In case you took a break from news feeds and headlines this summer (I know I definitely tried), I’m recapping and reflecting upon the sustainability happenings of the past few months. They tend to be at their peak as our industry works during the first six months to develop programs and prepare external communications. The update below is on a general scale, which is in addition to the dozens, and perhaps hundreds, of programs and actions announced at individual hotels around the globe.
No corporate responsibility or sustainability program would be complete without a catchy name. This summer, new branded programs including Rezidor Hotel Group’s energy-saving initiative Think Planet and Accor’s Planet 21 Program, which offers a comprehensive set of 21 related commitments.
Marriott International joined the trend of branded software solutions by adopting Green Hotels Global as its tool for monitoring and communicating sustainability-related practices and performance at each property. Best Western International also launched its “I Care Clean” program, focused on guestroom cleanliness. Though not as catchy, InterContinental Hotels Group launched an interesting Corporate Responsibility Innovation Fund as an ongoing program based on funding initiatives raised through series of calls for collaboration around specific issues.
More standards and guidelines
The double-edged sword of standards, guidelines and frameworks was sharpened this summer with two key releases. The first was the Hotel Carbon Measurement Initiative, which released its practical guidance and methodology for calculating and communicating the carbon footprint of hotel roomnights and meeting space to clients. This guidance aims to quell the confusion created around carbon footprint calculations and help the industry provide consistent figures in common metrics directly to hotel guests and corporate clients without the need of third parties. (A portion of the guidance referenced my recent Cornell Hospitality Report “Determining Materiality in Hotel Carbon Footprinting: What Counts and What Does Not”, which examines the different sources of carbon emissions in hotels.)
The second important release was the ISO 2012 Standard for Event Sustainability Management Systems, which provides guidance for planning and holding meetings and events. This is especially relevant with the London 2012 Olympics bringing sustainable event standardization to the forefront. Hoteliers are likely to see more of this pop up alongside the pesky Accepted Practices Exchange and American Society for Testing and Materials sustainable event standards.
Increase in reporting
Several companies released sustainability reports this summer, including two first-time Global Reporting Initiative reporters, Hyatt Hotels & Resorts and Las Vegas Sands Corporation. Both were cases of companies building content upon their pre-existing platforms, Hyatt Thrive and Sands Eco 360 degree program.
Along with many of these reports, we saw news releases from companies such as Marriott and Wyndham Worldwide communicating reductions in energy, water, waste or carbon achieved since the last reporting period. This type of announcement also was found among companies without standalone reports, as Hilton Worldwide announced its LightStay results, reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 10.9% since LightStay’s introduction, and Fairmont Hotels & Resorts reduced carbon emissions by 8.4% since 2010. We’ll assume the figures are either per-room or per-square foot because neither announcement specified their calculation metric.
This year’s winner of most esoteric sustainability metric goes to Peninsula Hotels owner The Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels, which in their sustainability report, reported their diverted waste achieved in 2011 was equivalent to the weight of more than “150 average-sized African elephants.”
The most game-changing report comes from New York, which published an annual report and disclosed the energy and water benchmarking results for non-residential properties, including many hotels. This data lists each property’s address and square footage. This report, along with news that Marriott will make all its energy, water, waste and carbon metrics available to all travelers through its branded program, points toward the possibility that the once-guarded hotel utility data will become commonly available, and the struggle for fair and equitable comparison will come to the forefront.
Tipping point update
It is always interesting to see initiatives gain strong footholds and eventually become standard practices, which usually happens in a domino effect as we saw with non-smoking hotels and linen/towel reuse programs. This summer, Fairmont became one of the few companies to institute a policy removing shark fin from its menus, following the lead of Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts and Peninsula, which enacted the same policy during the past year. And we’ll likely see more news on companies getting on board, as even the Chinese government agreed to stop serving shark fin at official banquets.
Another notable program is used-soap donation. Marriott Vacation Club partnering with Clean the World is joining the increasing number of major brands, owners and management companies that announced corporate partnerships to donate leftover bathroom amenities to charitable organizations. With these agreements now becoming commonplace, we might see hotel properties actually sign up for these programs as their parent brands promised for more than two years.
Management companies get involved
Operating companies traditionally come in third place in corporate responsibility and sustainability initiatives after brands and owners. This is because they are privately held and operate under different flags as they don’t face the same external stakeholder pressure to brand or communicate their initiatives as publicly traded brands and real-estate investment trusts. This summer, however, we saw a few announcements of management companies getting involved, such as HEI Hotels & Resorts adding corporate social responsibility to their Managers-In-Training Program, Interstate Hotels & Resorts communicating the pilot testing of a sustainability roll-out and Real Hospitality Group announcing a corporate responsibility platform.
More about water
The topic of water quickly came to the forefront of discussions around sustainability, risk management, guest engagement and corporate responsibility. This summer, Tourism Concern added the perspective of social justice and human rights in a report examining the issue of water withdrawal and use for hotels versus local communities in water-stressed regions globally.
In such an ever-evolving and encompassing field of increasing urgency, we’re likely to see more issues and announcements in the coming months, especially with all the industry conferences, events and roundtables slated for this fall and winter. This summer’s drought, for example, will elevate the topic of water and bring more content into the increasing hospitality supply chain discussion. And the much anticipated release of the Global Reporting Initiative G4 guidelines next year has the potential to influence how sustainability, and the broader scope of environmental, social and governance issues, is treated organizationally. Stay tuned …
Eric Ricaurte works with the hotel industry and its leading companies to advance sustainability through reporting and measurement. His current activities include consulting, industry engagement, academic fellowship, column writing and publication authoring.
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