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For nearly two decades, Ben Pundole has been working on boutique hotel strategies with Ian Schrager. Now, as the vice president of brand experience at EDITION Hotels, he is responsible for understanding Schrager’s taste and translating that vision through food and beverage outlets, nightlife activations, cultural events, brand partnerships, wellness programs, and more.
In the next 18 months, EDITION is expanding on its four locations and opening seven more—in Barcelona, Shanghai, Bangkok, New York (Times Square), Los Angeles (West Hollywood), Bodrum, and Abu Dhabi. The brand is also growing its efforts to be more sustainable, partnering with Project 0 to become entirely plastic-free.
Whitewall spoke with Pundole about this bold move, its importance in the hotel industry, and what is most exciting for him in hospitality today.
WHITEWALL: Tell us a bit about your goal to be plastic-free and working with companies like Project 0 and Lonely Whale.
BEN PUNDOLE: We have a responsibility. I realized what an enormous plastic polluter the hospitality industry is and decided I would try and do something about it.
So a new initiative of ours is to be plastic-free, which is to eliminate all one-use plastic products in our hotels by the end of this year. We have already eliminated straws, and the minibars are plastic-free. We have replaced our plastic beachwear with non-single-use plastic beachwear. We are looking for solutions for keyless entries so there will be no more plastic key cards. We are looking for a solution for the shampoo bottles that will either be using only recycled plastic or taking plastic from the ocean to make our shampoo bottles.
Project 0 is raising awareness and funds for water conservation projects—oceans, groves, lakes, and water conservation projects around the world. We also work very closely with Lonely Whale, who has great resources, researchers, and scientists, and they compile information and they give it away. Between Lonely Whale and Project Zero, we’re happy.
WW: Are there any other sustainable projects you’re inspired by?
BP: I just read about how plastic is being used to build affordable housing in Mexico, because it’s a natural insulator and it lasts for hundreds of years. There is this big move to make affordable housing out of plastic, and I would really like to make a hotel out of plastic. I think that would say a lot.
I also read about this guy in Panama who built a castle on the island of Bocas del Toro out of recycled plastic bottles. I think it was about 140,000 plastic bottles. It’s really about education, as well as habit.
WW: What’s an example of education and habit that EDITION is committed to?
BP: Not only are we compiling a list of plastic alternate vendors that we are sharing with other companies, we are creating a film on the impacts of single-use plastics in the hotel industry on the environment. Hopefully, it can be shown on orientation or on-boarding. And we are sending a steel “stay plastic-free” water bottle to every single member of EDITION
staff in the next week. So, it’s all about education, encouragement, and inspiration. There’s no point shaming people into anything. No one wants to do anything out of guilt. People want to join an inspiring movement. That’s our aim.
WW: The hospitality industry has changed so drastically over the years. What is the most exciting thing about it today?
BP: It didn’t change at all for hundreds of years, and then 30 years ago, it changed more than you can ever have imagined. Today, as we stand, this idea of transformative hospitality is the future. The way people expect a great room product, they expect great food and beverage, they expect great nightlife and bars, they expect great programming and events. But now what the guest expects is to also have created a community and also to know they have done some good for either themselves, their community or their environment. So, this whole idea of transformative hospitality is really exciting for me.
I love it. I love what’s happening. We are lucky humans.