Expanded Sustainable Seafood Programming Has a Far-Reaching Impact
By Andrea Pinabell, Vice President Sustainability, Global Citizenship, Starwood Hotels & Resorts
Every day, each of us make what seem like routine decisions that actually have a profound impact on our planet. Among these decisions are our choices in food and beverages - specifically seafood - which have much farther reaching implications than one might imagine. The kinds of seafood we select affect the health and diversification of rivers and oceans as well as the economic well-being of fishermen and their families, especially in remote resort areas, creating a ripple effect on our human health, river, reef and ocean ecosystems, our communities, our local economies and our business.
The importance of seafood is profound when you take into consideration that about 85% of the world's ocean fisheries are categorized as fully exploited, over-exploited, or depleted meanwhile seafood constitutes 16.7% of human animal-protein consumption worldwide. In many developing island and coastal nations it represents 50% of animal protein consumed. Additionally, 10%-12% of the world's population depends on the seafood industry for their livelihood.
Due to seafood's wide impact, Starwood has focused on seafood for several years as part of its Sustainable Food & Beverage program. We began our seafood work with a ban of whale and sea turtle products in 2012 that was expanded to include a ban of shark fin in 2014. Since it was important to look at this issue holistically, we have since incorporated corporate guidelines for both wild and farmed seafood, on-property tools for seafood procurement, and partnerships with organizations to improve local fisheries to create long-term solutions. Our holistic approach also ensures that our decisions surrounding sustainable seafood do not have unintended consequences for the local economy and communities in which we operate.
We started our work from the global level, outlining our strategy and determining how best to execute given that we operate in some 100 countries. To do so, it was important for us to bring in an external expert with science-based research and a global network to guide our work due to the complex nature of sustainable food and beverage decisions. After an extensive search, we partnered with the New England Aquarium, a renowned global expert, to help us create our Sustainable Seafood Position Statement. Using what is called the Common Vision for Sustainable Seafood, a globally recognized system for companies to use, we developed our Position Statement in a manner that allows properties to make decisions based on their unique situations and locations while also staying true to our overarching goals and philosophy. Our Position Statement also commits us to enhancing our bans of shark fin, whale & sea turtle by working to eliminate the procurement of species designated as endangered due to the risk of extinction and to providing transparency on our endeavors along with annual reporting updates.
The statement and seafood bans fit strategically into our larger Sustainable Food & Beverage Policy, initially published in 2012 and updated in 2015. Starwood's "Eat Local, Think Global" program is a collection of principles that guides all sustainable food and beverage sourcing, production, consumption and disposal within and across Starwood properties worldwide. These principles include our goal to source more local foods and beverages at Starwood hotels, encourage properties to buy from farmers who practice certified and sustainable farming, and support Fair Trade practices.
Setting these policies, statements and guidelines help us outline what we expect from our owners and properties. In addition, it helps set guest expectations of our priorities when it comes to sustainable food and beverages. It's important for us to be transparent in our work as well as through our reporting and our public statements. However, we know that simply having written goals is not enough. We must make sure that they can be followed and measured.
Overfishing, bycatch, and declining wild seafood populations, ocean, reef and waterway degradation, social welfare issues and aquaculture's potential negative impacts on both the environment and human health are increasing concerns and ones that many of our chefs already understand. While selecting premium seafood that is well sourced and traceable is already a point of pride at many of our restaurants, some locations may face challenges in understanding the best option. For example, one species that is abundant in one area of the world may not be available in another, making it a less sustainable option because it would have to be transported. Transporting seafood is contrary to one of the goals of our Position Statement, specifically the goal to reduce the carbon footprint associated with transporting seafood from production to processing to distribution. Through collaboration across divisions, among Starwood's chefs, supply chain experts, environmental sustainability experts, and insight from on-property associates, external NGOs and partners, Starwood created tools that equip our associates with the information needed to source high-quality, sustainable products. This way, we can protect the environment and local fishing economies while also creating a better experience for consumers.
With the help of the New England Aquarium, we created information guides and posters for our resorts and hotels that are divisionally specific and locally adaptable, that tell associates in that area of the world which species are less sustainable and why, and then offer more sustainable alternative options. The why aspect was important because we wanted to make sure associates understood this critical issue. Our posters and guides use visuals to tell the story of sustainable seafood in a way that engages associates on property. The pocket guides, which are a little larger than a cell phone and can easily be taken to a market, also help instruct associates on which questions to ask suppliers to better understand the necessary details about the species they are purchasing. Additional engagement activities took place in our corporate office to ensure that the corporate departments are able to assist properties as they move to more sustainable seafood alternatives. Finally, on Starwood's sustainability intranet, we provide a toolkit of online resources, from courses to FAQ's, from which associates can further their sustainable seafood knowledge.
