Greening The Ritz-Carlton

Last year The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman began a programme of greening its property to cut its huge power costs (it is the single largest consumer of electricity in the Cayman Islands) and promote a sustainable property that would follow an environmentally-friendly initiative, thus benefiting the islands as a whole. Business Editor Lindsey Turnbull toured the property and speaks with the experts at The Ritz-Carlton to find out how the programme has been implemented and whether it is actually working. First in a series of articles.

In a bid to decrease both its carbon footprint and also its energy costs, The Ritz-Carlton has been motivated to launch a programme to conserve energy. Denise Naguib, Corporate Director, Environmental Programs at The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company explains: “Over the past three years, our company has focused a great deal on energy conservation and has successfully reduced our usage by over nine per cent. That may not seem like a huge number, but as you can imagine with the costs associated to energy, this has a major impact on our bottom line. If we can protect the planet and our owners’ bottom line, that’s a win-win situation.”

Last October The Ritz-Carlton rolled out a company-wide environmental conservation strategy with the main areas of focus energy and water conservation, waste management, sustainable sourcing, and enhancing the guest and meetings and special events experience by adding environmental offerings. Naguib furthers: “These initiatives have been well received and implemented throughout our brand. While not every property has implemented every single item on the list, all have made significant improvements and continue to focus on these initiatives through their REACT meetings (Ritz-Carlton Environmental Action Conservation Team). There is a REACT Leader at each property that helps guide the property’s efforts with support from the General Manager and representatives from each of the divisions.”

Last summer a dedicated Energy Reduction Manager, Eric Mildenberger, who is a renewable energy expert, joined The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman as one of only two Energy Reduction Managers employed throughout the Ritz-Carlton’s worldwide properties. Mildenberger has a duel bachelor’s degree in Green Building and Appropriate Technology and was brought on board to conduct a thorough energy audit of the property, and then install a slew of programmes that would bring returns to the property both in terms of monetary returns as well as environmental.

Naguib says that while it is not necessarily the intent of the company to hire an Energy Reduction Manager for each property, many properties have looked into and have hired a dedicated person to manage their energy and waste processes.

She says: “One property saved so much money just from recycling by having a dedicated employee with that focus, that the return on the investment of that individual more than pays for the position. More often though I believe properties are depending on all ladies and gentlemen to do their part in conserving energy, water, and managing waste. It is certainly a lot more successful to have an entire team of people in their respective roles practicing conservation than to have just one person. The role of the REACT members lead by the REACT Leaders is critical in achieving this success.”

Engaging staff

One important first step was to get all the 1,000 or so staff at the property thinking along the same environmentally-friendly lines. REACT was established, meeting monthly and consisting of representatives from different departments within the resort, led by Mildenberger.

He explains: “The REACT meetings gives staff the opportunity to share with others ideas about how they believe energy could be conserved in their particular area of work. It also gives me the chance to educate staff. I present on a different topic each month – so far we’ve covered bio diesel, electric cars, water conservation, energy conservation, and much more. We make it fun as well as informative and we have competitions and prizes to retain everyone’s interest.”

To further instil environmentally sound practices among staff, Mildenberger has put up a notice board in the staff area with updates on the subjects he has discussed, as well as placed posters and reminders throughout the staff areas of the property to jog memories to conserve water, turn off light bulbs etc.

“They have no escape!” he jokes.

A REACT website has also been established to allow the REACT Leaders from all the Ritz-Carlton properties worldwide to continually update each other and share ideas about green practices.

Naguib explains: “REACT Leaders have access to a dedicate Microsoft SharePoint site, a fantastic collaboration tool, to share best practices, standard operating procedures, new product ideas, or to simply pose a question to their counterparts. This helps disseminate the invaluable information the field is gaining with each other in a real-time manner that doesn’t depend on an email trail back and forth between dozens of people. This will continue to grow and evolve as new initiatives bubble up from the field and are tested by them.”

Guest buy-in

Naguib says the best way to get guests to buy into the conservation mind set is to make them a part of the solution.

“I believe people have the will to act but sometimes just don’t have the information,” she confirms. “Educating our guests through something as simple as a note in the room or a sentence during their room orientation will make them aware of how they can participate in our company’s environmental initiatives. As people become more aware of their impact on the planet, our guests are driving us to do more and are being pro-active about doing their part. We want to ensure guests have a fantastic stay with us and that their individual wishes and needs are met.”

Naguib believes their guests are becoming increasingly aware of the issue and thinks regional differences are evident, as some areas around the world are much more aware of environmental issues than others. “It is important for all of us to continuously learn so I do think the education component is on-going,” she adds.

Next month read about small changes that lead to big savings.



Denise Naguib in Cayman’s mangroves