Frits van Paaschen

Position - CEO, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide


Frits van Paaschen joined the company as CEO in September 2007. Previously, he was president and CEO of Coors Brewing Company, a position he took up in March 2005, and before that he spent seven years, from 2000 to 2004, at Nike, most recently as corporate vice president/ general manager, Europe, Middle East and Africa. He also spent two years at Disney Consumer Products and spent eight years as a management consultant at McKinsey & Company and Boston Consulting Group.

Frits discusses Starwood

It’s both ironic and appropriate that I’m writing about green hospitality while one of the worst environmental disasters in history plays out in the Gulf of Mexico. If we are honest, anyone who has driven a car is part of the system that created this unfortunate event. The lesson it has taught us is that we are all responsible for a more sustainable tomorrow. That includes the hospitality industry, which we can and must reshape to address environmental issues and conserve natural resources. Those companies that genuinely do will reap enormous benefits.

At Starwood, we have announced a commitment to reduce energy and water consumption at all of our 1,000 hotels over the next 10 years. Specifically, we have pledged to achieve a 30% reduction in energy use and a 20% decrease in water consumption per room. The targets aren’t just numbers. They represent our commitment to creating positive change around the world and prove that protecting the environment makes sound business sense. Efforts to meet these goals will reduce our operating costs, attract guests who are choosing brands that share their environmental concerns, and excite associates who have a passion for doing the right thing. In short, these goals are critical to the way we see the future and how we define success.

One lesson we can learn from studying history is that profound change in response to a new world view takes time. It also requires a bold vision for the future. Take Element, our newest brand, which we like to call our “green trailblazer”. Though Element debuted in 2008, it already boasts some of the highest guest satisfaction index results of any of our brands. Certainly, we attribute that to the dedication of every Element hotel team. But I also believe that the “green souls” of these hotels have a real influence on the guest experience. It’s not just about the recycled materials we use, low VOC paint, the filtered water in each guest room to avoid using disposable plastic water bottles or the fact that we offer electric-car charging stations. We’re also piloting a state-of-the-art energy management system at what we consider our “green lab” hotel – Element Lexington– that ensures that each guest room operates as efficiently as possible. Guests sense a genuine, principled dedication to environmental sustainability throughout the properties.

Every Element property meets the US Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. And we are applying what we have learned from our Element brand across our global portfolio. Individual properties around the world are pursuing other types of environmental designations granted by independent third parties, such as Green Globe and Green Tourism Business Scheme. What’s important for us to keep in mind, and to communicate to guests, is that accreditation is just the beginning of a continual improvement process. We’ve established a global citizenship team and have a comprehensive environmental sustainability policy in place. We’ve launched an online resource to share best practice and identify local expertise and have put in place an ability to define and measure policies and progress.

We are also looking at all nine of our brands through the lens of a recently launched partnership with Conservation International (CI) – a premier environmental organisation with the mission of building a strong foundation of science, partnership and field demonstration to empower societies to responsibly and sustainably care for nature, global biodiversity and the wellbeing of humanity. Through the partnership, CI is providing the expertise and objectivity necessary to push us further. I have just joined CI’s Center for Environmental Leadership in Business, a division dedicated to engaging corporate and environmental leaders to develop creative solutions that improve business performance by helping to sustain healthy ecosystems.

We are seeing a new world-view take hold, one that demands more from branded companies. Another example of this is our customers, who are booking small and large meetings around the world — a significant part of our business. While we’ve always had sustainable meetings protocols in place at the local level, we’ve rolled them out company-wide. Customers don’t just want to know that you have a policy about disposable paper napkins versus linen. They’re asking how far that policy goes, and they’re making decisions based on it because their customers care, too. Again, it’s part of a principled stance, but it’s also why our properties enjoy a competitive edge in the meetings marketplace. Customers have good radar, and they recognise that we share their concerns and commitment around responsible actions.

And sustainability is also an inherent core value among Generation Y consumers, a population that is poised to become the largest group of consumers in history. Generation Y consumers in China and India have more in common with their peers in North America and Europe than you might imagine, especially when it comes to environmental responsibility. They’re going to align themselves with brands whose values reflect theirs. And I’m excited about the dialogue we’ll have, especially as we expand our younger brands such as Element and Aloft. Generation Y consumers take for granted that being a strong global brand means having a genuine commitment to being good global citizens.

As Starwood continues to grow around the world, it will take dedicated attention from everyone within the organisation to achieve our environmental goals. We’re looking forward to becoming a model for what a global company can achieve by integrating environmental stewardship across worldwide platforms. “Global Citizenship” means exactly what it says. Certainly, we’re in the business of attracting customers. But we also have an incredible opportunity to lead by example. If a company with the global scale and scope of Starwood can demonstrate that environmental responsibility is intrinsic to how it does business – rather than offering lip service or “green washing”– it augurs well for having a competitive edge in a tough market.

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