Coca-Cola and Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide have enjoyed a longstanding partnership focused on refreshing and delighting consumers and guests. But over the last few years, the two companies have joined forces to refresh the environment and the communities they serve through a shared set of sustainability priorities and programs across Starwood’s portfolio – which includes Westin, Sheraton and W Hotels.

PlantBottle Starwood

For example, in 2013, Starwood made Dasani in PlantBottle – a fully recyclable package made from up to 30 percent renewable, plant-based material – the standard complimentary bottled water for most Starwood brands in North America. The move saved the equivalent of 648 barrels of oil and negated annual emissions of more than 280 metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2015. Earlier this year, Starwood and Coke supported the “Change the Course” water replenishment initiative in 90 properties along the Colorado River Basin. And W Hotels, in partnership with EKOCYCLE and Coca-Cola, developed sheets sets and a Mobile Charger and Accessory Valet (MCAV) made with recycled plastic bottles. The MCAV will grace nightstands in all W rooms worldwide, and the sheets are rolling out in North America with international properties to follow. Each sheet set utilizes approximately 31 recycled 20-oz. plastic bottles. 

We spoke recently with Andrea Pinabell, Starwood’s vice president of sustainability and global citizenship, and April Crow, senior director of environment and sustainability at Coca-Cola, to learn more about the progressive partnership.

How did this partnership start?

Pinabell: A little over two yeas ago, we took a close look at our bottled water business and how guests interact with drinking water at our properties. Water risk and our overall water footprint are critically important to us. Through that process, we talked with Coke about PlantBottle and their overall sustainability vision. We discovered that we both have aggressive water, recycling and energy efficiency goals, and we both care deeply about the communities in which we operate. We also have similar franchise structures – Coke works with bottlers, and we work with hoteliers and owners worldwide. As two like-minded global companies, we knew we could take our partnership to the next level and make a bigger impact by combining efforts and leveraging our respective strengths and complementary programs.

Crow: We brought together key sustainability experts from each side to discuss common challenges and goals, and began to identify ways we could work together and have the greatest positive impact through our collective efforts. Our mutual business interest in sustainability ultimately helped secure our overall long-term business partnership.

Andrea Pinabell Starwood
Andrea Pinabell, Starwood's VP of sustainability and global citizenship, speaks at a Coca-Cola conference in 2014.

What were your goals, starting out?

Pinabell: We knew it would be an experiment, and we wanted to prove that corporations like ours can help tackle some of the world’s most critical challenges if we leverage each other’s strengths and relationships. At Starwood, we have a goal to reduce our energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent, and our water use by 20 percent, by 2020. As of this year, our reduction figures are just over 17 percent for water and 12 percent for energy, and 16 percent for carbon emissions. Even though we are making progress, there is more work to do and more we can do – with Coke’s help. Both sides are learning how to move the needle.


How has this partnership accelerated key Coca-Cola sustainability programs like EKOCYCLE?

Crow: We quickly recognized an opportunity to leverage our reach with our consumers and Starwood guests, which brought EKOCYCLE to the top of our list as a way to drive behavior change with recycling. The fact that guests can touch and feel these sheets reinforces EKOCYCLE’s vision to help the world understand that what was once perceived as waste can actually be used as a valuable resource in everyday life. Not only did W launch the initiative, but they also worked to ensure the sheets became a part of their brand standards, which means this is a long-term change. 

Pinabell: EKOCYCLE is a wonderful fit, not only with our waste management strategy but also with the W brand. Starwood’s sustainability vision is global and extends across all 10 of our brands, and what EKOCYCLE allows us to do is tell our sustainability story through the brand voice. EKOCYCLE and W just make sense. W guests are young, upwardly mobile, affluent and well-traveled. They understand what’s happening in the world. The W brand team embraced EKOCYCLE immediately.

Mobile Charger and Accessory Valet
The EKOCYCLE Mobile Charger and Accessory Valet (MCAV), made with recycled plastic bottles, will grace nightstands in all W rooms worldwide.  

Sustainability is clearly important to Starwood. Is it as important to your guests?

Pinabell: Yes. They choose to stay with us because we care about the total guest experience, which includes respecting the environment, doing what we can to reduce our footprint both inside and outside our hotels, and caring for the communities in which we operate. For example, since 2009, more than 6.5 million guests have participated in our Make a Green Choice program, which lets you earn Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) Star Points or a food and beverage voucher by foregoing full housekeeping services. The program has saved more than 285 million of gallons of water, 1.3 million kilowatt hours of electricity, and more than 350 thousand gallons of chemicals. Guests also stay with us because they want to experience the local culture and beautiful surroundings. If we don’t protect and support the local environment and the communities with an eye towards environmental sustainability and social responsibility, it may hurt our business and diminish why our guests stay with us in the first place.

Starwood Change the Course
Starwood and Coke recently supported the 'Change the Course' water replenishment initiative in 90 hotel properties along the Colorado River Basin.

How has the sustainability-focused partnership strengthened the overall relationship between Starwood and Coke?

Pinabell: It has deepened our partnership beyond sales of products and services. We’ve seen this with other partners who also share our values, too. They tend to be long-term partners because we can connect on many different points. Partnerships like this can make it through tough times and overcome challenges because they’re rooted in a common set of goals and a common mission. We have also utilized this partnership outside our B-to-B relationship, through our work with other organizations. For example, April and I both sit on Conservation International’s Business & Sustainability Advisory Board and on NOAA’s business advisory council for national marine sanctuaries.

W Hotels, And EKOCYCLE Announce New Partnership At W New York Launch Event
W Hotels Global Brand Director Sarah Doyle, and Coke's Chief Sustainability Officer Bea Perez, announce the EKOCYCLE partnership earlier this year in New York. in April 13, 2015 in New York City.

What can other companies or brands learn from the Starwood/Coke collaboration?

Pinabell: We hope they can see the value in approaching partnership in ways that make sense not only from a business standpoint, but also understanding the notion of the halo effect in terms of reputation, cultural awareness and the opportunity to do business in new parts of the world.

Crow: The fact that Starwood has made this such a priority to their business and overall partnership is unique in itself, and speaks volumes to their work to ensure the sustainability of their business. We have a very open and frank relationship. We recognize that every idea or opportunity doesn’t have to be a fit. We find those that are mutually beneficial, but we have also started down a path on a topic and then realize midway that it just isn’t going to work. We also act as sounding boards and challengers. Both teams readily pick up the phone to ask for experience in a certain area or with a particular organization. 

What’s next?

Crow: We have frequent check-ins to track progress on the objectives we have laid out together and are always looking for that next great opportunity for collaboration... and prioritizing based on potential

Pinabell: We continue to launch EKOCYCLE globally. We have a launch events anticipated for the third quarter in London, and Asia-Pacific either in the fourth quarter or the first quarter of 2016. We’re also launching permanent coasters this summer… taking the paper hang tags from our in-room complimentary bottled water to recyclable plastic coasters that communicate our commitment to sustainability. We have a few other things up our sleeve, and will prioritize, based on location, impact and timing.