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September 30, 2009

Why We Should Write More Letters

When I attend a conference held in a hotel, there are a few things I expect. Chilly meeting rooms, people running to the door for smoke breaks and complimentary pens top the list. So I was surprised when a run-of-the-mill seminar led me to writing a letter (a real one, with a stamp and all) about shark conservation and climate change. And even more surprised when that letter made a difference in at least one branch of an international hotel chain!Here’s the letter (abridged) I sent earlier this month –

Dear Hilton Alexandria Mark Center,I recently completed a two day seminar at your hotel and overall, had a pleasant experience. However, as a company that has a “Sustainability” tab on your homepage, two things that I encountered during my time should not have happened.During lunch on 14 September 2009, mako shark was one of the offered entrees. Sharks grow slowly, have few young and are victims of widespread overfishing and bycatch. Also, as top level predators, mercury and other contaminants accumulate in their bodies. Once a person eats the contaminated shark meat, the toxins are passed along. You should not be serving shark, not only for the environmental impact on the world’s oceans, but also for the safety of your guests.After my seminar ended on 15 September 2009, I went outside to wait for the free 4:30 pm shuttle to the Pentagon City metro. Even though the shuttle wasn’t leaving for more than 15 minutes, I found the vehicle idling, completely empty. I waited a bit to see if the driver would return, but when no one approached the vehicle, I went back inside to alert the information desk that the shuttle had been left running. Even though the staff were polite and the driver identified himself, no one turned off the shuttle. Leaving a car running, with the air conditioning on and completely empty, for well over 15 minutes is incredibly irresponsible. In addition to wasting gas, the idling shuttle continued to release fumes harmful to the environment. These two cases may seem like nothing to write a letter about, but everything we do, each small step we take, towards conserving energy and protecting the environment matters. As a large and respected chain, I would hope that Hilton would be proud to be an industry leader and set a strong example of a corporation carrying for more than just the bottom line. I look forward to a response.Sincerely,Tatiana Marshall

And today, this showed up in my inbox.

Good morning Ms. Marshall,Thank you for choosing to stay with us recently and for taking the time to share your thoughtful observations regarding the environmental issues you noticed during your visit. Please accept our assurance that we are committed doing everything we possibly can to ensure that we provide an outstanding guest experience while safe guarding our precious resources. Not to offer excuses, but, we sometimes get so absorbed in our daily routine that we do not notice the important details that you mentioned in your note. I would to thank you for bringing these discrepancies to our attention. We will be more mindful and observant of how we stage our vans prior to our shuttle runs, and we will no longer offer Mako Shark on our Banquet menus. Thank you again.

I know that changing the menu and shuttle procedures at one hotel isn’t going to end the overfishing of sharks or climate change and ocean acidification, but I do know that the small things we do add up. I often feel overwhelmed by the environmental issues facing our planet, but I try to remember that by doing something as easy as noticing a situation and writing a letter, I can do my part.Do yours: visit our action center, sign up to be a Wavemaker, and be on the lookout for everyday situations where your voice can make a difference.