Beyond Sustainability: Outrigger’s Jeff Wagoner and Monica Salter on ESG

LODGING caught up with Outrigger Hospitality Group’s CEO Jeff Wagoner and Vice President of Global Communications and Social Responsibility Monica Salter at the 44th annual NYU International Hospitality Industry Investment Conference. There they shared some highlights of the conference, including discussions about ESG (environment, social, and governance), which Wagoner called “a cornerstone of our growth,” and something the entire industry should take seriously for reasons beyond social responsibility.

What conversations have you found to be especially interesting or pertinent during the conference?

Wagoner: I found it especially illuminating from a property-level perspective to hear how investors look at ESG. The point was made that if investors choose not to fund our properties because we’re not good at ESG, that could have an enormous impact on the entire industry. We can take our cues from public companies, which are, to an increasing degree, taking care to have ESG processes in place. This doesn’t mean just checking a box. Because it is an indication of a well-run company, it’s information they need to provide to their business partners. It may become difficult to get investors or shareholders to come into their companies unless they’re really serious about ESG.

In what ways has Outrigger been addressing ESG?

Wagoner: ESG is really a cornerstone of our growth and something we’ve been working on in a pretty big way for a while. This includes our OZONE conservation initiative to protect oceans and marine life as well as programs to reduce waste and energy and water consumption to advance Hawaii’s clean energy and sustainability goals.

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Monica and I are part of a group called Hawaii Green Growth and are also among Hawaiian business leaders who are working as a group called the Sustainability Business Forum. We are proud to have been awarded accolades for exceptional environmental stewardship from the Hawaii Green Business Program, and to have created these initiatives.

However, we believed we could do even better by understanding just how much and how well these programs are working across all our properties—for example, how much energy we’re saving and the actual amount of waste we’re still generating. That’s why we hired a consultant to help us actually measure results using a tool into which we can drop metrics.

How are you doing this and what have you learned?

Salter: In the spirit of “what gets measured gets done,” we thought it was really important to provide a benchmark study to understand more on a granular level what we’re doing and how we measure it moving forward. So, that’s what we’re focused on now.

But, just by going from property to property to introduce our measurement tools and objectives, we were pleasantly surprised to learn how far we’d already come as far as how many properties already had different sustainability programs in place. For example, until I reached out to our Outrigger Mauritius Beach Resort property to ask for a checklist of what they were doing, I didn’t know they were already doing carbon offsetting. It was wonderful to find out how much even the smaller island communities were doing; it seems it’s built into their DNA.

To what extent do these sustainability measures factor into the purchase and/or onboarding of the new hotels you bring on?

Wagoner: We make it very clear that when we’re considering buying an asset, this is a high priority. We develop a metric for every hotel and load in their data to know what they’re doing already and what they need to do to improve. This is no longer an afterthought; it’s something that’s really upfront as we’re moving forward through the company. This is an environment that we’re in, and we’re living this every day.

What are some other takeaways from the NYU conference that resonated with you?

Wagoner: I think the industry recovery is, at this point, global, but there are still significant concerns about whether it can hold in the face of dramatically rising costs, supply chain issues, and, of course, labor challenges. Although our own employees, who are relatively well paid, did return to work, inflation is making a dent in their paychecks, and we need to be both fair and competitive.

Salter: I think that AHLA does a really great job of building up the industry and its people, but we need to provide development opportunities for our team members at every level, and never stop re-enforcing the message that there are boundless opportunities within the hospitality space. We also need to remember one consistent theme: No matter what improvements you make or how much technology is deployed, it’s the people behind the hospitality that make you feel good about staying where you’re staying.

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