Hyatt Lifts the Curtain on 'Thrive' Global Sustainability Program

Hyatt Lifts the Curtain on 'Thrive' Global Sustainability Program

Hyatt has launched a global CSR platform to pull together the company's sustainability initiatives, green teams, and employee volunteer and outreach programs so that the efforts benefit not only the hotels, but also the communities surrounding them.

The premise for Hyatt Thrive is the idea that helping communities thrive is not just good for business -- it's essential for business sustainability.

Brigitta Witt, Hyatt vice president for corporate social responsibility, talks to GreenBiz.com about the Thrive platform, which launched last month and encompasses the brand's more than 450 properties and 80,000 employees.

Brigitta Witt

Leslie Guevarra: What prompted the development of Thrive, and why now?

Brigitta Witt: You know, I think Hyatt has always been invested in improving the communities in which we operate. It's something that we know is absolutely crucial to sustaining our business, and it's important to everybody we serve. Our guests, our associates, our owners, and certainly also our neighbors. Hyatt Thrive really just gives us a framework that allows for all of our positive efforts to add up to make a big impact globally. By focusing, you know, our efforts really with the same effort in mind, which is to enable all of our communities to thrive.

LG: Effectively then, is it a pulling together of everything you had in place, and adding more to it?

BW: It's really just focusing everything that we have in place. So our hotels have a very rich history of both environmental stewardship and giving back to their communities by really having a singular focus that really has four main components: environmental sustainability; education and advancement; health and wellness; and economic development and investment. All of which we feel are critical components to enabling any community to thrive. We're really just focusing, I think, really the passion, the commitment of our associates, and our resources on those key areas.

LG: Are you doing something special to launch Thrive?

BW: We are. We really kicked off Hyatt Thrive with a global volunteer initiative, in which all of our properties around the world will be dedicating some time to giving back to their communities, largely by volunteering.

[For example,] over 400 of our corporate office, as well as hotel associates, are dedicating some time to revitalize a local school in the city of Chicago. In addition, we have partnered with the Pearson Foundation and will be donating 15,000 books to ten schools in the Chicago Public School District. The goal there is really to get books into the hands of the students so they can take them home -- something that a lot of the kids in these communities don't necessarily have access to.

LG: How will your Thrive program differentiate Hyatt from other hospitality companies that also have sustainability programs?

BW: I can speak best for Hyatt, but there's really several key components that position Hyatt Thrive to achieve lasting results. First and foremost, Hyatt Thrive is supported -- really powered -- by our 80,000 associates in over 450 hotels around the world who really invest a lot to help this platform reach its full potential. To make sure that all of our positive, local efforts add up to make kind of a major global impact.

For example, we have green teams in all of our hotels around the world that focus on executing Hyatt's global environmental commitments. We have, as we mentioned, a global volunteer month that we're dedicating to the launch of Hyatt Thrive, but I think that's really just representative of a lot of the initiatives that our associates put forth in their communities throughout the year.

I think the second thing that really positions Hyatt Thrive to achieve results is that this is a global framework that really has the singular goal of helping our communities to thrive. However, our execution of Hyatt Thrive is hyper local. I think this is really, really important because nobody understands our communities most pressing needs and their solutions better than the people who live and work there.

And I think finally what really positions our platform to succeed is that, as a company, we are very, very committed to measuring and tracking our progress, and to also holding ourselves accountable to the goals that we set. We have been tracking our environmental performance since 2006. We set very aggressive targets to reduce our consumption of energy -- water, waste, and carbon emissions -- by the year 2015. Through our tracking system -- Hyatt Eco Track -- we can measure our progress from year to year.

We are also implementing a tracking system for all of our volunteer and philanthropic initiatives with the launch of Hyatt Thrive so that we will be able to really measure our impact. So I would say it's really a combination of these three things. Our employee engagement. Our global framework with local relevance. And finally the fact that we really hold ourselves accountable. That positions us to have a meaningful impact.

LG: What's the hardest thing about the strategy?

BW: I think because we operate in over 45 different countries, have 450 hotels around the world, really having one strategy that helps us to address our environmental impact is challenging. Even in the United States. Having a way to recycle consistently across our hotels is very, very challenging. What a hotel in San Francisco can do is very different than what a hotel in Chicago can do.

So it's really giving, enabling and -- not just enabling, but really empowering -- our associates at our properties to identify what the best solutions are for their particular part of the world, and their particular hotel. A good example that I can share with you is our property in Santiago, Chile.

The associates there wanted to recycle the glass, the aluminum, the paper that went through the property, but the city had no way to really manage that process. So they partnered with some local charities who come and pick up the glass, the paper and the aluminum, take those to local recycling centers, and the money that they then get for those products goes back into the charities. So you know, it's really up to a lot of our properties to find innovative solutions for the problems that are specific to their parts of the world.

LG: So if I'm a guest at a Hyatt hotel, what will I see as a result of Hyatt Thrive?

BW: I think what is probably one of the most visible aspects of our program is the fact that we do have so many passionate employees that really bring this program to life. You can see it in our green teams in our hotels where, frankly, a lot of the solutions they come up with are so fascinating and really humbling. To see the efforts that they actually put forth into their communities as well.

For example, some of our properties actually also invite their guests to participate in some of their initiatives. We have an orphanage that we support in Kathmandu, Nepal. Our hotel donates food, flour, rice every month. We also provide free cleaning services and water on a daily basis to the orphanage, and also most recently supported with a $10,000 Hyatt Community Grant, supported providing the orphanage with school uniforms, computers, et cetera.

It's something that we invite our guests to participate in as well. Some of our other properties -- in Kauai for example -- offer their guests opportunities to volunteer in some local botanical gardens as well as in animal shelters. Our property in Singapore does a lot of work with the local bird sanctuary that they offer our guests tours to visit. There's a lot of different ways that our guests can participate, but I think a lot of what we do is just behind the scenes. Especially from a sustainability perspective.

LG: Is there anything surprising to you as a sustainability professional that you've seen emerge as a result of Thrive?

BW: I think the most surprising thing to me is how many creative and innovative solutions there are to a lot of the issues that are out there. You know, the things that I see coming out of our green teams continue to humble and surprise me.

For example, in the Grand Hyatt Dubai, we're saving over 30,000 gallons of water a day by taking condensation from air conditioning systems and putting that back into the air conditioning system.

Another interesting example is in Coolum, Australia, the green team at our property there has a worm farm with over 50,000 works that digest all of the properties organic waste.

Basically they use all of that waste to fertilize the grounds. It's about over 100 tons a year that they actually keep away from landfills by doing that.

Seeing things like that, I think, really gives this program such legs.