Name: Vicki McMichael
Title: Director of Compliance and Sustainability, Parks and Resorts
Company: Delaware North Companies
Years in Current Position: Two
Primary Responsibilities: “There’s not a typical day for me. One of my most important roles is connecting the dots between the properties, interacting with NGOs, being an ambassador for GreenPath and keeping the program strong.”
Organization’s most significant sustainability-related accomplishment: “Rolling out a strong stewardship program that supports sustainability and features five key branches that go beyond environmental management.”
Organization’s most significant sustainability-related challenge moving forward: “Striving for zero waste and operating at zero waste.”
BUFFALO, N.Y.—More than seven years ago, Green Lodging News profiled Debbie Friedel, Director of Sustainability at Delaware North Companies. Today, Friedel teams with Vicki McMichael to carry out the company’s many environmental stewardship programs. “Working with Debbie is great, and she is my inspiration,” McMichael says.
McMichael has been with Delaware North for 11 years—two as Director of Compliance and Sustainability, Parks and Resorts. She previously was Manager of Compliance and Client Relations. One of her most important responsibilities is conducting GreenPath audits. That is no small task at a company that is one of the largest hospitality management companies serving national and state parks and some of the United States’ most well-known resorts. In total, Delaware North’s parks and resorts division operates 27 lodging properties (including hotels/lodges, cabins/cottages and RV parks).
“Our division is 25 years old and we have done a lot,” McMichael says.
GreenPath is Delaware North’s proprietary stewardship platform and helps ensure the company manages its environmental impact and positively contributes to the communities it serves.
The Last Straw Campaign
Earlier this year on Earth Day (April 22), Delaware North launched “The Last Straw” campaign, an effort to cut down on the estimated 8.1 million plastic drinking straws the company served in drinks to guests at airport dining locations in 2017. Delaware North was one of the first major management companies to announce a straw reduction campaign that now also includes the company’s parks and resorts and Sportservice divisions.
The straw reduction initiative is just one of the many steps Delaware North is taking to reduce waste at its managed locations. In the coming years, the company’s operations in Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks, Shenandoah National Park, Grand Canyon National Park, Kalaloch Lodge in Olympic National Park and Peaks of Otter Lodge on the Blue Ridge Parkway, intend to reach zero waste according to LEED’s Total Resource Use and Efficiency (TRUE) standards. The locations would join Delaware North’s Yellowstone General Stores warehouse, operated in Yellowstone National Park, which in 2016 became the first facility within the United States’ 58 national parks to become zero waste certified. (See related video.)
Key to the success of Delaware North’s waste management and other efforts is its associates. Eight Delaware North associates have attained TRUE Advisor Certification to support its zero waste program. The company’s parks and resorts division has also named a zero waste chairperson to guide each of the locations’ efforts.
“At our National Park properties we have dedicated environmental managers,” McMichael says. “At other locations we have an environmental champion. All locations have green teams.”
Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction
Energy management and water conservation are also important priorities for Delaware North. Several Delaware North-owned-and/or-operated hotels and resorts are on the front line of the growing trend of hotels offering incentives for travelers who opt out of housekeeping services to conserve resources and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The incentives offered are often tailored to the type of hotel and where it is located. For example, Yavapai Lodge (located in Grand Canyon National Park) and Skyland Resort (located in Shenandoah National Park) both offer guests a reusable water bottle, proactively reducing the potential for single-use plastic bottles in national parks.
Chain hotels, like the Holiday Inn West Yellowstone (outside Yellowstone National Park), The Westin Buffalo (Buffalo, N.Y.) and the Best Western Rocky Mountain Lodge (in Whitefish, Mont., outside Glacier National Park), each offer additional loyalty points—an ever-important currency for frequent travelers and rewards program members. Meanwhile, other hotels offer food-and-beverage-based incentives. Honey Creek Resort (located on Iowa’s Rathbun Lake) and The Ridgeline Hotel Estes Park (outside Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado) each offer a free drink at their respective on-site restaurants. Sea Crest Beach Hotel, on Cape Cod, offers a $5 breakfast voucher.
Because of the company’s size, it has a lot of purchasing clout and can influence resource consumption and waste significantly. “We have been using compostable items for many years,” McMichael says. “In our national park locations, we have a contract to offer Made in the USA products and ones that are organic and natural.” Delaware North has committed to sourcing 100 percent of shell eggs and liquid eggs from cage-free hens by 2020 in the United States or sooner if supplies become available.
Asked what she enjoys most about her job, McMichael, who earned her Bachelor of Arts in Recreation Administration at Humboldt State University, said, “It is very meaningful. Conserving and protecting the environment is front of mind.”
McMichael adds that it is important for a company the size of Delaware North to have staff 100 percent focused on sustainability. “You do need someone with their finger on the pulse,” she says.
Glenn Hasek can be reached at email@example.com.