Ideas & Insights / All Perspectives / Ideas & Insights

Tackling Food Waste in Hotels: Q&A with Marriott International

Denise Naguib — Vice President of Sustainability & Supplier Diversity, Marriott International, Inc.

Worldwide, good food is going to waste rather than feeding people. In the United States alone, about 63 million tons of food are wasted each year, with 40% coming from consumer-facing business – including restaurants and hotels.

The Rockefeller Foundation worked with the World Wildlife Fund and the American Hotel and Lodging Association to evaluate food waste specifically in hotels and test strategies to reduce it. The results across 10 demonstration projects at major hotel properties – including Hershey Entertainment & Resorts, Hilton, Hyatt, IHG, and Marriott International – were promising: participating hotels saw reductions of wasted food up to 38% in just 12 weeks. If this impact were scaled across the industry, it would eliminate half a million tons of waste within a year.

Marriott International showed tremendous leadership in the industry by making a global commitment to reduce food waste by 50% by 2025. The Rockefeller Foundation’s Devon Klatell, Associate Director and Initiative Strategy Lead for Food, recently explored the ambitious goal with Denise Naguib, Marriott International’s Vice President for Sustainability & Supplier Diversity.

Why did Marriott decide to add a food waste goal – reducing food waste by 50% by 2025 – to its sustainability commitments this year? What drove you to make that decision?

When we started our journey to set new goals for the company, we looked at many factors that we could positively impact. First, we conducted waste audits to understand exactly what was in our waste streams. As you can imagine, for most properties, food made up a substantial portion of that waste. We then conducted Proof of Concepts (POCs) with hotels around the world to test various approaches to tackling this. Some hotels separated and weighed their waste; others used technology to more accurately track the waste, while some focused on food donation. It was clear that the opportunity was there for us to really move the needle on this issue, and that culinary teams around the world could make an enormous impact.

Before we even had all the data from these POCs, we knew that we wanted to put a stake in the ground, and setting a goal was the perfect way to do just that. We don’t have all the answers, but we know that we can see pathways to help guide us to success. And, as we continue the journey, associates around the world will be innovating and finding even more solutions to reach that goal and beyond.

What have you learned about wasted food in the last year? How has your own thinking on the issue evolved?

While making some of these changes may seem simple to the outside world, there are so many people, processes, and logistics that must be thoroughly considered for food waste to shift. One example of a change in thought is that it really is the kitchen that is responsible for helping to solve this challenge.

However, it continues to be more and more clear that everyone must be part of the solution – from the salesperson to the customer, the purchasing team to the culinary team, finance and engineering, vendors and non-profit partners. Everyone has a role to play.

One of your key partners was the World Wildlife Fund, who led the recent “Hotel Kitchen” project. How did working with them help inform both your decision to make a commitment and your approach?

World Wildlife Fund did a fantastic job helping to frame the issue broadly by sharing great insights into how food waste impacts the planet we all depend on. They also helped dispel so many of the ‘myths’ about food waste. They came into the conversation with open ears: even though they were experts on the issue of food waste, they listened to the industry leaders around the table and helped ensure that the proposed path forward would actually work in the day-to-day, ever-changing operations of busy hotels that serve food around the clock. This was critical since solutions that may have worked for other industries or types of operations would have been challenging for hotels to take on. Overall, their expertise and effective project management ensured that the project was successful without being overwhelming.

Plus, the resulting Hotel Kitchen Toolkit – a resource that provides the background, tools, and resources a property of any size needs to prevent, donate, or divert potential food waste – is exactly the kind of guide that the industry needs. The successful slicing of the toolkit by role (hotel owner, culinary team, finance team, etc.) makes it extremely useable/digestible for the various individuals targeted.

While we are still finalizing our full approach to food waste, we absolutely plan to use the great resources within Hotel Kitchen to provide guidance to our hotels as they make their way down this path.

Now that you’ve announced your commitment, what steps are you planning to take to reduce food waste in your hotels? Where will you go from here?

We are developing a full suite of resources for our hotels – including baseline awareness, how to get started, best practices, source reduction, technology, donation, landfill diversion – to jumpstart them toward this commitment. We are also working with some of our largest customers who really want to be part of the solution to better understand and test what we can do together on this.

While these resources will be evolving through time, we hope that by mid-year we’ll have a good starting point for our hotels. Our 50% reduction goal is from 2016 to 2025, so while it seems like a long time, we know we have to ensure that we are keeping this subject fresh, learning and adapting as we go, and driving ourselves to continuously break the molds and use the talents of our associates across 6,500+ hotels to drive this to continued success – not just to reach the goal, but to really make meaningful impact on our planet, in our communities, and for our business.

What advice would you give to leaders in other organizations who are just starting their own journey to address food waste?

Don’t get stuck on data – what you do and don’t have. Instead, start small – one kitchen – and make one change. As that change happens, it’ll be easier and easier to understand where it is and isn’t working, adapting, and growing to more changes, more locations, and more impact. The training and tools are FREE! You can’t go wrong starting there.

Leave a comment