How Marriott Is Expanding Its Sustainable Practices for Events

Article Originally Posted to Northstar Meetings Group Website (April 21, 2022)

As with almost every aspect of the meetings industry, the past two years have seen a dramatic disruption in how planners approach the sustainability of their events. The pause on in-person gatherings created an opportunity for organizations to reassess their priorities around live events and how they could be run to further minimize environmental impact. 

To help meet these changing needs — and help meeting planners more effectively meet their goals — Marriott International is expanding and refocusing its own approach to sustainability in a range of ways. We caught up with Denise Naguib, Global Vice President, Sustainability and Supplier Diversity, for Marriott International, to discuss the hospitality giant's evolving approach to sustainability, and how it balances its global footprint with the local, specific needs of each property and planner. 

Below are highlights from this conversation.

Denise Naguib, global vice president of sustainability and supplier diversity for Marriott International

As in-person meetings come back, there has been growing interest from both attendees and planners to ensure these events are limiting their environmental impact as much as possible. Is Marriott seeing any shifts in attitudes toward sustainability and meetings?

Denise Naguib: Sustainability has been a priority for our customers for some time; however, a heightened focus on sustainability has become clearer throughout the past two years as we saw the opportunities to celebrate the natural world we so depend on, and destinations previously impacted by "overtourism" begin to recover. With this comes a renewed interest in sustainable travel and sustainable meeting practices as customers begin to get on the road and gather again.

Pre-pandemic, we saw many key sustainability initiatives being requested, such as the reduction of single-use plastics and other disposables. While those are still in demand today, efforts to embed sustainability in meetings and events have evolved — it is now also about partnering with our customers, who have their own sustainability goals in mind, and are looking to integrate many aspects of sustainability throughout their operations and value chain. 

From a resurgence in the desire to source locally, to considerations of climate impact and supporting the local community, sustainability has long been a core part of our business strategy to ensure the resiliency and longevity of the company, as well as the communities and environments in which we operate. As we work to advance in our sustainability journey, we support our customers as they do the same.

As an organization, Marriott International has set ambitious goals around sustainability. Can you outline some of your sustainability goals, particularly as they relate to meetings?

Naguib: Our sustainability and social impact platform, Serve 360: Doing Good in Every Direction — which puts our core value, Serve Our World, into action — guides our commitment to make a positive and sustainable impact wherever we do business.

As part of our 2025 Sustainability and Social Impact Goals, Marriott aims to locally source 50 percent of produce by 2025.

Our sustainability strategy is multifaceted, encompassing 2025 goals from cutting food waste in half, to having 100 percent of the portfolio sustainably certified, to responsibly sourcing 95 percent of our top 10 priority categories, and reducing our overall waste to landfill by 45 percent.

It also includes our commitment to climate action: last year, we committed to set science-based emissions reduction targets with a goal to reach net-zero emissions by no later than 2050. We also signed on to the Race to Zero via the most ambitious standard, Business Ambition for 1.5, in which all participants are committed to reducing emissions across all scopes swiftly and fairly in line with the Paris Agreement, with transparent action plans and robust near-term targets.

To achieve these goals, we must operationalize responsible practices in all disciplines, including meetings and events, where we are embedding sustainable meeting practices into our standards so we can provide responsible, exemplary experiences for event attendees. Additionally, pilot programs are underway to determine which initiatives — such as providing the opportunity to offset a meeting or event — are most impactful and desirable.

A major focus of Marriott's sustainability efforts is on what is happening at the hotels. Can you share some examples of these on-site sustainability programs?

Naguib: Our hotels lead the way by implementing programming that drives progress towards our sustainability goals.

For example, The Ritz-Carlton, Rancho Mirage and five other California hotels installed a food waste reduction system, which led to 37,931 tons of food waste being diverted from landfills between November 2019 and March 2021. Given the unfortunate increase in food insecurity as a result of the pandemic, we are refocusing our food waste reduction efforts to ensure hotels implement strategies across the production chain to minimize food waste, particularly in meetings and events.

The JW Marriott Washington, DC is another example of how hotels are leading the way in embedding sustainability across operations. The hotel was recently recognized with the inaugural 2021 global Energy Management Leadership award, one of the highest accolades in energy management and conservation, for reducing more than 725 metric tons of carbon emissions, equivalent to the amount of carbon that would be removed from the air by 1,532 acres of forest. Sustainability-focused meeting planners will also appreciate that the hotel composts food waste, recycles 100 percent of its waste oil for biofuel, purchases fish certified by the Aquaculture Stewardship Council, and uses only cage-free eggs. For meetings, the hotel uses compostable packaging for boxed lunches, linen-less tables, and has water stations throughout the meeting levels.     Responsible sourcing has become a growing priority. Can you discuss how Marriott balances a global footprint with a concerted effort to source locally?

Naguib: With consumers increasingly wanting to know ingredients are sourced responsibly, both from an environmental and social perspective, we are working across our supply chain to help ensure the food and beverage products we purchase are aligned with this philosophy. Through Serve 360, we have built resources such as Marriott International's Responsible Sourcing Guide, which includes core parameters for third-party vendors, including guidelines around farming operations and animal welfare, sustainable agricultural practices and techniques to reduce impact to soil health, water quality and more. This guide is a great tool for properties to ensure we are selecting the right local partners that also uphold our company core values at a community level.

Marriott International’s Responsible Sourcing Guide includes core parameters for third-party vendors, including guidelines around agricultural practices and techniques to reduce impact to soil health, water quality and more.

As part of our 2025 Sustainability and Social Impact Goals, Marriott aims to locally source 50 percent of produce by 2025, as well as responsibly source 95 percent of our top 10 categories such as animal proteins and seafood, with many of our properties already making incredible progress towards this company-wide goal.

The industry has come to rely on technology in unexpected ways since the pandemic hit. Now that we're returning to in-person events, how is technology playing a role in sustainability efforts over the long term?

Naguib: With digital touchpoints increasingly the norm, these behavioral changes will help to advance our sustainability efforts. For example, when sales sheets and banquet orders can be digital or when meeting apps are used to connect with event attendees, we're reducing our waste footprint — or similarly by using mobile key, where available. The enhancement of tracking and reporting tools will also enable us to provide real-time data, demonstrating the reduction in environmental impacts when sustainable practices are implemented, or the actions that can be taken to do so — all of which not only drives progress towards our sustainability goals but our customers' sustainability goals as well.