A Plastic-Free EDITION of Hospitality

V sat with Ben Pundole, the VP of Brand Experience of Edition Hotels to chat about Stay Plastic Free and what’s in store for the future of premium hospitality.

Waves of plastic blanketing the ocean caught on a camera phone has brought attention to the amount of ocean pollution the world is dealing with in every nook of this world. It raises a sense of accountability in all of us to do our part and become conscious of our waste and plastic usage. More recently, we notice brands and corporations marketing a sustainable future by donating to a fund or using recyclable plastics for their products. Once the intent is set, the hardest part is for brands to push through the execution and innovate consumer habits into the future.

Ben Pundole, VP of Brand Experience of EDITION Hotels is a leader in modern hospitality who has fully committed to a plastic-free hospitality experience for its collection of global properties. With just the right amount of tasteful glitz and glam, they’ve recently opened a Times Square EDITION while a West Hollywood EDITION is slated to open later this year. V sat down with Ben Pundole to talk about what it took to task himself with the Stay Plastic Free initiative and what EDITION Hotels has in store for the future of premium hospitality.

SP: Let’s start with the Stay Plastic Free initiative at EDITION you’ve been spearheading.

BP: We have a responsibility. I’m 44 years old and I’ve worked in this industry forever. We have beautiful hotels around the world with incredible restaurants, nightlife, performances and the biggest celebrities (are our guests). But I realized something was missing, after taking a look at the kind of waste while producing all of those great experiences just didn’t sit well with me anymore.

SP: What was the moment that sparked the Stay Plastic Free initiative for you?

BP: It sounds so cliché but Burning Man two years ago. I almost quit my job every time I
go to Burning Man. It’s just a place that inspires you to be the best version of yourself. I like to consider myself as an aware, conscious human. And as I get older, it’s time to do something that I really do care about – the environment and sustainability and the world we live in. I looked into some of the statistics of our hotels and the kind of plastic waste we were producing. With the four hotels we had in 2017, we were generating 1.2 million plastic bottles. Just one of our hotels was using half a million straws a year, which is 1,369 straws a day. If lined up, it would be more than ten times around Central Park or the distance between London to Brighton or further. It absolutely horrified me that we were creating so much waste. Kimberley (Brown) and I, worked together for a long time, tried to partner with an ultra-conservation charity to help us with this endeavor and it didn’t really work out which was frustrating. So we decided to just do it ourselves and do whatever we can. We told all our bars, restaurants, restaurant partners and our equity teams to stop using straws. Straws comprise of four percent of the world’s plastic pollution. Then we started to clear all of our mini bars. No plastic in our minibars, which challenged a lot of our vendors to deliver food either to the kitchen or to the mini bars in something that was plastic-free.

SP: People can get handicapped when forced to rethink.

BP: It is pretty difficult. We had to get a buy-in from Marriott and a buy-in from the owners of the hotels. It wasn’t easy at all. Thankfully, my boss who is the managing director of this issue said, “Keep going, keep doing what you need to be doing.” If you own the hotels yourselves, it would be very easy to say, “Okay, stop doing this, and change this.” But when a different company manages the third-party owner of the hotels, it is very difficult to justify costs, and juggling things around to make it happen. There were partnership agreements that we had to go into to make sure we could afford certain things like water in cans rather than in plastic bottles. And then of course, the plastic industry got a hold of this. And called us and said, “whatever it is that you are doing, we will cut the price in half. We will give you the plastic water bottles. We will pay for it.” And that, of course, that motivated me to continue. We still have plastic key cards because a keyless entry is a huge process, but we are working on that issue.

SP: What about the design elements of your hotel amenities?

BP: Stoneground paper. That was the hardest part. It has taken us a really hard time. Everything is in stoneground paper now, which is sustainable paper.

SP: Is that how Times Square has been launched?

BP: Times Square is great. It’s the first big one. Despite the accent, I am probably just as much as a New Yorker as you are. I have been here for 20 years.

SP: Well, it’s in your blood by now!

BP: I am a true New Yorker. And when I first heard that we are launching a Times Square EDITION, I was mortified. I was like, “There is no way I want to be in Times Square. I am a New Yorker.” I’ve done a complete 180 since. I’m really excited about it because I started talking to my friends who work in theater, The Wall Street Journal, and an events programmer for the New York Times. Everyone is around there but there hasn’t been anywhere to go, really.

SP: It’s very true. Even if we want to go to Times Square for the theater, where can we
go to eat or have a decent cocktail? It’s pretty exciting that there will be a new energy
for us in a place like Times Square.

BP: It is the first luxury hotel in Times Square. We partnered with a really great chef, John Fraser from Nix and The Loyal. We have brought House of Yes from Brooklyn to partner up with us on a cabernet club. We are reinventing our own Times Square with the food and show, so it’s really exciting. At the same time, we wanted to create peace amongst the chaos so we’ve also partnered with Inscape, the meditation center. When you check into a room, you have the opportunity to do one of three or four guided meditations in your room.

SP: I’ve actually done an inscape meditation. So relaxing. There is always that one person that falls asleep in the group who starts snoring. (laughs)

BP: The inscape is going to be in Times Square first, and then be distributed throughout all the hotels.

SP: Each EDITION hotel seems to have a unique point of view that parallels the cultural experience of the property’s location. What else can we expect?

BP: West Hollywood. There are things that we have been talking about, which is a more conscious approach to hospitality. We are looking at retro CBD products to launch at the West Hollywood Edition, we are looking at a global edition run club. We’re just looking for ways to expand. In West Hollywood, we’re also going to have a wellness concierge. Not the kind of concierge that is going to send you to Barry’s Bootcamp or the new yoga studio. But that can take you to read the stars or turn you to alternative medicine. I like to think of myself as the target audience for modern luxury. And if I had the opportunity to stay in a luxury environment, then that is great. But we expect great food, great events. As an adult I also want to know that I’m doing good for the environment and myself. My choices make a difference and I know at the EDITION, we have a commitment and approach to wellness that other luxury hotels don’t.

Discover More