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Cornell convenes sustainability panel for hotel industry

More than 150 hospitality leaders from industry, academia and trade media gathered in Washington, D.C., June 12, for a Cornell School of Hotel Administration event, "Sustainability in the Hospitality Industry," to hear a panel of experts address the need to further develop sustainable business practices.

The panel, which was part of the Dean's Leadership Series at the Hotel School and was held at the Willard InterContinental Hotel, was moderated by Dean Michael D. Johnson.

Sustainability in the hospitality industry, said Christopher Corpuel, Hilton Hotels vice president of global sustainability, "is addressing your needs today, without negatively impacting your needs for tomorrow."

"As we question why we do what we do, we must always ask, 'Is there a better way?'" said panel member David Stipanuk, associate professor at the Hotel School.

David Jerome, senior vice president of global corporate social responsibility at InterContinental Hotels Group, said sustainability must become part of a company's genetic code. "This goes way beyond towels on the rack," he said. "Sustainability should be treated with the same business acumen as everything else."

Karen Lewis, co-founder of the Lapa Rios Ecolodge in Costa Rica, described how her team partnered with the community to build a property that operated with social and ecological consciousness. Today local native people make up nearly all of the property's staff.

"We asked residents if they would learn with us how to run a hospitality business," said Lewis, who built the property on 1,100 acres of tropical rain forest on the Osa Peninsula in 1990. "Sustainability to me is about sustaining a community. It's about a better life for our employees' children and grandchildren."

The panel also debated the merits of sustainability certification. Mark Milstein, director of the Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise at Cornell's Johnson School, said some executives might worry that certification would put them at a competitive disadvantage.

"That's not so bad," countered Gary Mendell '79, chairman and CEO of HEI Hotels and Resorts. "I think we would give up competitive advantage in favor of some type of unilateral certification."

"This series is one of the many ways the Hotel School promotes interaction among hospitality executives, our faculty, our alumni and the news media," said Johnson.

The event was sponsored by the Cornell Center for a Sustainable Future, Cornell Center for Hospitality Research, the Leland C. and Mary M. Pillsbury Institute for Hospitality Entrepreneurship, Courtesy Products, Parasol Marketing Group and the Willard InterContinental Hotel.

Nancy Knowles is interim director of Hotel School communications.

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