How Hyatt is fostering sustainability from the ground up

Shift Happens

How Hyatt is fostering sustainability from the ground up

When Hyatt Thrive, Hyatt Hotels Corporation’s global corporate responsibility platform, launched in June 2011, some thought the initiative was little more than a marketing gimmick.

Thrive aimed to “make communities places where Hyatt associates are proud to work, where guests want to visit, where neighbors want to live and where hotel owners want to invest.” But how would this lofty goal translate into concrete actions at a corporation that has more than 90,000 employees at 550-plus properties in 47 countries? Would the corporate mindset truly change?

Corporate responsibility and sustainability consulting firm BrownFlynn sat down with Gebhard Rainer, Hyatt Hotels Corporation’s executive vice president, chief financial officer and chairman of Hyatt’s Global Corporate Responsibility Council, to find the answer.

Changing times call for a new perspective

Hyatt started collecting data on water and energy consumption as early as 1994. In 2006 the company formally launched Hyatt EcoTrack, its global database to track utility data across all of its hotels around the world. However, it wasn’t until mid-2009 that Hyatt also started tracking its greenhouse gas emissions to better understand its environmental footprint. At the same time, Hyatt began to quietly implement numerous long-term sustainability initiatives, including setting reduction goals for 2015 and levering its highly engaged base of employees around the world to identify sustainability solutions that would be locally appropriate.

“There is rarely a one-size-fits-all approach [to CSR] as there are too many diverse environments,” Rainer said. “The issues at some properties are more challenging than at others.” Building on this philosophy, Hyatt launched in 2011 its global corporate responsibility platform, Hyatt Thrive, to formalize the company’s commitment to environmental stewardship and to the many communities around the world that are home to Hyatt hotels.

Flexibility and local leadership

The Hyatt Thrive platform is multi-dimensional. It was built upon Hyatt’s four pillars of corporate responsibility: environmental sustainability; economic development and investment; education and personal advancement; and health and wellness. 

Its key feature is that it enables local leaders (hotel managers and associates) to innovate by charging them with focusing on the issues most critical in the areas where they live. For example, water scarcity issues might have a higher priority in Dubai, UAE, than Santiago, Chile. “It was really important for us to develop a platform that was focused, but had flexibility incorporated,” Rainer said.

This shift in engagement has allowed property managers to focus their CSR efforts on issues and problems close to home, thus inspiring more employees to lend a hand. The results? Volunteerism increased 69 percent from 59,000 hours in 2012 to more than 100,000 hours in 2013. Rainer attributes this increase to local leaders’ passion and Hyatt’s commitment to creating a happy, inclusive workforce that fosters creative thinking and innovation.

Regarding local CSR efforts, Rainer explained, “There is no shame in failure or in trying to create new things.” Perhaps this attitude is one of the reasons Hyatt was named as a Top 50 place to work in 2014.

Global oversight and commitment

The latitude given to local leaders does not mean Hyatt Thrive is fragmented, or that the impacts of Hyatt’s efforts are only felt at the local level. To the contrary, Hyatt formed a Global Corporate Responsibility Council in 2012. The council is a cross-functional team comprising leaders from different disciplines within the company that works to incorporate corporate responsibility practices into the daily operations of Hyatt at all levels. For example, when concern for human trafficking in the hospitality industry increased, the council helped integrate a mandatory awareness and training program for employees into the Hyatt Thrive reporting platform.

Accountability is key

In addition, the council sets goals and targets and stresses accountability. As Rainer explained, “setting goals and holding ourselves accountable is a driving force; it is critical.” To that end, Hyatt set out several years ago to create tangible and aggressive 2015 goals, focusing on ways to reduce energy and water use, greenhouse gas emissions and waste sent to landfills. Every hotel records and reports on its CSR practices and progress toward these goals quarterly, and local and regional leaders are held accountable for the performance of properties they oversee. In turn, the council reviews the data, submitted via the Thrive Platform, to ensure the company as a whole is making progress.

Over the last year, Hyatt took a comprehensive look at its current operations, reviewed its goals and analyzed its key performance metrics. The results showed Hyatt successfully cut energy use and greenhouse gas emissions per square meter and water use per guest night. This was made possible through practices that include installing energy and water-efficient fixtures, updating HVAC as well as kitchen and laundry equipment, and reinforcing conservation measures and operational best practices with colleagues through training. In addition, Hyatt made strides in the end-of-life management of products. More than 50 percent of its full-service managed hotels reported having programs in place to donate untouched food, gently used toiletries, or furniture and/or electronics. 

However, the company also recognized that progress has not been as fast as they anticipated, due in part to factors such as fluctuations in occupancy after the recession, as well as growth in countries such as China and India.  

With this in mind, the company is focusing on a new sustainability strategy, new strategic CSR priorities and new goals for 2020.

Looking forward

Rainer would like to improve Hyatt’s disclosure and reporting processes, and expressed a desire to “further engage stakeholders, such as suppliers and owners, to work together on CSR efforts.” In addition, Hyatt is committed to improving its local sourcing of products (where feasible) and increasing sustainable cleaning at its hotels and facilities. Finally, Hyatt aims to expand the education and personal improvement programs for employees and their families in developing nations.

According to the U.S. Green Building Council (PDF), “in the U.S. alone, hotels represent more than 5 billion square feet of space, nearly 5 million guest rooms and close to $4 billion in annual energy use.” In addition, Hotel News Resource cited sustainability as a one of the top five 2014 trends in the U.S. hospitality industry.

Rainer readily admits that his company has a long way to go. To him, the challenges ahead also “provide valuable opportunities to increase collaboration with local communities.”

Top image of Hyatt Regency Guam via Hyatt