Summary: Clean the World is a three-year-old sustainability initiative to help improve hygiene and sanitation in third-world countries by partnering with North American hotels to recycle leftover soap bars in exchange for eco-friendly PR exposure. Because soap saves lives.
It would be a rare GM or owner that would shun their responsibilities to our environment. Guests are known to appreciate the work done by a property to achieve LEED or Energy Star certification. These programs offer operational savings, but more often than not, the capital costs rarely pay off in the short-term.
However, sustainability should be looked at not only within the property, but also in a broader sense; the world community. Forward-thinking operators are always looking for ways to contribute, especially when the benefits are measurable and the costs of execution are negligible.
Clean the World is an Orlando, Florida-based not-for-profit organization. Yet, in the three years since it commenced operations, properties representing a total of more than 300,000 guest rooms have come onboard. Their program is simple: take the used bars of soap left by guests in their rooms and refurbish them for distribution to the less fortunate. Since its founding in Feb. 2009 Clean the World has collected, recycled, and distributed more than 10 million bars of soap to children and families in communities around the globe.
This organization is working with some of the top names in the hospitality industry to collect, recycle, and distribute soaps and bottled amenities. Corporate partners include The Walt Disney World Resorts, InterContinental Hotel Group (IHG), Starwood Hotels & Resorts, Best Western International, Caesars Entertainment, Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group, Mandarin Oriental, Joie de Vivre Hotels, Lakeview Hotels & Resorts, Canalta Hotels, Bellstar Hotels & Resorts, and many more.
I had an opportunity to talk to Shawn Seipler, co-founder and CEO, about his successes with Clean the World. Here is an interesting overview of this operation. And if you are not participating, after reading this, you might want to consider.
What is behind the genesis of Clean The World?
Every day, 9,000 children around the world die from diseases, such as acute respiratory infection (pneumonia) and diarrheal diseases (cholera, dysentery), which can be prevented by proper washing with bar soap. Clean the World has a mission to put soap in the hands of people who need it most to improve hygiene and sanitation conditions, as well as to lessen the impact of disease and promote better living environments worldwide.
The idea is very straightforward. Take the estimated 1.5 million soap bars that are discarded each day by the North American hospitality industry and recycle them to help stop the spread of preventable diseases worldwide.
What is the Genesis of the Organization?
Clean the World was founded in February 2009 by two former e-commerce executives, Shawn Seipler and Paul Till, who happened to ask the question, “What happens to our soaps and shampoos after we leave the hotel rooms?” After calling 30 hotels to find out, they discovered that all of the used amenities were simply thrown away. They decided to change that by forming an organization to collect and recycle those amenities, and then use them to help stop the spread of preventable diseases through proper hand washing.
How does it work?
On average, hotels pay $0.65 per room monthly to participate in the Clean the World hospitality partnership program. It’s a nominal fee that covers the operational costs involved with the collection, shipping, and distribution of soaps and bottled amenities from hotel properties throughout North America to children and families around the globe.
Clean The World provides free shipping of the amenities for participating hotel partners and helps to promote the property’s participation in our program through targeted marketing and PR initiatives. Clean The World partners benefit from media coverage, broader awareness via social media and the ability promote their properties as sustainable alternatives making a difference in the lives of others through the hygiene items they provide for their hotel guests.
The involvement of the hotels beyond the daily collection of amenities is minimal. Clean The World provides the turnkey solution for the hospitality industry to recycle soaps and help save lives. Based upon current support levels, the program annually diverts 1.4 million pounds of surfactant waste from polluting local waterways/landfills.
What properties are participating? Is this a property-level program, or do you have chain-wide endorsement?
We covet corporate partnerships and are proud to acknowledge the ones we have. These currently include Walt Disney World Resorts, Starwood Hotels & Resorts, Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group, Caesars Entertainment, Mandarin Oriental, Joie de Vivre Hotels, and our most recent corporate hotel partners – Best Western International and IHG Hotels
These corporate partners give support to all of their brands and encourage individual properties to join Clean The World. As you may imagine, many of our 1,400 hospitality partners came to us one at a time. These are welcome and we sign new partners every day. But if we can get corporate buy-ins from some of the major hotel chains that understand the benefits of sustainability and wish to promote them to their guests via the Clean The World program, it would make our efforts much easier and more effective.
