By: Soraya Romero, Sustainability Office Director EMEA
When I look back, I find it hard to believe all we achieved in our journey to move beyond single-use plastics.
I can remember perfectly the meeting almost two years ago in which our Vice-Chairman and Chief Sustainability Officer announced, writing the astonishingly ambitious goal on a whiteboard, that our first milestone was to eliminate single-use plastics in the rooms of our 36 hotels in Spain less than 5 months. To all those present, it seemed almost impossible, but there was no time to think that way.
Amazingly, 5 months later, we had achieved our goal, announcing to the world that it was already a reality. We proudly became at that time the first hotel chain in Spain with single-use plastic-free rooms. But we knew we would not stop there, this was only proof of concept.
The challenge was soon extended to the rest of the rooms of the company’s 120 hotels in 19 countries. Even further, the challenge was applied to our entire hotel operations in Spain. This meant bars, kitchens, restaurants and the entire operation. From single-serve butter to coffee creamers, we had to innovate.
This month, I’m proud to announce we are now single-use plastics free in all of our rooms across our operations. I am also proud of the progress we have made in expanding this to our entire operations in Spain, pushing the boundaries of legal restrictions while always ensuring the health, safety and quality of the experience for our clients. It’s an initiative that we are now expanding to our entire global operations and will be achieved by the end of this year.
Today, I want to share the “HOW”, because the “HOW” of our accomplishment is really the “WHO.” It is the tireless work of the people who made it possible, both within and alongside the company. Our work was truly transversal, from every member of housekeeping to our top management. But above all, it was our purchasing department, a team that did not give up until they found the best solutions, that learned on the fly and defined a rigorous methodology, one we’re keen to share in greater detail on this site with the announcement of how we achieved our goals in 2019.
To start, our purchasing team analyzed all single-use products to detect if they contained plastics in their composition, if they were wrapped in plastic or if they were entirely plastic. They then segmented these products by area used within the hotel. Then, they individually weighed each product and their packaging (because this information did not always appear on the technical data sheets) and then tested products of more innovative or lesser known materials. All the while, they joined this analysis with certifications of environmental or social impact and only allowed internationally standardized certifications. This process required adaptation of our internal global purchasing system to classify and track the new requirements and variables. Without a doubt, their efforts were the fundamental driver that allowed this journey to be possible.
But they could not do this alone. The other half of the “HOW” was our network of suppliers. Initially, most were surprised by our stringent new requirements. Yet at the same time, our suppliers were also excited to be part of the disruptive change. They were eager to collaborate, innovate and ultimately reinvent themselves. They invested in research, development and innovation to change production and logistics chains to join us on this journey.
Throughout, they worked continuously on improvement of the alternatives; in some cases there were up to four or five variations of alterations from initial products offered that contained single-use plastics. Others reinvented packaging because for us, it was not just what the customer experienced, it was also how it was imported and shipped. There are suppliers that even created ad hoc products for us when the product did not exist in the market.
At first we all had to adapt to the changes, reinvent ourselves and in some cases we all had to make difficult decisions. But today this has only improved our relationship with many suppliers. It is gratifying to know these advances open new doors for other companies, because in the end, these impacts must extend beyond our own walls. We are so proud of our suppliers, who have now started to proactively offer new alternatives and solutions.
For all this I would like to say, we would like to say, on behalf of all of Iberostar, THANK YOU to those who have made our journey possible. Together, we demonstrated that anything was possible, but that the journey is better traveled in the company of the right partners.