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Multi-Tasker Kate Mikesell Keeps Hilton Focused on Travel with Purpose


Names: Kate Mikesell
Titles: VP, Global Corporate Responsibility, Hilton and President, Hilton Effect Foundation
Company: Hilton
Years with Hilton: 11
Primary Responsibility: “My primary responsibility is helping Hilton as it continues to redefine responsible travel. I spend most of my time talking about resources and how we are measuring. Are we on pace? Are we falling behind? It is a lot of conversation with team members and community leaders.”
Organization’s most significant accomplishment in global corporate responsibility
: “Being able to say this is the direction we want to go and letting our team take over. The Hilton Effect Foundation and the impact it is having on the world. LightStay and the many impacts Hilton has had because of it.”
Organization’s most significant challenge moving forward in global corporate responsibility: “Being specific and thoughtful about what we want to do. Remaining on point for our 2030 goals.”

Kate Mikesell

MCLEAN, VA.—As VP, Global Corporate Responsibility (CR), Hilton and President, Hilton Effect Foundation, Kate Mikesell has a lot on her plate. She leads corporate responsibility for the global organization, which has more than 6,200 hotels across over 118 countries and territories. She advances the company’s 2030 Travel with Purpose commitment to cut Hilton’s environmental footprint in half and double its social impact. On top of all of that, she founded and serves as the first President of the Hilton Effect Foundation, the company’s primary international philanthropic arm.

“I love problem solving,” Mikesell says. “Being able to think about problems that need fixing.”

When asked how many CR leaders within Hilton report to her, Mikesell said eight but emphasized there are really more than 1,200 champions of CR around the world coordinating Hilton’s Travel With Purpose corporate responsibility strategy to drive responsible travel and tourism.

How does Hilton ensure its values are ingrained in its team members? “It comes through day to day operations,” Mikesell says. “It is part of what we do. It is something our executives talk about a lot.”

Three CR Focus Areas

Within Hilton, under Travel with Purpose, CR can be broken down into three areas: social impact, environmental impact, and the work of the Hilton Effect Foundation.

Social impact encompasses the well-being of its team members, diversity, and inclusion, creating economic opportunities for all stakeholders, human rights, and community investment.

Earlier this year, Hilton learned that many healthcare workers were sleeping in their cars in order not to expose their families to COVID-19, or because they had traveled far to work in hospitals in need. Seeing this, Hilton joined with American Express to donate up to 1 million hotel room nights to medical professionals on the frontlines fighting COVID-19. It did not take long before hundreds of thousands of room nights were booked. Hilton also partnered with World Central Kitchen to feed health care workers.

Environmental Goals    

From an environmental impact standpoint, Mikesell says that since 2008, Hilton has reduced carbon emissions by 32 percent, waste by 35 percent, and water consumption by 22 percent. “We were the first major hotel company to launch science-based targets,” she says. These are aligned with climate science and the Paris Climate Agreement and approved by the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi).

By 2030, Hilton is committed to reducing its Scope 1 and 2 carbon intensity by 61 percent, its water use intensity by 50 percent, and reducing waste, including food waste, by 50 percent. Mikesell says change will come from implementation of such things as no-cost behavioral changes, renewable energy, greywater recycling, to the use of the Hotel Kitchen toolkit, which guides hotels through techniques for reducing food waste in every step of the food & beverage process, from purchasing and menu planning to donation of excess edible items and disposal of remaining inedible food.

Mikesell says one of her challenges is sifting through all the new technologies that can help Hilton reach its goals. “There are so many technologies bursting on the seen all the time,” she says. “Trying to decide which is worth the investment is our goal.” She says Hilton uses a “Shark Tank” type of process to consider emerging technologies.

Hilton Effect Foundation

The Hilton Effect Foundation was launched in 2019 as part of Hilton’s 100th anniversary celebration, to further ensure that the Hilton Effect would continue for generations to come. With the mission to create a better world to travel, the Foundation invests in both organizations and people having a positive impact on the communities Hilton serves, in alignment with Hilton’s Travel with Purpose 2030 Goals.

In just the last few weeks, The Hilton Effect Foundation announced its 2020 Hilton Effect grantees, which include community-based organizations playing a direct role in COVID-19 pandemic recovery efforts. Through these grants and donations already made by the Foundation, it has now awarded more than $1 million dollars in COVID-19 community response efforts.

“A core part of the Hilton Effect Foundation’s work is to support our communities around the world through both good times and bad,” Mikesell said in a press release issued about the grants. “From the very start of the pandemic, we have been listening to community leaders about the direct and indirect challenges they are facing because of COVID-19. Based on their feedback, we have focused our grants on driving inclusive recovery and strengthening community resiliency.”

The Hilton Effect Foundation’s grants aim to address some of the most urgent humanitarian needs arising from the pandemic: food security, sanitation/hygiene, economic security and clean air and water.

Inspired by Dr. Seuss

Mikesell, a Villanova University graduate with majors in communications and history, says her love for nature and interest in sustainability comes from her time as a kid and from leaders who currently inspire her. “I loved reading The Lorax when I was a kid,” she says. My parents are from Oregon and we were raised to love nature. They taught us to respect it. I am inspired by what José Andrés is doing and by many of the young leaders we have been seeing.”

Glenn Hasek can be reached at greenlodgingnews@gmail.com.