Wake up daily to our latest coverage of business done better, directly in your inbox.


Get your weekly dose of analysis on rising corporate activism.


The best of solutions journalism in the sustainability space, published monthly.

Select Newsletter

By signing up you agree to our privacy policy. You can opt out anytime.

Jan Lee headshot

InterContinental Hotels Group Sets Gold Standard for Environmental Sustainability

By Jan Lee

The U.N. World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) named 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. It's a hallmark that not only recognizes the growing importance that ecologically sound business practices will play in the future, but also the successes that have already made in building more sustainable practices into the tourism sector.

One global hotel chain is working hard to ensure that its franchises maintain good environmental practices: the InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG),  a global network of more than 5,000 hotels spanning 100 different countries. Affiliated brands include Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza Hotels & Resorts and Candlewood Suites, among others.  IHG's recent accomplishments reflect the challenges that global hotel firms often face when it comes to implementing or upgrading sustainable standards into a hotel chain that has already been in place for years. In IHG's case, it meant devising guidelines that their independently-owned franchises would accept and willingly implement.

Paul Snyder, IHG's vice president of corporate sustainability said that the first step was establishing a global standard that all hotels would be able to meet across the world, and implementing online tools that were easy to use and interpret in any language and any region of the world.

"All hotels have access to the platform through our company intranet," Snyder told TriplePundit. "The [online] tool measures each hotel’s energy, carbon, water and waste use and uses actual data to provide customized recommendations." The platform, called the Green Engage Program, gradually introduces the franchise owner to environmental and sustainable steps that he or she can take to meet the corporation's benchmarks for sustainability. There are more than 200 tips, or 'Green Solutions' that the franchise can impliment, like developing a non-smoking policy on the premises (to benefit air quality), installing low-flow toilets and cutting down energy usage by installing motion detector sensors to switch on lights in areas that aren't used regularly, like stairwells. Owners can decide which environmentally friendly option would best suit the establishment and the expectations of the hotels' clientele.

In order to demonstrate compliance with the Green Engage Program, each franchise is required to obtain certification in at least one of four categories. They do so by completing ten individual steps. The hotel's progress is then reviewed by an outside, independent reviewer. Snyder added that even though franchises are only required to meet one of the four certifications, "we’ve found that more than 70 percent of our properties have gone beyond Level 1."

And that's significant, Snyder pointed out. Building engagement takes more than regulations or guidelines. It takes seeing the results in their bottom line.

"We like to say that the '11th Solution' is a proof point of hotel engagement in the program, that the properties are seeing the operational savings, revenue driving benefits and employee engagement and completing more than just the required 10 solutions."

A great example of a hotel reaching beyond the minimum required certification, is InterContinental's Miami hotel, which uses an organic refuse conversion machine, affectionately called Dino, to convert waste to water that can be easily and safely discharged into the city's sewer system. In its first year of use, 55 metric tons of waste was diverted from the landfill.

But the hotel isn't the only one that sees the impact of innovative changes like this. The head corporation benefits from them, too. "In the last two years, the program has resulted in more than $200 million in avoided costs in IHG’s managed properties," said Snyder, who added that in order for the standards to be implemented, they had to be approved by the IHG Owners' Association.

The Green Engage Program was launched as a trial program in 2009, and has steadily grown in popularity. It was implemented as a gold standard for all hotels in 2015. While guest can't access the tools or metrics themselves, the are able to look up the certification of individual franchises.

"When our hotels are working with groups and meetings, many organizers require very specific metrics related to a hotel’s carbon footprint and water usage," said Snyder. "The tool has a carbon calculator, for example, that allows us to calculate a carbon footprint for a meeting, so meeting planners can stay within their goals."

Recent studies indicate that many consumers actively seek out destinations that adhere to green practices. A 2012 survey by TripAdvisor found that more than 60 percent of respondents said their accommodation choices are often affected by whether a business has taken steps to consider the environment into their business practices. While the majority (92 percent) of respondents admitted that they don't always take an active role in confirming a hotel's sustainable business policies, 64 percent said they would like to be informed more when a chain they frequent or plan to visit takes such steps.

In 2013 InterContinental Hotels Group set five-year targets for its Green Engage Program to help the corporation measure its impact, both at the regional and global level. The results suggested that setting benchmarks that are universal, easy to interpret and encourages engagement works, said Snyder.

"We set a target of a 12 percent reduction in both carbon footprint per occupied room and water use per occupied room in water-stressed areas." At the end of 2015, the corporation took a look to see how franchises were fairing under the new trial program. "[We] have achieved a 3.9 percent reduction in carbon footprint per occupied room and 4.8 percent reduction in water use per occupied room in water-stressed areas." said Snyder. Setting benchmarks that translate into savings and engage both businesses and consumers can make an environmental difference.

Images courtesy of InterContinental Hotels Group

Jan Lee headshot

Jan Lee is a former news editor and award-winning editorial writer whose non-fiction and fiction have been published in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia. Her articles and posts can be found on TriplePundit, JustMeans, and her blog, The Multicultural Jew, as well as other publications. She currently splits her residence between the city of Vancouver, British Columbia and the rural farmlands of Idaho.

Read more stories by Jan Lee