Today on the show, we’re going to find out how The Ritz-Carlton Hotels addresses the needs of those living in poverty or those who have experienced a great deal of adversity from our guest Sue Stephenson, VP of Community Footprints (Corporate Social Responsibility).
About The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company
The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, which is headquartered in Chevy Chase, Maryland, was established in 1983 with the purchase of The Ritz-Carlton, Boston and the rights to the name The Ritz-Carlton. The management company has grown from one hotel to 88 hotels worldwide, in Europe, Africa, Asia, the Middle East and the Americas. The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company is an independently operated division of Marriott International, Bethesda, Md.
Engage. Contribute. Inspire.
These are the guiding principles of The Ritz-Carlton social and environmental responsibility program, Community Footprints. They have served the company well since vowing in its 1983 mission statement that all The Ritz-Carlton hotels would be “positive, supportive members of their communities and sensitive to the environment.” It is a program that does a tremendous amount of good throughout the world, yet is relatively unknown by most in the general public.
At The Ritz-Carlton, our global company is aligned around the issues that are important to the communities where we operate. By mobilizing our resources and skill-based volunteer efforts, we strive to make a difference through child well-being; hunger and poverty relief; and environmental responsibility.
– Hervé Humler, President and COO
The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, LLC
The Community Footprints’ Mission
As everyone knows, The Ritz-Carlton has built a legacy of extraordinary service. This tradition extends into its Community Footprints program and inspires all within it to impact the lives of others. Every contribution made is an opportunity to leave an imprint on its communities. It is through this collection of imprints that it feels it can make a meaningful difference.
What The Ritz-Carlton is doing is remarkable and making a difference throughout the world. Although it operates under the radar screen and is not well known, it is a huge program in scope involving all of the ladies and gentlemen, as The Ritz-Carlton employees are addressed, as well as clients that it serves. This is at the forefront of the culture and part of its DNA.
The focus of the Community Footprints Program is on three important areas:
1. Child Well-being. Partnering with local organizations that provide a safe haven and nurturing environment for children. Through Succeed Through Service, employees at Ritz-Carlton properties worldwide, mentor at risk students in life and career skills and teach them the importance of making a positive contribution to their communities.
2. Hunger and Poverty Relief. Collaborating with local organizations to provide training opportunities, building homes, cooking and serving food at shelters, and providing essential resources.
3. Environmental Responsibility. Working towards a more sustainable future by protecting and preserving natural resources. Guided by the company’s Environmental Responsibility Strategy, they strive to reduce their environmental footprint; protect endangered native species; and better their local communities through native plant restoration projects.
As reflected above, this program is embedded within the organization and is part of the overall way of doing business. Sue is of the opinion, based on her experience, that unless a company takes similar steps it will not be successful in sustaining a robust social impact program because it will not survive the ebb and flow of the business cycles.
In the case of The Ritz-Carlton, as a global brand, it has developed an initiative in this area with all of its properties particpating in the program. They all focus on the three tenets: child well-being, hunger and poverty relief, and environmental responsibility. They develop programs to support these areas. The challenge has initially been in taking a global program and localizing it in such a way that the employees buy into it and provide their unconditional support. The company has been able to mitigate any challenges with operating a global social impact program and has developed a blueprint for implementing this regardless of location that involves a cross-functional team at each property.
As part of the overall annual budget planning process for each hotel, a budget and plan is compiled for the property’s Community Footprints program. It, like all other parts of the annual budget, is reviewed both at the local and headquarters level.
On a local level, the property will review who it has community partnerships with and evaluate each of them. For instance, the Washington, DC property is partnered with the DC Central Kitchen which is one of the preeminent hunger relief organizations in DC and supports the organization in a multi-facted way. It also works with the National Park Service and has actually adopted the Lincoln Memorial with the hotel’s ladies and gentlemen volunteering to do the landscaping for the facility. On an annual basis, the hotel will review these relationships and make a determination as to the partner’s resource needs and what the volunteer focus requirements will be in the upcoming year. A Community Footprints Annual Plan is created by each hotel which is evaluated at headquarters and the rating incorporated into the business planning metrics and priorities. It is subsequently reviewed again at mid-year. It is time consuming, but it ensures alignment throughout the company by employing this process globally..
The company doesn’t mandate participation by employees, but encourages it. It is challenging in a 24/7 industry. The goal is to ensure that each employee is proud of the Community Footprints efforts at each facility and the location measures it as part of the annual employee engagement surveys. The company tries to give each employee different ways of being engaged with Community Footprints.
