When it comes to the topic of climate change, it’s “not a competition” among players in the travel sector, says Hilton president and CEO Chris Nassetta.
Speaking at the World Travel and Tourism Council's Climate & Environment Action Forum in New York last month, Nassetta says: “This is an awesome opportunity that needs to be matched with responsible behavior across the industry. It’s not something we should be competing on.
“We’re going to compete over lots of things; this shouldn’t be one of them.”
He says that as big as the travel industry is, it accounts for 5% of global emissions. “We’re very small. It takes a village, and what today is about is getting more organized, taking the challenge seriously. We as an industry are unbelievably powerful.
“How do we take the best practices and together set some goals and make a difference and be the responsible stewards we know we can be.”
Nassetta says Hilton has taken a scientific approach to measuring its actions and results. As part of that, nearly 10 years ago, it built a proprietary technology called LightStay that measures and analyzes its environmental footprint.
“You cannot manage what you don’t measure,” he says, noting that Hilton has reduced energy use by 22%, reduced its carbon output by 30%, reduced water usage by 22% and reduced waste by more than 30%. Hilton was also the first hotel brand to start a soap recycling program.
Nassetta says it’s been “incredibly easy” to get stakeholder buy-in, though he acknowledges opinions about climate change vary among the ownership groups Hilton represents, with about half believing in the issue.
“We were scientific about [our efforts]. It didn’t matter what you believed. My job isn’t to impose beliefs.”
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Even skeptics found they could make more money through sustainability initiatives - Nassetta says more than $1 billion has been saved over the past decade - and that has been a compelling selling point.
“My job is not to be a crusader on my beliefs,” he says. “I believe we can do it and do well while doing good and save you money. But I can prove it. I can put numbers by individual hotels and say, ‘This is how much you save.’”
Nassetta says Hilton has also been trying to stimulate sustainable behavior among travelers with incentives, including discounts on rooms or loyalty points.
He says there’s certainly a disconnect between what people want - Hilton found 87% of travelers say they want to travel sustainably - and what they do, such as not getting their sheets washed.
“We can’t do it alone,” Nassetta says. “If we can get people to match up what they say they care about with the behaviors we witness in hotels, we could have a much more dramatic impact.”
Chris Nassetta In The Big Chair
Read our one-on-one with the Hilton president and CEO.