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Q&A: Hilton Chief ESG Officer Kristin Campbell Reflects on Hilton’s Enhanced Environmental and Social Impact Commitments

Kristin Campbell

Hilton has always operated under the belief that hospitality can be a force for good. And as the world returns to travel, Hilton is announcing enhanced environmental and social goals to further drive the company’s impact in the communities it serves around the world.   

The expanded goals, which build on targets set nearly four years ago through Hilton’s ambitious environmental, social and governance (ESG) strategy — “Travel with Purpose” — set updated benchmarks, including more ambitious environmental targets and new social goals to drive sustainable business operations and help create engines of opportunity in the communities Hilton serves.

Here, Hilton General Counsel and Chief ESG Officer Kristin Campbell shares her perspective on the importance of these enhanced commitments and what they mean for Hilton moving forward.

Why did Hilton decide to update its 2030 goals now?

There’s never been a more important time to reaffirm our commitments. The latest climate science from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) — described by the United Nations as “code red for humanity” — shows it is still possible to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C, but we are dangerously close to that threshold.

As one of the world’s largest hotel companies, Hilton has a critical responsibility to protect our communities and our planet, so the destinations where we operate can remain vibrant and resilient for generations of travelers to come. I’m extremely proud of the fact that we were the first in our industry to set science-based targets back in 2018. One of the key requirements with these targets is that we review and recommit to this goal every five years.

Since then, climate science and our understanding of our changing environment has evolved considerably. That’s why we’ve made the decision now to raise the bar on our ambition and evolve our carbon intensity reduction target from a 2°C to 1.5°C warming scenario by 2030. This half a degree difference increases our commitment for cutting emissions intensity from 61% to 75% across Hilton-managed hotels.

We know that addressing climate change will not happen overnight and through our work alone, but we recognize the need for urgency. By working across the entire Hilton organization and engaging our stakeholders with rigor and discipline, we can do our part to pave the way toward a net-zero future, while also driving sustainable business operations and cost savings for our owners.

Are you setting a net-zero goal as some others have?

Net zero is an extremely ambitious commitment that relies on dramatic transformational change. Most notably, it relies heavily on technology advancement and legislative changes, the transition to renewable power on the grid and divestiture of fossil fuels, and sizeable investment in renewable power infrastructure.

As we pave the way to a net-zero future, we are taking incremental steps, and our ambitious 2030 emissions targets are a strong milestone in our journey. Hilton is taking a methodical, science-based approach to fully understand what net zero means for us. Just as we have updated our existing carbon and energy goals, we will advance with robust data and discipline to ensure we fully understand such a commitment and how it would be achieved.

We also continue to support innovation that will make net zero possible. The recent opening of what is believed to be the first net-zero operations hotel in the United States — Hotel Marcel New Haven, Tapestry Collection by Hilton in New Haven, Connecticut — is an inspirational example of what is possible from the data and technologies we will continue to learn from in the years ahead. Our recent investment in Fifth Wall’s climate technology fund is another example of where we are investing to learn and be on the leading edge of innovations that will pave the way toward a net-zero future.

What is Hilton's process for reviewing and certifying its climate commitments?

Engaging with outside organizations and securing external validation is an extremely critical aspect of our Travel with Purpose platform. When we first set out to establish our original 2030 goals, we went through a robust exploration process to identify the specific areas where we can most effectively use our network, expertise and resources to have the greatest impact.

Instead of making big commitments without substance on “how” it will be achieved, all our Travel with Purpose goals and initiatives are grounded in transparent, actionable plans that shape how we will work to successfully meet these objectives.

One example is LightStay, our proprietary ESG management platform that allows us to track our energy, emissions, water, waste, and social impact. It is a brand standard for each Hilton property to log their environmental and social data into the LightStay platform, which together, allows us to measure progress towards our environmental and social goals across the company. For example, as of the end of 2021, LightStay data indicates that we have reduced carbon emissions intensity across our portfolio of hotels by 43% as compared to our 2008 baseline. That means, in 2021 alone, we have avoided the emissions equivalent to taking about 585,000 cars off the road.

In terms of our community impact, Hilton properties have logged more than 1.8 million volunteer hours in their local communities since 2017. This data is used to inform our strategy and business decisions now and in the future, and has saved our properties well over $1 billion in utility costs. I want to extend my thanks to all our team members everywhere who make this progress possible and organizations like the Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi), a global body enabling businesses to set ambitious emissions reduction targets in line with the latest climate science.

During the seven months we worked with SBTi to revalidate our climate goals, their experts helped us refine our greenhouse gas inventory and evaluate our Scope 3 emissions (those for which we do not have operational or financial control over, including our global supply chain and franchise emissions). This is very detailed work and represents important progress.

What are travelers asking for today as it relates to sustainability?

More than ever, guests are looking at brands that are embracing purpose and doing their part in local communities. We recognize that the success of our business and meeting changing consumer demands is linked to our ability to operate and grow sustainably.

For example, as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, more customers are asking to hold carbon-neutral meetings or reduce the environmental impact of their corporate travel, but aren’t sure how to update their travel and event programs to align with their own sustainability goals, initiatives, or corporate policies, nor how to measure the impact of those decisions. Through our “Meet with Purpose” program, we can now give our customers the tools to measure and manage the environmental footprint of their meetings using actionable data from our LightStay platform that tracks and reports on a group’s hotel-related emissions, as well as provide opportunities for meeting attendees to volunteer in the community as part of their stay. Many of our hotels also participate in our Carbon-Neutral Meeting program, in which Hilton will offset the carbon footprint of the customers’ meeting on their behalf.

What are some examples of community-based initiatives that Hilton has supported in the communities it serves? 

This is a topic that inspires me every day. We want to make sure we’re measuring the impact we’re having on individuals across the globe and sharing those inspiring stories.

We continue to have a big impact in our communities by providing local support, disaster relief and economic opportunities. Our owners and our hotels have built an incredible network across the local communities we serve, learning how we can partner with them and make a meaningful impact.

Whether it’s the support we provide through the Hilton Global Foundation and Team Member Assistance Fund, excess food donated to local food banks, or hours volunteered at local community organizations, we know our team members are driving positive change across the globe.

There are countless stories of how our team members are working to realize change, and we recently captured a few of these stories in a documentary series we launched earlier this year:

Extending Our Stay

A six-part sustainable travel docuseries explaining some of the world’s biggest environmental challenges and offering solutions as to how we can all play a part in creating a more sustainable world. 

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