When my colleagues and I were sitting in the media event that launched the partnership between IUCN and Marriott International in Thailand, we certainly didn’t expect the Chairman of Marriott’s Thailand Business Council to discourse in such detail on why mangroves are important.
Mark Van Der Wielen, who is also the General Manager of the Renaissance Bangkok Ratchaprasong Hotel, inspired the attending media by telling them about the different types of mangroves, their role in protecting the coast and fostering livelihoods, and the fact that they provide three times more oxygen than any other tree.
Although we had prepared this event for several months in close collaboration with the Marriott team, the enthusiasm of Marriott’s executives, general managers and associates –the word with which Marriott refers to its employees– was impressive.
The week started with IUCN and Marriott’s joint presence at the CSR Asia Summit on 17-18 September 2013. Not only were we eager to inspire the attendees about our relationship with Marriott, we also sought to raise awareness and interest among the attending businesses on the importance of mangroves, as well as the Mangroves for the Future programme, a regional partnership initiative which IUCN co-chairs with UNDP.
In one of the breakout sessions, Robert Mather, Head of IUCN’s Southeast Asia Group explained, “The Marriott is a very good fit for IUCN, both in Thailand and across Asia as a whole, with a presence on the ground in many of the areas that are really important for us and a common shared concern about the wellbeing of local communities and the sustainability of the local environment, and an understanding that these two things have to go hand in hand.”
He continued, “If you combine this with IUCN’s knowledge, technical expertise, and credibility as a trusted partner, together with Marriott’s ability to leverage human and financial resources, and their ethical approach to doing business, then I think together we can be a very strong force for positive change.”
Don Cleary, Marriott International’s Chief Operations Officer in Asia Pacific explained why, as a publicly traded company, corporate responsibility initiatives are important for their business. “Firstly, it’s good for us because it’s simply the right thing to do in helping our planet and fostering a global community. But secondly, it’s also a really good thing for us to do in terms of engaging our employees. We involve them in these activities and they love it, and it builds loyalty, it builds job satisfaction. Lastly, it’s good business. Increasingly, our customers want to know about what we are doing in this arena.”
The launch ended with a trip to Bang Kachao, where Marriott associates and journalists planted 100 mangrove trees to mark the beginning of the partnership. They also had a chance to try local food, admire local handicrafts and engage with the local community.
Sean Panton, Director of Corporate Social Responsibility at Marriott Hotels & Resorts Thailand concluded, "The enthusiasm definitely is contagious within our organization, we’re very excited about this relationship and hopefully we can solidify our processes and move forward together in a long-term relationship.”
As exciting as these last few months have been, there is now a lot of work ahead to consolidate the partnership, ensure that we achieve our common goals, and ultimately make a positive change by convincing other players in the industry to value and protect the natural ecosystems they depend on.
By Angela Jöhl Cadena