Name: Niki Zoli
Title: Director, Social Responsibility & Community Engagement
Company: Marriott International, Inc.
Years with company: Nine
Primary responsibilities: “My focus is on our natural capital projects and youth engagement programming, working with our communications team, and sustainability reporting.”
Company’s most significant sustainability-related accomplishment: “I would say it is really about our efforts to provide opportunities in general—on the natural capital front and for youth. Our effort to preserve the Amazon rainforest was significant.”
Company’s most significant sustainability-related challenge moving forward: “Climate change. The situation is more urgent now than ever. We set our environmental goals in 2008. Soon we will be announcing our new goals.”
BETHESDA, MD.—It was appropriate for Niki Zoli to be on hand for an important first earlier this month at the Annual Meeting of the Governors’ Climate and Forest Task Force and concurrent Climate Summit of the Americas in Guadalajara, Mexico. It was there that Zoli, Director, Social Responsibility & Community Engagement for Marriott International, accepted the first-ever certificate of carbon emissions reduction from the Secretary of Environment for Amazonas, on behalf of the State Government of Amazonas, and the Amazonas Sustainable Foundation (FAS). Marriott was honored for its work to help protect 1.4 million acres of rainforest in Brazil. Marriott has contributed more than $2 million to FAS and raised nearly $300,000 through its partners, guests and associates. Zoli oversees Marriott’s green efforts in Brazil—specifically at the Sustainable Development Reserve (RDS) Juma, municipality of Novo Aripuanã.
“It was really exciting to be there to accept the award on behalf of Marriott,” Zoli says. “It represents work done since 2008. The event represented the first time the Brazilian government had issued a certificate of offsets.”
Zoli has held her current title with Marriott for the last three years but has worked on corporate social responsibility (CSR) for the company since 2007. Zoli previously worked for companies including Whole Foods Market, Honest Tea, and the Discovery Channel Global Education Partnership.
Emphasis on Helping Youth
In addition to her work on the Brazilian Amazon Rainforest project, she oversees other CSR programs—primarily in the youth employment and environmental sustainability space. Through Marriott’s World of Opportunity initiative, hotels help young people from disadvantaged backgrounds by providing employment skills training and vocational opportunities. The Youth Career Initiative enables Marriott hotels to provide a six-month program teaching life and vocational skills to young people at risk, including rehabilitated victims of trafficking. Zoli serves on the International Tourism Partnership’s Industry Working Group on Youth Employment Targets, and the Youth Career Initiative’s Strategy Working Group. She also oversees Marriott’s partnership with the Akilah Institute for Women and is on Akilah’s Global Advisory Council. She is a mentor of one of their outstanding hospitality students who will begin interning at the Marriott Kigali (grand opening this October) next summer.
Zoli oversees the company’s annual sustainability reporting and collaborates with the company’s social media, communications and marketing teams to convey progress. “It is a significant process,” Zoli says. “We are about to become even larger and I am up for the challenge. Our push is to make [the sustainability report] more precise and visual. We are still reporting every other year.” Zoli says a website update to its 2015 sustainability report will be made by September 30.
Zoli is also working with Marriott’s HR and Sales teams to develop tools and training that demonstrate how CSR can be used to drive business success, and speaks at various large-scale internal and external gatherings regarding Marriott CSR efforts. “There was a need to develop more targeted training for our sales team,” Zoli says, adding that Marriott had a customer recently who had asked about Marriott’s position on human rights.
Opportunity to Have Large-Scale Impact
When asked how working on Marriott CSR compares to that at her previous employers, Zoli said, “My work with Marriott is at a much greater scale,” adding that she has the opportunity to have large-scale impact on businesses and communities.
Zoli said her interest in helping others began when she was a girl scout. It blossomed later while working for her college newspaper. She later received her undergraduate degree in journalism with a specialization in public relations from the University of Texas at Austin and her master’s in public communications from American University. “I have always had this interest in helping others,” Zoli says.
When asked how well she thinks the lodging industry is doing when it comes to sustainability, she said, “I love that we are at a point where we are seeing so much more collaboration.” She cited the Hotel Carbon Measurement Index and the just recently announced Hotel Water Measurement Index as two examples of projects worked on by many hotel companies at the same time.
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Glenn Hasek can be reached at email@example.com.