NIB Career Q&A: Jenny Rushmore, Director of Responsible Travel at TripAdvisor (2013 Speed Networking VIP)

Jenny Rushmore headshotJenny Rushmore, Director of Responsible Travel for Trip Advisor, will be one of six VIPs at this year’s Speed Networking event on June 4th. Jenny will be discussing the topic of Collective Consumption. Prior to the event, Jenny had a conversation with Net Impact team member Katrina Stanislaw to discuss her career path and perspective on careers in sustainability.

How did you first become interested in sustainability?

I started my professional experience at Procter & Gamble right after completing my undergraduate degree in history in the UK. I wanted to ultimately do work that would be beneficial to society, but I wasn’t sure exactly how, so I decided to start by getting management experience at P&G. My work was primarily classic marketing and advertising, but I also got involved with philanthropy at P&G and sat on the board of P&G’s charitable foundation “Live, Learn and Thrive”.  I consistently told my managers that I wanted to get more involved in P&G’s sustainability work, and about eight years in, the opportunity came up to create and run the global beautycare division sustainability group. I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time, with the depth of business experience and breadth of internal network that they were looking for. As soon as I started, I knew that sustainability was the right area for me, and I’ve continued on that track ever since.

How did you get to your current position?

I was looking for more challenges and wanted to move to a smaller and more agile company where I could lead the sustainability organization. I am really motivated by the challenge of being given a blank sheet of paper and building a sustainability strategy from scratch, and that was exactly what was presented to me as the opportunity at TripAdvisor. It also provided the opportunity to influence an entire industry: TripAdvisor is the world’s largest travel website, with over 200 million users every month, and it touches almost every hotel and B&B in the world.

The vision for our newly created TripAdvisor GreenLeaders program has two parts. First, we want to make it easy for travelers to plan a greener trip. Today, that’s a confusing and difficult task, so most people don’t even try. Second, we want to ultimately improve the environmental profile of the hotel industry by creating an economic incentive for hotels to make changes. By highlighting hotels with green practices and shifting TripAdvisor users towards those properties, we’re creating a reason for hoteliers to implement practices that will earn them a GreenLeader badge, beyond them just thinking that it’s the right thing to do. And a month into our product launch, we’re already seeing this happen!

Our program is unique in the industry for several reasons. First of all it’s free to hotels – we want to recognize all hotels that are doing good, not just those that can afford to pay to join a program. Second, we have scale – we’re able to influence the largest group of travelers online, and reach out to many hotels. Third, we have created an unprecedented level of transparency. We put all the hotels’ green practices up for the public to see on TripAdvisor – so you don’t just get told that a hotel is a “Silver level” GreenLeader – you can see exactly why. And finally, at the heart of TripAdvisor is the ability for our travelers to give their own reviews and comments, so we’re inviting them now to comment on “green” too.

Can you walk me through the scope of your current job?

My project has gone through multiple phases in the past year. Stakeholder engagement has been incredibly important. We worked with people from across the industry in the development and launch of the program, including the sustainability directors of all the top chains, as well as experts such as the UN Environment Program, U.S. Green Building Council and Energy Star. With these individuals, and our consultants from the Cadmus group, we put together our survey, and then went through a validation process to ensure we were getting the meaningful results we wanted. Our survey had to work with all types of hotels, from a casino hotel in Las Vegas to a small hotel in the Berkshires. There were many rounds of iteration and we incorporated the feedback of dozens of stakeholders.

Now, we are focusing on how to scale up the program, both in the US and abroad. There are 65,000 hotels just in the U.S. on TripAdvisor; the challenge and opportunity is how to get them all aware of the program, sign up those who are already environmentally conscious, and encourage those that are not to make the change. We’re already growing rapidly – in the past three weeks ago we’ve increased the number of hotels in our program by nearly 50% – but there’s still a lot of potential to engage more hotels. We’re also looking at our global expansion and figuring out what needs to be adapted to accurately reflect the environmental realities in each country.

What are the most interesting as well as challenging aspects of your job?

It’s fabulous working across the hotel industry with so many people who have a tremendous depth of experience. I have a strategic background in sustainability, but I did not have previous experience in the hotel industry, so it’s been very interesting learning from thought leaders and incorporating their perspectives into our program. As I mentioned, scaling is a significant challenge. TripAdvisor may be the world’s largest travel website, but we don’t have the most staff. We continue to find the balance between leveraging the nature of online business to do the necessary work, and maintaining the integrity of our work from a sustainability standpoint.

What’s the best networking advice you’ve ever been given?

I believe the best networking comes from building authentic relationships. There is no question that LinkedIn has been very helpful for me – it was how I found my current position and before I knew people in the hotel industry it helped me find the right people to contact. However, nothing replaces the “real life” relationships I’ve developed by working with people over the years, and then being introduced to their friends and colleagues. As Sheryl Sandberg points out in Lean In, asking strangers to be your mentor or connect with you isn’t the most effective strategy to build your network – instead, you need demonstrate your work and leadership and grow organic connections through shared experience.

Where do you go from here?

There is huge potential for expansion within Trip Advisor. There are hundreds of thousands of hotels on the site, and until every hotel and B&B has done the most it can to reduce its environmental footprint we’ll still have work to do!  I’m looking forward to growing and nurturing the program and seeing what we can achieve.

Jenny will be attending the June 4, 2013 Speed Networking event as a VIP on the topic area of Collective Consumption.  Click here for more information about the event.

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