Hersha Hospitality Management Helps Clean the World

Amenity recycling program helps fight spread of disease and reduces landfill waste.

Hersha’s donations to Clean the World will provide 9,000 children with soap and 4,500 with bottled amenities for a year.

Hersha Hospitality Management takes its obligation as a steward of the environment seriously. The Philadelphia-based operator of more than 80 diverse lodging properties recently partnered with Clean the World, a non-profit group that fights the spread of preventable diseases by recycling hotel soaps and bottled amenities. Like all its sustainability and social action initiatives, Hersha looks at the partnership as a way to do well by doing good.

Hersha’s involvement in the organization is part of the firm’s EarthView program, a sustainability program that’s anchored to a “triple bottom line” philosophy that measures success on three metrics: financial, social and environmental.

“What makes EarthView different is that we don’t look at one-off initiatives,” says Bennett Thomas, vice president of finance and sustainability. “Rather, we view all our initiatives as a bucket and calculate their cumulative IRR (internal rate of return). Some may produce slightly positive IRRs; some may be even more positive; and others may be slightly negative, but the overall effect is positive.”

Its Clean the World project is a good example of that philosophy. Housekeepers at Hersha properties in the program collect unused soaps and bottled amenities and place them in containers, which, once full, are sent to the charity for sanitation, repackaging and distribution in developing countries with disease and hygiene issues. Hersha has committed to send one million bars of soap and 500,000 bottles of shampoos and gels annually, which Bennett says can be used to provide 9,000 children with soap and 4,500 children with bottled amenities for a year.

Bennett Thomas, vice president of finance and sustainability, Hersha Hospitality Management.

“The statistics are very compelling,” he says. “Every day, 9,000 children die, not from AIDs or violence, but from infections caused by acute respiratory diseases as well as diarrheal infections. Simple hand washing could reduce these deaths by 60%.”

Bennett also interprets the partnership in terms of the triple bottom line: the social implications are clear, as is the environmental aspect since the program will enable Hersha to divert 90 tons of waste annually from entering landfills. And even though the properties pay the shipping charges for the containers, he sees an economic benefit as well. “We plan to communicate with our guests what we’re doing, which hopefully will create an emotional differentiation for our hotels that will spur them to return.”

Bennett’s unusual dual title (VP of finance and sustainability) is another clue to the firm’s commitment to the environment. “I studied civil environmental engineering as an undergrad so I have a little tree hugger in me, but from a practical point of view,” he says. “I then went to business school and focused on finance before joining Hersha.”

The company has yet to determine the best way to discuss the Clean the World message with guests. Bennett says since most guestrooms have plenty of printed materials, the communication could get lost. Instead, he’s considering a short multi-media presentation at front desks to explain the program and the Clean the World mission.

While it’s hard to quantify the direct impact a sustainability focus has on a hotel’s bottom line, he believes groups and other customers will eventually demand that hotels be green.

“Something like 75% of RFPs today have questions about our green efforts,” he says. “So far, they’re questions and not requirements, but we need to be ready when they do become requirements. It’s costly and time-consuming to catch up, and it makes a lot of financial sense to do it now anyway.”

Another benefit hits closer to home. Much of the recycled soap and amenities Hersha sends to Clean the World ends up in Haiti, which has been fighting a cholera epidemic and other health problems since last year’s devastating earthquake. Bennett says one of the company’s properties in Florida has many staff members from Haiti who especially appreciate the company’s efforts.

“It’s exciting to know you can do something that’s financially feasible but also connects with people on such an emotional level,” he adds.

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