I don’t know when it happened, but over the holidays, I suddenly realized that I was in the “family resort” demographic. You know, one of those families that vacations at an all-inclusive, Caribbean resort that has a whole host of activities and amenities that cater to not only couples and young, active people, but also to families with young children. These days, it doesn’t matter whether I’m on vacation, getting the oil changed at Firestone, or checking into a doctor’s appointment at Kaiser, I notice Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and corporate citizenship initiatives everywhere. And I’m looking at these initiatives critically to see whether they are window dressing or are actually “moving the needle” with regard to their practices.
A year ago, my mother decided that for her 75th birthday, she wanted to take the entire family to one of these all-inclusive resorts in the Caribbean. My only other experience with that sort of vacation was 20 years ago on my honeymoon and a few cruises over the years. Unfortunately, I got an all-too-close, first-hand look at how the cruise industry does corporate responsibility and sustainability (spoiler: not well at all) and hoped that a resort on an island would do a better job. Let’s just say that I left the Melia Hotel’s Paradisus Palma Real Resort more than a bit impressed.
One of the first things I noticed was sustainability signage. In the rooms there are signs about water conservation, in the public bathrooms there are signs with actual metrics around hand dryers saving trees and flushless urinals saving water, and in each of the bars there are notices about not giving out plastic straws unless requested.
All lights in the room are on timers that turn off power when not in use. Instead of single use plastic cups at the outdoor bars, biodegradable, waxed paper is used instead. Keg beer is more prevalent than wasteful bottles, there aren’t any tiny umbrellas or other wasteful drink trinkets, and the gift shop even has items made of recycled waste (an initiative that the islanders have taken to very seriously, as you’ll see in the film linked below).
I also noticed that there were a number of co-waste (divided recycling vs. other waste) cans located throughout the site -- though not all waste stations contained the recycling cans. This led me to question whether an island like the Dominican Republic even had recycling facilities available since it appeared that much of the waste would be co-mingled. Thankfully, after some quick checking, I found that the D.R. has a VERY robust and modern waste management system where often times, those engaged in “trash picking” of recyclables earn an usually high wage. In fact, the D.R. is one of the most progressive countries in the Caribbean when it comes to waste management.
OK, so my fears about greenwashing waste management were allayed. But what is Melia’s (a Spanish company) actual corporate commitment to corporate responsibility, the communities in which they operate, and other sustainability initiatives. Are they really measuring all of their impact, their supply chain, and how do they stack up against competitors in the D.R. and beyond? These are all questions that took some time to dig into, though again, my first hint was the signage around the resort – awards from Unisef, Blue Flag, Earthcheck, TheCode.org, ecpat, and the Global Code for Ethics in Tourism.
Melia also proudly displayed their corporate Mission, Vision, and set of sustainability values right in the lobby of the resort for all to see.
I wanted to know more.
Thankfully, Melia’s corporate webpage made finding these answers relatively easy to uncover – and most are contained in their Annual Report. Melia has a 365 degree view of sustainability which considers the entire value chain as a way to measure success. The company also takes the time to measure its total “social cash flow,” identifying how the company’s wealth generation is distributed to internal and external stakeholders, including employees, public institutions, and suppliers – and benchmarks those findings against previous performance as well as against others in their industry (when available). The amount of transparency that Melia undertakes is beyond impressive, but no less impressive is its vision for 2020, striving to be among the best hotel groups in the world based on the three benchmarks of excellence, responsibility, and sustainability.
To be honest, the only questions that I have remaining about the company are: 1) How does Melia address the massive amount of food waste that they likely have from the restaurants, bottomless buffets, and parties they host each night at the resort; and 2) What, if any, green building practices are utilized at the resorts? I’ve yet to unearth these answers.
I thought I went on vacation to “forget” about work. Far from it. Instead, I left vacation with a strong satisfaction in my family’s choice to vacation at a Melia property and also, a reminder to review these sorts of factors when considering our next vacation!