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September 21, 2009

The Ripple Effect: Travel's Power to Ignite Change

World Savers

by Julia Bainbridge

Whether they go organic, promote recycling, or facilitate green conferences, travel companies can have an enormous impact on their suppliers--and thus on other communities.

Julie Klein, the Director of Environmental Affairs at Rock Resorts and Vail Resorts, ended up driving the organic food market in Jackson Hole with her Appetitite for Life program. "We went to the distributor and said we wanted better products, compostable containers, et cetera," she said. Then everybody started going organic in the valley.

Reaching the point where you can ignite that kind of change can be difficult, though.

Even a simple decision such as changing from disposable bottles of shampoo to a reusable dispenser can prove to be a monumental project. Brian McGuinness, Senior VP, Specialty Select Brands, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc., pointed out all the things a company of Starwood's size has to consider when making such decisions: "We have properties operating in 15 different languages, so you have to think about labels, then you have to change the viscosity of shampoo if it drips or clogs in the dispenser, you must exhaust the products you already have sitting in warehouse, then get new dispensers to hotels, and then the unions are concerned--how does it change housekeeper cleaning time?"

The good thing is, you can profit from sustainability. "At the end of the day, there is a return on investment--you are actually saving money," said McGuiness. "But it does take a while to get to that point. The return might not be in immediate future; we're laying a foundation."

Arnfinn Oines, Responsible Conscience (yes, that is his title), Six Senses Resorts and Spas, agrees: "What you're doing in terms of being responsible can really help your business in terms of profit. Improving your water consumption actually helps your bottom line and, in that sense, your profitability."

So how do these companies get the word out? They educate their consumers: You don't have to compromise to be green.

Frank Rainieri, President and CEO, Grupo Puntacana, said it best: "People have the tendency to follow. There is always one that goes ahead and the rest follows. We need key elements to push it." One of those key elements, he said, is a day like today.

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