Joanne Iwamoto

When Joanne Iwamoto, the assistant director of housekeeping at Sheraton Princess Kaiulani and Moana Surfrider, was selected to head up green initiatives at the hotels last year, she initially did not know how to approach the new position.

“When I was chosen last year, I was so scared,” Iwamoto admits.

But in that short time, Iwamoto has created a number of charitable programs that go far beyond her job title and extend into the community.

“When I became a hotel worker, I started to see so many discarded items, especially in linens,” she explains.

To reduce this waste, Iwamoto created partnerships with groups that include Goodwill, Big Brothers Big Sisters and homeless assistance programs. Whenever the hotels discard linens or furniture, they repurpose the items by donating them to these groups.

“Instead of just throwing it away or selling it, we can give it to someone who really needs it,” she says.

In addition, Iwamoto also collects guests’ discarded books to give to deployed Navy officers, donates old hotel uniforms to the Philippines, and has created a small garden at Princess Kaiulani.

“My goal is to not waste anything,” she says, “and to get things to people who need it and make good use of them. With all of the material and all of the rubbish we have, it is important for everybody to chip in and try a little harder to be sustainable, especially since we live on an island.”

When Iwamoto is not at the hotels, she continues to help the community in other ways. Before entering the hotel industry, she was a part-time teacher with the Department of Education. A few years ago, Iwamoto re-entered the school system as a volunteer, assisting in the video production program at Mid-Pacific Institute. She also donates a variety of goods to various schools, and recently refurnished a classroom at Castle High School.

“I just do whatever I can to help them,” she says. “We will continue to develop relationships with certain organizations, and I hope that more schools will come forward and ask for donations.”

For her work with sustainability efforts and in the community, Iwamoto recently was recognized with Starwood’s Global Citizenship Award. The award was a surprise and an honor for her. But one of the most rewarding aspects of her work comes simply from receiving photos from the students and teachers utilizing her donations.

“Because I worked for the schools, I know how hard it can be for the teachers and for the school to get everything they need – especially here in Hawaii,” Iwamoto says. “When I was a teacher, I spent a lot of money just on regular supplies.”