Starwood Takes CSR Mainstream

There’s been no shortage of demand for sustainable and socially-conscious meetings over the last couple of years, but the planner has often had to interact differently with every individual hotel and destination with which they’ve partnered.

Starwood Hotels is looking to streamline and standardize that process throughout its portfolio of over 1,000 properties worldwide. Now in its pilot phase, the new Sustainable Meetings Practice (SMP) program will roll out globally in 2011 with a 5-pronged attack to help planners save money, save the planet and help improve the destinations where they conduct business.

The core components include: paperless meetings, sustainable meeting services, sustainable F&B, an impact assessment report, and some fun and convenient new give-back programs.

Within the first three components, there are 18 standardized green practices such as digital signage and alternatives to water bottles, which are not entirely new. But the ability for planners to know what to expect right at the start of the RFP process at any given Starwood property around the globe is revolutionary. During the initial sales period, planners will be provided a new Meeting Impact Report that will detail step by step how much the company is lessening its carbon footprint during the meeting. It’s an empirical assessment that shows how much your company is committed to greener meetings.

“Sustainable meetings, or green meetings, are part of the culture of most of these companies today,” says David Dvorak, vp of catering/convention services for Starwood. “And it’s only going to grow. Especially with the X and Y Generations coming into the industry, this is a way of life for them; it isn’t an “initiative.” This is what they’ve grown up with, and we know it’s a big part of what they expect when doing business with us.”

The second part of the roll-out is something called Planner’s Edge, which revolves around four give-back programs that can be carried out within flexible time windows while on-property.

The community enrichment opportunities include a Literacy Builders event where attendees donate books, build bookshelves and compete in literary-themed challenges. Human Scrabble, anyone? The Go GREEN Racing! package pits teams against each other to build the fastest solar powered kit cars. The Eco-Sino event is a take-off on the popular Casino Nights trend whereby participants play casino games for fact cards that discuss topical issues about the environment. And the Community HeART program brings groups together to create painted murals that will be donated to inner-city schools and hospitals. At the end of the event, the group will meet with the beneficiary of the art to discuss the state of affairs within that particular institution, and what people can do to contribute in their own city.

“As a global company, we’re very attached to two main issues when we talk about sustainability,” says Dvorak. “One is the environment and the second is education. So in that sense, we’re aligned as one company, as a global citizen…. And we’re making sure that we’re also aligned moving forward with what our customers are doing.”