11/19/2013 10:50 am ET Updated Jan 25, 2014

From Greening Hotels to Supporting a Leading Sustainability NGO

When I began creating environmental programs for my family's hotel business nearly 25 years ago, the problem of climate change had not entered my, or the public's, consciousness. Hearing about millions of gallons of water going down the drain from our largest property's laundry - and watching massive amounts of waste going out the door (the city didn't have any recycling yet) caught my attention. As a fourth generation family business, we had a healthy long-term view as opposed to corporations ruled by shortsighted quarterly earnings. That allowed us to think about things very differently. At the time, our industry peers didn't even recognize that there was a sustainability problem, never mind that we needed to come up with solutions to that problem. Environmental management (as sustainability was then called) focused solely on smokestack industries and manufacturing. As you can imagine, I used to get a lot of puzzled looks when I spoke to hoteliers about my ideas.

Nonetheless, I forged ahead and one by one championed over 90 environmental initiatives at my family's Boston flagship hotel, The Lenox and other properties. Changes ranged from replacing hundreds of thousands of bars of soap with custom designed dispensers and spa quality amenities, switching to healthier cleaning products and paints as well as installing bee hives on our roof. Over the years, our approach proved that ecologically responsible businesses could also be highly profitable. Not only were operating costs lowered, but the hotel started attracting new, environmentally conscious guests - and retaining the best team members. Unprecedented glowing national press, a marketable competitive advantage, and higher profits spoke for themselves and led to the industry sea change we now see.

Today, there are very clear sustainability drivers throughout the service industry. The Lenox blazed the trail on many innovative measures, such as when we launched the nation's first linen re-use program. Find me a hotel now that doesn't offer linen re-use! Incidentally, we also were the first hotels to provide amenity dispensers, go carbon neutral and create a comprehensive sustainability report.

So I speak from very real and personal experience as a sustainability innovator when I say that Ceres is the most innovative and impactful nonprofit in the country working at the nexus of business and the environment. Ceres harnesses the power of leading investors and mainstream companies to drive the sustainability agenda in groundbreaking ways. Ceres acts as both partner and advocate - yes, it's a fine line to walk but they have deftly treaded that narrow path with consistent success. No other environmental organization has been able to influence the investor/business community and the underlying market system infrastructure as much as Ceres has.

My first interaction with Ceres provides a great example of the skilled way they operate. I helped them launch the Ceres Green Hotel Initiative (GHI), which we designed to create major market demand for environmentally responsible hotels. Ceres pulled together people from NGOs, the EPA, hoteliers, and corporate travel planners from the brand name companies in its network, in order to create and distribute a trendsetting checklist that corporate traveler planners could send to hotels as part of their RFPs. It had 20 questions related to sustainability - things that every hotel should be doing. Ceres' elegant solution meant that as soon as corporate planners (representing hundreds of millions of dollars in travel and entertainment budgets) asked about environmental practices, the hotels took notice and responded with action. Practices began changing.

And Ceres has helped change the business practices of scores of Fortune 500 companies and investors with combined assets of over $10 trillion. Without a doubt, the urgency and scope of the climate-fueled, extreme weather crisis is daunting. Our world has massive issues to deal with in regard to energy consumption, renewables, transportation as well as our water and financial systems. I continue to do all I can to help lead the service industry toward innovative practices and a more sustainable future. But I know that is not enough. That's why I proudly joined the outstanding Ceres Board several years ago. And why I back that up with my most significant financial support as a donor.

My most recent gift was given through the Skoll Social Entrepreneur Challenge because it provides a great opportunity for Ceres to share its unique and effective approach to game changing social entrepreneurship. Again and again Ceres is making the powerful economic case that addressing climate change, water scarcity and other sustainability threats will not only protect the planet, but will create a more stable, prosperous global economy for us and our generations to come.

By Tedd Saunders, President of EcoLogical Solutions Inc. and Chief Sustainability Officer of The Saunders Hotel Group, Ceres Board Member