The St. Regis Monarch Beach in Southern California’s Dana Point is committed to promoting active, healthy living, and one obvious manifestation of that philosophy is the “green” practice of sourcing sustainable and local food for its F&B operations. Less obvious at the luxury property are small details of eco-sensibility such as the rooftop beehives, onsite gardens for “hyperlocal” herbs, and areas planted with milkweed to help monarch butterfly populations recover. Still less visible is the behind-the-scenes practice that the resort has implemented to recover used wine corks for recycling and reuse.
The St. Regis Monarch Beach is owned by Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide. Starwood owns and operates more than 1,200 properties in 100 countries. Its banner flies over the hotels, resorts, and residences of the St. Regis, the Luxury Collection, W, Westin, Le Méridien, Sheraton, Four Points by Sheraton, Aloft, element, and Tribute Portfolio brands.
“We look at the St. Regis as the town we live in,” says head sommelier Paul Croker. “With that in mind, we feel it is important to take care of the home we live in and promote sustainability here.” And so, Croker says, they decided to begin keeping wine corks. Previously, “we just threw them away,” he says. “It wasn’t productive for us, for others, or the world we live in.”
The St. Regis Monarch Beach hosts approximately 150 events each month, with the average size of events from 150 to 200 people. Subtracting the number of screwtops and synthetic corks also used as closures, the property collects more than 500 natural corks per month from wine sales. But what to do with them?
Annually, billions of natural corks go into landfills in the United States, now the largest consumer of wine in the world. The world’s biggest producer of cork, Portugal’s Corticeira Amorim, founded ReCORK in America as an organization to collect, recycle, and repurpose used cork as well as to help fund the planting of more of the oak trees from which corks are harvested. Croker had worked previously with ReCORK and formed a partnership early in 2015 between them and the Monarch Beach property.
The initiation process was simple: ReCORK sends special bins, servers throw corks in bins, and when they are nearly full, Croker contacts ReCORK, which sends new bins and pays for shipping of the full ones. Basically, there’s no muss, no fuss.
“No training, per se. There are habits that needed to be broken,” says Croker. “It’s pretty self-regulating, however. It catches on pretty quickly, as our associates want to do the right thing. It doesn’t take any extra work, and it feels better on the inside.” The Monarch Beach participation in the program is fairly new, but ReCORK claims to have collected more than 49 million corks since its launch in 2008.
It’s no wonder the program is so successful. Croker points out the tremendous effect on his bottom line: $0. “Does a full heart count?” he says jokingly. “We don’t get anything directly; it’s just part of being a good person.” The program exists as a testament to doing good for good’s sake.
ReCORK itself teams with recycling partners such as SOLE, a Canadian footwear company that grinds up old corks and uses the granules to replace petroleum-based materials in manufacturing its shoes. SOLE, in turn, donates footwear to Soles4Souls, an organization that distributes shoes to the world’s poor, and ReCORK and SOLE [also a ReCORK sponsor] are touting their creation of retail-ready “carbon-negative footwear” from recycled cork. Other partners are fabricating yoga blocks, flooring, insulation, and numerous other products from reused corks.
Some of ReCORK’s partner hotels, restaurants, and grocery stores are enlisting loyal customers on their mailing lists to bring in old corks to contribute to the recycling effort. A more attentive stewardship of the cork production process promises a healthier industry and a healthier planet as well.
The bottom line, as executives know, is not always black and white, but often has a hint of green to it. Chris White, area director of sales and marketing for the St. Regis Monarch Beach, realizes that guests expect the luxury brand to be a leader in every part of their operations, including in ways not necessarily noticeable to the average visitor.
“The St. Regis brand is internationally known for superior attention to detail, and guests expect that to extend across all aspects of the resort,” says White. “Our meticulous sustainability initiatives, including the new partnership with ReCORK, deliver on that brand promise.”
In a larger commitment to sustainability, Starwood has pledged a global 30% reduction in energy consumption and emissions and 20% water-use reduction across all owned, managed, and franchise properties by 2020. Starwood makes that promise known to clientele across its brands but hasn’t yet drawn attention to the ReCORK program.
“We haven’t ever used it as a selling point,” says Croker. “I guess that’s going back to its grassroots origin; it’s just something we thought was the right thing to do.” Even so, White hints that the program may be highlighted in the future to make guests aware of the St. Regis’s “attention to detail” extending into the area of sustainability and to encourage others to follow suit.
Denny Lewis is a Hotel F&B veteran based in Arlington, Massachusetts.