.

What's the biggest challenge? The fact that we can't do the same thing everywhere. You can't recycle everywhere. It's not possible, even in the USA. In Chile, there is no recycling in the city, so we donate our recyclables to local charities which sell it to recycling plants further away. This diverts 110 metric tonnes of waste from local landfills a year - and the charities make some money for their own programmes.

I ask hotels to do as much as they can - whether that's turning out the lights and printing double-sided or installing solar panels.

What other issues do you have to overcome? Well, in some countries our employees have their own real problems to deal with so you can't expect them to do a collection for, say, Haiti's earthquake. Instead, there might be a local playground they could help to build that would make a difference to lives in their community.

What do you think about environmental legislation in the UK? The Climate Change Act is an interesting challenge. It's certainly a costly endeavour for British companies. For us, it's easier because we've been trading for so long. It's an added rigour but it keeps you focused.

Europe in general is ahead of the USA on environmental policies. Recycling is part of the way that individuals do business over here. It's gaining more traction in the USA, but it's still challenging.

What's your biggest ecological worry? Everyone is focused on global warming, but I think we'll get thirsty first. The focus on water across the world will get higher. In an economic downturn the cost of water and energy rises so economics will drive the equation.

Money is a huge incentive to reduce waste. Environmental change is having an impact on different levels, including your business.

Why do you do this job? I have a personal interest in the environment - a passion. Five or six years ago I was spending a lot of time at work and wasn't really engaged. I asked myself what I really wanted to think about all day - sustainability is important to me personally and so I made it part of my job. I live sustainably - I buy local, I recycle, I use my bicycle when I can, and so on.

environmental tips for small businesses
â- It's crucial to engage your employees. Bricks in the loo might save water, but it's difficult to achieve what you want to if staff can't buy into it.
â- Employees are your biggest audience, so you need to help them understand why you want them to do certain things and what the impact will be. For instance, if you get your housekeeper to think about turning the lights off, they will go home and teach their kids.
â- It's also important to make the issue relatable. In Sao Paolo it has been hard so we chose a message that everyone can understand - batteries. By explaining that if you throw them away you contaminate the ground and the water that your children drink we got the message across. Within a month, they were bringing in more batteries than we could dispose of and they were looking round the hotel suggesting that we replace the alarm clocks with electrical ones.

At the Hyatt Churchill, the hotel has: â- Replaced the two old chillers with one new energy-efficient unit resulting in a 36% reduction of electricity use compared with old units.
â- Replaced Halogen MR16 lamps in corridors and guest bathrooms with LED lamps and 35W lamps with 5W LEDs, resulting in an 86% reduction of electricity use by lighting in corridors and bathrooms. About 35% of the hotel is now complete, with the balance to be done in conjunction with the hotel lighting designer.
â- Reduced the temperature of the boilers to allow the CHP (Combined Heat and Power) unit to be the lead heating source for hot water and heating. This resulted in a gas saving of one million kWh year to date vs last year. The saving for 2011 vs 2010 year to date is 58 %.
â- Repaired the power factor correction capacitors

The total electrical savings from all initiatives has resulted in a saving of 212,789 kWh year to date vs last year. The saving for 2011 compared with 2010 is 26%.

cv: brigitta witt
â- Took over current role in July 2010
â- Joined Hyatt in November 2007 as vice-president environmental affairs, responsible for developing and implementing its CSR programmes globally
â- Previous jobs include being senior director of business development and general manager for GreenDimes, an organisation dedicated to reducing the production and environmental impact associated with junk mail

hyatt hotels corporation
â- Headquarters in Chicago, USA
â- Portfolio consists of 451 properties in 43 countries including three hotels in the UK: Hyatt Regency London - The Churchill, Hyatt Regency Birmingham and Andaz Liverpool Street.

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