x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Jumeirah chief reacts to speech on waste with instant change in policy

A debate in Abu Dhabi about the enormous waste caused by one-use, throw-away plastics prompted an immediate change of policy by the Jumeirah Group.

A comment about throwaway plastic lids elicited a quick action from the Jumeirah Group chief executive Gerald Lawless during yesterday's tourism summit. Jaime Puebla / The National
A comment about throwaway plastic lids elicited a quick action from the Jumeirah Group chief executive Gerald Lawless during yesterday's tourism summit. Jaime Puebla / The National

An animated debate about the enormous waste caused by one-use, throwaway plastics such as straws prompted immediate action by the Jumeirah Group chief executive Gerald Lawless at a conference in Abu Dhabi.

In a speech at the World Travel and Tourism Council summit, the environmental campaigner David de Rothschild said that the plastic cover used to keep dust out of empty water glasses at Jumeirah's Etihad Towers Hotel was "the most unnecessary thing I have ever seen in my life".

Mr Lawless stood up from his seat in the audience and interrupted the panelists. "I agree with you that those plastic caps are stupid," he said. "I agree passionately with you about how much more we can do in the industry to be more environmentally aware."

Mr de Rothschild then extracted a commitment from the Jumeirah boss to remove the plastic covers, for which Mr Lawless received a round of applause.

"He stood up and said 'I am the CEO and this is done'," said Laura Turner Seydel, an environmental activist who also spoke at the event.

"It's the little things that matter and then there were probably some other CEOs who are saying 'Well he's doing this, maybe we need to look at what we are doing and one-up them'."

She went on to say that one of her "pet peeves" was plastic drinking straws and that she was delighted to find on her trip from the United States to Abu Dhabi that Etihad Airways did not provide straws or use plastic cutlery or styrofoam cups.

"In the US, 500 million plastic straws go to the landfill every day," she said. "I flew over on Etihad and I was so blown away by the fact that they don't have straws."

She added that by the end of one recent flight on a US carrier, she had accumulated three plastic cups, three plastic straws and far too many napkins.

"It's all going to landfill; they are not recycling it," she said. Etihad was a "great model for other airlines in the region and around the world".

Ms Seydel is the chairwoman of the Captain Planet Foundation and Zero Waste Zone.

During her trip to Abu Dhabi, her first, Ms Seydel also visited Masdar to see the company's work on renewable energies.

"I was so curious about Masdar and my expectations were met and surpassed," she said, adding she was particularly impressed by its research on solar panels.

"They were doing research on 40 different kinds of unique solar panels to see which ones would do better in the extreme conditions here in Abu Dhabi and the Emirates."

 

lgutcher@thenational.ae