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Marriott buzzing over water

Published on Friday, 01 Feb 2013
JW Marriott Hotel HK staff Elise Lau (left) and Mabel Cheung have both received recognition for their conservation plans.
Photo: Warton Li
Mari Snyder
Craig Smith

Hotel group’s bee-keeping initiatives are helping clean up rivers in Sichuan

Following the rivers that feed the Yangtze to their source in Sichuan, one comes upon misty peaks of tall mountains that have not changed for eons.

The same, unfortunately, cannot be said about the water. Industrial runoff, poorly treated sewage, deforestation, fertilisers and pesticides, and other pollutants leaking into the rivers, have made the deterioration of drinking-water quality a major problem here, and in much of modern-day China.

Marriott International has made it one of its environmental missions to contribute to the cleaning up of drinking water in this region.

“We are an old family-run company and we have old values, which include taking care of the community and the environment wherever we are operating,” says Craig Smith, executive vice-president and COO of Marriott International Asia-Pacific.

In 2010, the company kicked off its “Nobility of Nature” project, which builds on existing environmental programmes run by individual hotels in the group. The project’s objective is to create a bigger umbrella for its environmental efforts to better leverage its size and focus on greater environmental issues.

To structure such a large project correctly, Marriott needed help from outside environmental professionals.

“We decided to collaborate with Conservation International [a US-based nonprofit environmental organisation], which helped us to set five goals,” says Mari Snyder, vice-president of social responsibility and community engagement.

“These are to further reduce energy and water usage [in our China hotels] by 20 per cent by 2020; empower development partners to build green hotels; work with suppliers to green our multibillion-dollar supply chain; educate and inspire our staff and hotel guests; and to invest in innovative conservation projects in China and the Amazon rainforest.”

In China, Marriott has contributed US$500,000 in seed money, which is used for training, resources, grants and community development for participating villages in Sichuan province.

“China is concerned about its water, so we decided to go to the source of the water – Sichuan province, where Asia’s water tower feeds so many of China’s rivers – and set up a bee-keeping programme,” Smith says. “This is the best conservation element you can find.”

In two Sichuan villages, the company has helped residents switch from hillside farming to sustainable bee-keeping. By doing so, Smith explains, villagers don’t need to cut down so many trees, which in turn decreases deforestation and puts less stress on the environment. Selling the honey is also more profitable than farming and improves the villagers’ financial situation.

Nobility of Nature supports two bee-farming cooperatives in Sichuan, one in Guanba Village in Nanjiang County and another in Yingjing County.

Cheng Bao Juice Company, a supporting organisation, helped with packaging and design for the honey. The company is also assisting with the procedures for the honey to receive organic food certification.

Marriott has so far bought 5.7 tonnes of the honey and used it for both cooking and for individual sale in its more than 60 hotels in China and Hong Kong.

The bee-keeping cooperatives have tripled their revenue since the programme began. The honey runs out quickly, giving plenty of scope for future development of production and growth of the programme.

Staff engagement in support of Nobility of Nature is very important. Last year, every Marriott hotel formed a Nobility of Nature Ambassador Committee. Each committee promotes the honey to guests and explains the importance of water conservation. They also design water-saving activities for their hotels.

Ten ambassadors representing five plans were recently selected for special recognition by the company, based on their plans’ ability to involve the most staff at the least expense.

From Hong Kong, award-winners Mabel Cheung and Elise Lau from the JW Marriott Hong Kong got to travel to Sichuan and personally experience the programme.

Cheung, executive assistant to the general manager, is one of the ambassadors responsible for the calendar of events at the JW Marriott Hong Kong. She says that the hotel puts a major initiative in place every month, such as weekly water-saving tips for staff, media roundtables showing how to cook using Guanba honey, beach cleaning and fundraising. “We kicked off with the plastic pellet clean-up on Lantau Island,” she says.

Lau, human resources manager at JW Marriott Hong Kong, says: “It is one of the jobs of the human resources department to build around the existing programmes with a focus on water conservation.” 

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