Hilton: Purposely Travelling Towards Sustainability

When one of the largest hotel chains on the planet pledges to cut its environmental footprint in half and double its social impact by 2030, it means big, real-world changes. For Hilton, its corporate responsibility strategy Travel with Purpose is driving fundamental reforms in how it does business – and new approaches to seafood procurement and water resources spearhead the company’s ambitious agenda.

Hilton first announced its commitments at Our Ocean in 2017. By 2022, said the hotel chain, it would ensure that all of its seafood – in hundreds of hotels all over the world – would come from responsible sources. At the same time, it promised to make water stewardship a priority, with a targeted 50% reduction in water use across its operations.

These pledges also have a social development dimension: Hilton supports fishery improvement projects in its supply chain; and is running a series of community-based water programmes in regions where it has a presence and resources are under particular pressure.

“It’s a complex challenge to scale up responsible sourcing practices across our global operations,” says Sylvia Low, Hilton’s Director of Corporate Responsibility, “as our hotels operate in very diverse markets, many of which still present limited access to sustainable seafood.” For Hilton, though, it’s an essential step with 90% of world stocks fished to or beyond their limits: they’ll need fish in the future as much as the communities that produce it will.

Central to the initiative is a partnership approach, which sees the chain working on sustainability issues with WWF, the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) as well as its global network of suppliers and hotels. From improving data collection and chain of custody traceability to running supplier workshops and raising awareness of the subject among guests, the work runs across multiple levels of Hilton’s operations.

As Low explains, the results are already visible: “Hilton became the first hotel in Asia and the first global hotel company in Europe to achieve MSC or ASC Chain of Custody certification. In addition, we recorded increased procurement of sustainable seafood in the Europe, Middle East and Africa region – with a 25% increase in total seafood volume from certified fisheries (including MSC sources), and a more than 300% increase from fisheries progressing toward sustainability.”

Hilton is directly involved in helping some of these fisheries on their journey towards sustainability. “We support seven WWF fishery improvement projects in our existing supply chain,” says Low. “These are Ecuador and Peru mahi mahi, Nicaragua, Honduras and Bahamas spiny lobster, Vietnam yellowfin tuna and blue swimming crab – which helps to drive the sustainability of the fisheries, as well as increases in availability of sustainable seafood in the supply chain.”

Back on dry land, Hilton’s water stewardship efforts to date have included efficiency-driving measures in its operations, as well as programmes addressing water issues specific to the local contexts in which it operates. Pilot programmes are underway in the US, South Africa and China to address local challenges through implementing efficiencies, community water stewardship investments and collaboration with suppliers.

“We want to make every drop count in our global operations. Water efficiency is a big focus for us,” says Low, “and to date, we have reduced water use intensity in our managed operations by 19% globally. When we reduce the amount of freshwater being used in our hotels, that leaves more water for use by those who need it in our local communities.”

The steps that Hilton is taking through its Travel with Purpose initiative are not just important for conservation purposes, they’re good for business too: as Low points out, they drive cost-saving efficiencies and appeal to an increasingly ethically-conscious client base.

“There are significant benefits to weaving water stewardship into our business practices. We know that operating our hotels more efficiently and implementing water conservation measures saves water, energy and utility costs, directly contributing to our bottom line.

“Our guests have also told us that environmental and social efforts are central to their hotel booking decisions. According to a 2018 survey of 72,000 Hilton guests, 33% actively seek out information related to social, environmental and ethical considerations before booking. Of those, 60% conduct research even if the information is not easily accessible.”

Given Hilton’s work to date, Low is enthusiastic about the power of commitments and the importance of partnerships: they’re central to Our Ocean and ocean health at large.

“The challenges facing ocean conservation are wide-ranging and complex. To improve the health of our ocean, we believe that governments, civil society, businesses and consumers all have a unique role to play – to define clear targets and invest in continuous improvement. Accountability is key, and making a commitment at the conference – even if modest – is a huge step forward. We welcome more organisations who want to get informed and to join the dialogue. After all, we’re all still learning in this journey.”

Photo Credit: Hilton