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Brigitta Witt: Global Hyatt Corp.

After 18 months on the job, Global Hyatt Corp. vp of environmental affairs Brigitta Witt has a firm enough handle on Hyatt—and the industry’s—sustainability efforts to be able to offer an opinion on where the sustainable hotel movement will be in five years. “I’d venture to say that Hyatt and most other lodging companies are really just at the beginning of a long sustainability journey. It’s such a long journey that five years from now we won’t be able to say, ‘We’ve done it. We don’t have any further to go’,” she said.

Witt believes the industry may make some progress, but that may still prove insufficient. “If in five years, we’re as energy and water efficient as possible, and our employees are thoroughly engaged in our green objectives, then we can say, ‘We’ve done a pretty good job’.”

What then would be evidence of significant success? “If we can start building hotels from the ground up, for example, that are substantially more efficient on all levels. Then I think we can step back and say we’re really going along the right path,” Witt commented. “In five years, our work in this area will hardly be done.”

None of this, of course, is to minimize the good work that has already been done. Witt, in fact, is quick to acknowledge the “tremendous job” the industry has done in mobilizing around the key issues of the environment. She lists five: reducing energy and water consumption, reducing carbon emissions, reducing waste, working with the supply chain to ensure that the products brought into hotels have minimal environmental impact, and doing a better job designing and renovating hotels to make sure they work more efficiently.

Where four or five years ago, owners/operators were fearful of how much sustainability programs would add to their costs, today they have a much more positive attitude, in Witt’s opinion. “Many have come to realize that while some green improvements are going to mean an upfront capital investment, they’re going to see a return on that investment in fairly short order,” she reported.

Witt used energy efficient lighting as an example. “We don’t even have to make a case anymore. The benefits of paying a bit more for a light bulb that has a lifetime of eight-plus years and uses significantly less energy are quite self-evident. But even when the capital outlay is much more significant, we’re seeing an ROI that is around two or three years in many cases. That kind of timeframe makes an investment very palatable.”

One of the accomplishments during her tenure at Hyatt that Witt speaks of with special pride is the formation of employee green teams. “To help foster employee involvement in the company’s sustainability initiatives, we created these teams at every one of our hotels around the world. It helped us identify the people most passionate about the environment throughout the company.”

Not resting there, Witt and her team backed up the effort with a global Facebook-like tool to connect all the green teams and to highlight best practices.

—Bruce Serlen