So far, the tools are for internal purposes only but we're considering making them guest-facing as well. Our overall goal is to ensure that the guest has a sustainable and enhanced luxury experience by using the best possible ingredients.
Fishery Improvement Projects
We would be short-sighted if we didn't consider how we could have a positive impact on where we source our seafood. In the past couple of years, we have been supporting on-the-ground efforts through fishery improvement projects (FIPs). These FIPs are made possible through grants from the Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Foundation.
The first FIP we participated in was in cooperation with Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (SFP) and Bali Seafood International. The project was focused on improving trace-ability for the Arafura Sea Snapper Fishery in Indonesia. The project included installing electronic logbooks on three pilot vessels to capture species type, weight and catch location, and upload that data to a cloud-based portal to inform fishery management practices and enable traceability from the catching vessel to the consumer. Having met the goals of collecting the data and piloting a traceability system, the project is now being used by the Indonesian Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries (MMAF) to help design their own traceability system, for which they plan to purchase 3,000 electronic logbooks for all 30GT (gross tonnage) vessels in 2016. Working with project participants, the MMAF is using the lessons learned from the pilot to adopt the program on a national level, particularly to meet the recently announced US import trace-ability requirements.
The second fishery improvement project in which we have begun participating also is in collaboration with Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (SFP). Working alongside Del Pacifico Seafoods, the Sinaloa Artisanal Shrimp Fishery Improvement Project began in 2010 and achieved Fair Trade USA certification in January 2016 as the first Fair Trade Certified shrimp fishery in the world. This project helps artisanal fishermen who are using smaller boats along with the wind and tide to drift a highly selective net that has the lowest bycatch and fuel consumption per pound in the world. The achievement of Fair Trade certification helps the fishermen and their families as it requires that profits are reinvested in the community for both environmental and community benefits, protecting fundamental human rights.
However, both the certification and remaining improvement efforts for the fishery, which is located in the Gulf of California in Mexico, require a full trace-ability and documentation system that identifies the producer, fishing ground, date of fishing, landings volume, date of processing, and final product volume. Therefore, SFP and the FIP participants, in collaboration with Pelagic Data Systems, have designed and implemented a monitoring system for vessels. However, at this point in time, only 10% of the vessels in the certified fleet are covered. Starwood's grant funding will help the FIP increase this coverage to 25 percent and ultimately leverage government support for 100 percent VMS coverage of the fleet.
While both of the FIPs we have participated in focus on trace-ability as a main goal, lessons were learned from the Indonesian FIP that the traceable snapper did not fit into the local community's fishing economy, and therefore had to be transported elsewhere in the world for sale. With the focus on Fair Trade certification for the shrimp FIP in Mexico, we hope to take the learnings from our prior FIP participation, to ensure that not only the end consumer, but the local communities and economies are benefiting from this sustainable product as well.
Comprehensive Approach for Impact
Now that we're well into several years of sustainable food and beverage work, specifically sustainable seafood, we've learned that a company really needs to take a multi-level and strategic approach to make a positive impact on the environment and the communities in which we operate. We've also learned that what seems to be a simple issue, is actually extremely complicated and it takes the input of local and global experts and a set of diversified stakeholders to ensure that we are heading down the right path and have the perspectives we need to design and implement our successful programs. Finally, we acknowledge that achieving these goals is a continuing endeavor, and have learned that our work in sustainable seafood and the more overarching sustainable food and beverage program is a journey. But we are committed to collaborating with our suppliers, partners, and others to advance our efforts, and it is this commitment, a commitment to our guests, owners and communities, that helps us strive towards, for the benefit of our future.
Andrea Pinabell, Vice President Sustainability and Global Citizenship joined Starwood in 2011 and is responsible for the strategy, integration, operation and management of Starwood’s sustainability program across 11 brands, also Starwood Vacation Ownership and throughout Starwood’s global footprint in over 100 countries. In this role, Ms. Pinabell oversees t development and implementation of Starwood's comprehensive strategy, goals, reporting, partnerships and programs with regards to carbon emissions & energy, water conservation and risk, climate change, sustainable food & beverage and supply chain as well as its sustainable (green) building and community development strategy across Starwood’s owned, managed and franchise portfolio. In addition, Ms. Pinabell leads Starwood’s Hotel of the Future project. Ms. Pinabell can be contacted at 203-964-4501 or email@example.com Extended Bio...
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