Along with honorees including New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and actor Natalie Portman, the hospitality industry’s own Alan J. Fuerstman was a recipient of the Environmental Media Association (EMA) Ongoing Commitment Award. Fuerstman, who is founder, chairman, and chief executive officer of Montage International, a luxury hospitality management company, received the first-ever EMA Green Seal for Hospitality for his company’s sustainable hotel and resort developments, which include the Montage Beverly Hills, the first ultra-luxury Gold Certified hotel in Southern California under the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) and Montage Deer Valley, the first LEED-certified resort in Utah. Fuerstman recently described for LODGING his path in the industry and why he says, “Luxury and sustainability can be synonymous” and “Caring for our guests goes hand in hand with our commitment to caring for the environment.”
Fuerstman’s own involvement in the industry dates back to high school, when he was a part-time doorman at a Marriott hotel in his New Jersey home town. During summer vacations and after college, he continued working at Marriott International properties. However, it wasn’t until he deferred graduate school plans to take the position of bell captain at the Rancho Las Palmas Resort in Rancho Mirage, California, that he decided he was in the industry to stay. “That was when I really fell in love with the energy and excitement of the business and decided to make a career of it.” He completed Marriott’s management training program, and began his ascent through that organization in a variety of roles across different properties, before moving to ITT Sheraton, where he rose to the position of managing director of The Phoenician resort in Scottsdale, Ariz. He accepted his last employee position when Steve Wynn offered him the opportunity to open the Bellagio Casino & Resort in Las Vegas as the hotel’s vice president of hotel operations.
Bitten by the entrepreneurial spirit while working for others, in 2000, Fuerstman left the Bellagio and formed his own management company that focused on reinventing luxury for a new generation of guests. The result was Montage Hotels & Resorts, which officially launched in 2003. “I found traditional luxury too pretentious and stuffy for the upcoming generation of luxury consumers, who seemed to be looking for an elegant but more understated approach to luxury—one that is comfortable but highly personalized and lower key.” These guests, too, he says generally have a greater appreciation for the environment in that they are attracted to properties with a sense of place. An example would be his company’s Kapalua Bay property in Maui, where its popular lei-making and ukulele lessons share “the aloha spirit” with guests.
However, recognizing the necessity of a sense of place doesn’t negate Fuerstman’s sense of responsibility for the environment. He traces his commitment to combining luxury and sustainability to a challenge more than a decade ago by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, who is a friend, business partner, and outspoken advocate of environmentally responsible business practices. “He asked me, ‘Can luxury and sustainability coexist?’ I took that as a serious challenge and wanted to incorporate that into our business and lifestyle. We should be able to operate profitably in this business with initiatives that are good for the environment.”
Fuerstman stresses that sustainability and luxury are not at odds with one another—quite the contrary—and that it makes sense to design and operate hotels in a way that incorporates green practices. “We made it just a part of how we conduct business,” he says. “It influences design, construction, and operations.” Fuerstman depends on Mark Slyman, director of Technical Services & Sustainability for Montage Hotels & Resorts, to guide the process, noting that minimizing the impact on the local community through building construction practices involves everything from sourcing local materials to selecting materials with recycled content and recycling construction waste. Putting in place operational policies, procedures, and equipment that use environmentally friendly products, and require less energy, he adds, also results in positive returns on investment.
Furstman says leading by example in this regard is paramount and crucial to engendering widespread buy-in. “When such practices become a priority with the leadership of a company, they become a priority within an organization, just like any other initiative.”