What are the costs to the property? How does a property implement the program? What do you supply?
We supply the Clean The World-branded bins needed to collect and ship the hygiene items. We provide shipping labels and free shipping of the materials for hotel partners. Participating B&Bs pay for their own shipping without bins, given the lower volume accumulated. We have a corporate partnership in place with UPS which provides ‘carbon neutral’ shipping benefits to our hospitality partners, helping improve the sustainability profile and allow for the purchase of carbon credits to lessen the costs involved.
Where is the recycled product distributed?
Our global distribution partners include World Vision, Children International, Harvest Time International, Stop Hunger Now, Food for the Poor, Samaritan’s Purse, Operation Christmas Child and others. They have field offices in many countries around the world and we provide the soaps and bottled amenities that are often distributed as part of hygiene kits given to children and families in communities everywhere.
Have you had challenges with unionized workers and complaints from operators based upon increased housekeeping labor costs at the property level?
Not at all! In fact, the Clean The World program doesn’t add any work for the housekeeping staff. They simply do what they do ordinarily when cleaning the rooms, but instead of throwing items away, they simply sort soaps and bottles into separate bags before placing them in our collection bins. No extra effort, and to-date we have not experienced any negative feedback from unions.
What is the feedback from properties on implementation? Can you give me some personal stories?
Our implementations are quick and thorough. The process is easily understood with regard to how collections of amenities are to be made at each property and how the hotels can promote Clean The World to keep housekeepers motivated. Inspiration comes from the people themselves. The housekeeping staff members at many hotels are often from third-world countries. They understand the value of soap and what it can mean in terms of improved health for an entire community.
Many of our hotel partners report high levels of participation and excitement for our program because their staff members are from Haiti, Mexico, Jamaica, and a host of other Latin American and Caribbean countries that are on the receiving end of our distribution.
One story in particular stands out. Cecilia, a housekeeper at The Peabody Orlando, told us that she cried tears of joy when she heard of how many soap bars were being distributed in her native Haiti [2 million soap bars so far]. Cecilia says, “I am originally from Port-au-Prince. I still have family there and many were affected by the January 2010 earthquake. I don’t make much money, but I know that I can give back in a special way each time I clean a room and collect soaps for Clean The World. I collect the soaps that make it back to my family and friends in Haiti. I’m doing something to help and that keeps me motivated to always do more.”
You are only in North America at this time, do you plan expansion?
We are planning for expansion. We often receive inquiries from hotel properties in Europe, Asia, Australia, New Zealand and other locations. The program makes sense wherever it is implemented, but we need investment in order to make it a reality. Once we can find the capital to expand and open additional soap recycling facilities in other continents, we will grow exponentially in efficiency and effectiveness. We will truly be cleaning the world.
What about shampoo, conditioner, and other small bottle amenities: Do you recycle this product as well?
Yes, but the methodology is slightly different. All of these amenities are brought back to our processing plant. Here the exterior of the bottles are washed. If the bottles are judged to be at least three-quarters full, they are recycled for domestic distribution into homeless shelters. Bottles with lower fill levels are sent for recycling by a company called Newtech, which turns the substrate into plastic decking.
Can you think of any reason why a property would not participate?
The only objection some properties have is price. As our growth indicates, most hotel companies realize the benefits of our program, but some still get hung up on the idea of paying to recycle products.
We look at it simply. You can throw the items away, gain no PR or marketing benefits, contribute nothing to sustainability and social responsibility, and face disappointing the guests – your customers – who prefer to stay at eco-friendly hotels. Or, you could join with Clean The World, participate in our lifesaving amenities recycling program, and receive all of the benefits of PR, marketing, free shipping of materials, and the knowledge that you are lessening the build-up of trash in local landfills.
It’s important to note that we are not just collecting soaps and storing them in a warehouse. To date, we’ve shipped 10 million recycled bars of soap, distributing them to over 45 countries.
Hotel companies make their own decisions, but from our perspective, this is a no-brainer in favor of saving lives with soap. With some 16 million hotel rooms in the world, we’ve got a long way to go.
You can find more information on this company at their website www.cleantheworld.org
(Article published on HotelExecutive on June 26, 2012)