To avoid getting caught in the complex web of “green” certification schemes and benchmarking programs, major hotel chains are developing internal sustainability strategies to guide operations and development.
INTERNATIONAL REPORT—The last time David Jerome counted the ever-growing list of certification schemes and benchmarking programs that have emerged in the froth of the “green” hotel movement, his tally was somewhere near 350.
The effort wasn’t an exercise of ambitious bookkeeping. Nor was it a first step toward attaining accreditation in every thread of the sustainability movement’s diverse web.
For Jerome, it was simply a matter of practicality.
“We keep track of them because we’re often asked: ‘What do we think? Should we do it?’” he said. And for InterContinental Hotel Group’s more than 4,400 hotels worldwide, for which Jerome serves as senior VP of corporate social responsibility, the answers to those questions, respectively, are “Some are worthwhile” and “Most often not.”
Put simply: “Not all of them matter,” Jerome said. “There’s a core group of probably 70 or so that maintain some degree of traction.”
For every LEED or EarthCheck or Global Sustainable Infrastructure there’re four or five programs that either don’t fit the hotel industry effectively or simply don’t yield any tangible benefits, he said.
The major hotel companies have responded by turning internally, developing their own comprehensive guidelines that steer strategy throughout their global portfolios with enough wiggle room to accommodate for regional differences and participation in appropriate third-party programs, according to Pat Maher, the American Hotel & Lodging Association’s “Green Guru” and the president of consultancy firm The Maher Group.
Green from the inside out
IHG’s Green Engage is one such example of the proprietary sustainability strategies the big brands have developed to promote clarity and consistency in the green era. Introduced in late 2009, the program underwent beta testing during 2010 and experienced an updated rollout during March.
“The new version that we just launched is much more intuitive and easy to use,” Jerome said. “It makes both the guest happy and the hotels happy.”
Green Engage incorporates a selection of universal green guidelines—a set of widely accepted best practices that are outlined in the AH&LA’s Green Resource Center.
In addition, it also shares some of the same tenets with the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environment Design, or LEED, program—so much so that the USGBC endorsed Green Engage and developed a volume-build program with IHG.
executive director of design and construction,
Fairmont Raffles Hotels International
IHG isn’t the only hotel company to borrow various third-party components when designing an internal sustainability strategy. Fairmont Raffles Hotels International, an early adopter of the green movement, worked in collaboration with the World Wildlife Fund’s Climate Savers program to introduce a new Sustainable Design Policy. The policy addresses various certification programs, such as LEED, as part of a wider aim to support sustainable development from the drawing board, according to Leslie Shammas, Fairmont’s executive director of design and construction.
The company’s design policy is regionally specific, with “standards” and minimum requirements for developing a Fairmont-branded property. The company has avoided outright mandates because, as a management company, it can’t direct financial decisions during design and construction. The onus is on owners, Shammas said.
“Our standards are to be guidelines in nature,” she said. “We ask an owner to be green complimentary at the very least.”
Fairmont can’t mandate owners seek LEED certification, for example, but “we can make it a very strongly recommended consideration,” Shammas said.
Benchmarking versus certification
Fairmont isn’t the only hotel company announcing new steps toward sustainability. Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts recently announced its first sustainability report, which outlines the Hong Kong-based owner and operator’s progress in eco-consciousness, among other areas.
The initiative was helmed by Pat Gallardo, who serves as the group’s director of CSR and Sustainability. When she joined the team in 2008, Shangri-La’s sustainability strategy was fractured by hundreds of inconsistencies at the property level.
“Everyone was going at it at their own pace,” she said.
She immediately recognized a need to leverage those combined efforts into an overarching effort—and one that would allow for transparency and easy comparison from one property to the next.
The process of benchmarking can prove especially difficult for any aspiring green hotelier. While certification—meeting the outlined standards or checklist of a single board—is one thing, finding a way to make apples-to-apples comparisons across regions and different measurement frameworks is something else entirely.
That was one of the driving principles behind Hilton Worldwide’s LightStay program, said Maher, who helped the AH&LA develop its Green Guidelines. The group didn’t need a third-party benchmarking body telling it how one property in its system was performing against another, he said. Hilton instead developed its own comprehensive approach that accounted for variance by region and property type.
At Shangri-La, Gallardo turned, in part, to the Global Reporting Initiative because it was widely accepted across different industries and could thus provided a broad set of benchmarking metrics. She also used EarthCheck, an international Web-based solution that counts the likes of Accor and IHG among its more than 1,200 reporting members.
“We couldn’t be reporting if all our stories were uneven,” she said. “…We understand the need for transparency.”
Cutting through the clutter
Whether benchmarking or seeking certification, the key is choosing something that makes sense for a given hotel company and its portfolio.
“It’s really easy to be misled as a hotel (because there are so many standards),” IHG’s Jerome said.
The Global Sustainable Tourism Council, a nonprofit organization with the backing of the United Nations, is hoping to cut a swath through the clutter. The group is putting together a global criteria and will begin sorting through that list of 350 standards to find the best and most useful.
For now, the word is caution, Jerome said.
“You have to be a careful consumer in this space,” he said. “It’s quite easy to make mistakes.”