Measuring the impact of the programs is important. The company really wants to know how valuable the contributions are to their partners. This is part of the overall review process.
One of the things that The Ritz-Carlton has found to be very effective in both driving employee participation and engagement and increasing impact is structuring volunteer programs so that they leverage the experience and skills of the employees. For example, chefs work with schools to help develop cost effective and nutritious menus, engineers are involved in advising community partners on the effective management of energy and water, and accounting teams help with financial literacy and other types of programs. Also, some other things they consider include whether or not the partner organizations saw value in the programs and if their needs were met.
Truly Unique Program
In opening new hotels the company goes out of its way to establish credibility with the surrounding communities. This was certainly the case with the opening of The Ritz-Carlton Aruba. For some two years prior to the opening of the hotel, Sue worked with the government of Aruba and with the Cousteau organization on a number of initiatives. This included the development of an innovative curriculum for primary school students on the island to expose them to the fragility of the coral reefs and educate them about the indigenous and endangered wildlife and the island’s unique environmental assets. Sadly, although the students live on a very popular island with so much beauty, they weren’t aware of the challenges facing the environment in which they lived.
The students really loved the program. One of the highlights of it was when a session was held with the island’s students and Fabian Cousteau via Skype. At the time he was undertaking Mission 31 by living underwater for 31 days to break the record established by his grandfather, Jacques Cousteau. The reaction of the students was amazing.
Needless to say, this community involvement did wonders for the acceptance of The Ritz-Carlton brand as an integral part of the community once the hotel opened.
IMPACT 2030 Initiative
In an effort to share what the company has learned over the years in the social impact area and, in particular, with operating a global employee volunteer program, Sue is Vice Chair of the Executive Committee of the IMPACT 2030 initiative, a business led collaboration with the United Nations and other global stakeholders focused on aligning employee volunteering actions with the Sustainable Development Goal. These global goals, which focus on the most critical issues facing our planet including extreme poverty, inequality and climate change, will be adopted by the UN General Assembly on September 25, 2015.
Other Major Points
- The Ritz-Carlton Community Footprints program is one of the six key components of the company’s long-range strategic plan.
- Part of the planning process for opening any new hotel is to gauge the impact that it will have on the surrounding community and work with it.
- If you have regional, national or international sites allow unique elements of the community they are in to play a role in order for it to be successful. The same strategic focus will apply, but local issues that they have to get engaged in will be different.
- The company feels that volunteer assignments based on experience and skills is most beneficial both for the employees who participate and for the causes which are being assisted by the volunteers.
- It is imperative that a company serving a community be in alignment with the needs of the organizations that it is servicing.
Tweetable Nuggets from the Show
BIO OF SUE STEPHENSON
Sue Stephenson, a hotel executive with twenty-five years of experience in the hospitality industry, is the Vice President of Community Footprints (Social Responsibility) for The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, LLC. The company, which is headquartered in Chevy Chase, Maryland, currently manages eighty-eight hotels and resorts and forty-two clubs and residences across the United States, Caribbean, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
From 2001 to 2007, Sue was the Senior Vice President, Human Resources. In 2007, Sue assumed the leadership of The Ritz-Carlton social responsibility program, Community Footprints®. Reporting to the President and Chief Operations Officer, Hervé Humler, Sue is charged with expanding the company’s global corporate citizenship efforts through a series of multi-faceted initiatives focused on addressing the needs of at-risk children, alleviating poverty and hunger, and protecting the environment.
Sue spearheaded the development and launch of Succeed Through Service®, a skills-based volunteering and mentoring program designed to engage and inspire at-risk students in underserved communities. To date, Succeed Through Service has impacted the lives of over 18,000 children around the world and was recognized by the Corporation for National and Community Service as the “Most Robust and Comprehensive National Youth Mentoring Program”. To expand the scope and reach of the program, the Succeed Through Service Toolkit has been made available on an open source, non-proprietary basis.
Currently, Sue is serving as Vice-Chair of the Executive Committee of IMPACT 2030, a private sector led global collaboration with the United Nations and other global stakeholders. The Initiative, which will align employee volunteering with the Sustainable Development Goals, will launch at the United Nations in September 2015. IMPACT 2030 is designed to marshal the power of employee volunteering to advance the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.