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IHG is one of the world's leading hotel companies with 693,072 rooms in over 4,700 hotels in nearly 100 countries around the world.
They operate nine hotel brands – InterContinental, Crowne Plaza, Hotel Indigo, Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Staybridge Suites, Candlewood Suites, EVEN Hotels and HUALUXE Hotels and Resorts.
GH: What trends and changes in sustainability have you noticed since you first began working in the field?
AB: Having been in the hotel industry for over 25 years, I’ve witnessed a huge shift in the way global companies address sustainability. At IHG the biggest thing we have learnt is that we can make a positive impact on the world around us, whilst simultaneously building our business. It’s why you’ll often hear us say that being a responsible business is part of our DNA and it truly is now at the heart of everything we do.
GH: Which initiatives do you think have had the biggest sustainability impact at IHG?
AB: At IHG we have three core corporate responsibility initiatives. Each positively impacts the communities in which we operate in a way that makes sense for our business. Our IHG Green Engage® system for example helps us stay on top of the impact we have on the environment, use fewer resources and reduce costs, whilst IHG Academy gives local people skills and jobs in the communities where we work, providing a sustainable talent pipeline for our business. Finally, our disaster relief programme, IHG Shelter in a Storm, helps support our hotels, colleagues, guests and communities in times of disaster.
GH: How successful has the hospitality sector been in raising the profile of sustainability over the years – both within the industry and with customers?
AB: We helped to develop the Hotel Carbon Measurement Initiative (HCMI), a standard approach for measuring carbon footprints in our industry, working successfully alongside some of the top tourism organisations and hospitality companies in the world, including the International Tourism Partnership (ITP) and the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC).
When we launched the carbon calculator into the IHG Green Engage system we were the first hotel company to put the new industry standard into practice and we continue to carry on our work with the HCMI to encourage more people in our industry to use the new standard.
GH: Describe IHG Shelter in a Storm for us.
AB: Shelter in a Storm is our disaster relief programme. It builds on the fact that in any community, people naturally turn to a hotel for shelter, safety, guidance and support in times of crisis. All through the year people from our hotels and corporate offices around the world raise funds for the IHG Shelter Fund. These funds can then be released at a moment’s notice through Shelter in a Storm, allowing us to respond quickly on the ground when disaster strikes. In 2013, we were able to support 15 disasters across eight countries and our hotels have a history of supporting their communities in times of need.
Our brands are brought to life by our people, who support the consistent delivery of the brand promise in each hotel. Being a responsible business is about making sure our brands keep those promises and that all our hotels and corporate offices do the right things in the right way.
GH: Tell us how you go about engaging people with the programme.
AB: Most recently I recruited a group of internal volunteers to become champions for Shelter in a Storm, to help to drive awareness and engagement with the programme in Europe. Champions were allocated to each country in the region where we have a presence, and they are currently working with our hotels on how to best respond before, during and after a disaster, as well as providing guidance on fundraising initiatives.
I recruited this team because I believe in the programme and in our people. There’s no better way to bring a programme like this to life than through a group of passionate employees. We are here to help and support one another and the response from the employees and our hotels has been fantastic. I had every confidence that this initiative would be a success and it continues to be so.
GH: Why is it important to IHG to engage with its properties, managers and staff in this way?
AB: Quite simply our brands are brought to life by our people, who support the consistent delivery of the brand promise in each hotel. Being a responsible business is about making sure our brands keep those promises and that all our hotels and corporate offices do the right things in the right way.
Engaging and empowering our people around our three core CR initiatives is therefore critical in sustaining the special culture we have developed over time, as well as helping them understand how central being a responsible business is to growing our business.
It’s also important for our employees around the world to feel connected to each other, and encouraging activities in aid of Shelter in a Storm is a great way to do this. We want to demonstrate that our people are part of a global community and that they are there to support one another.
GH: What are the biggest sustainability challenges facing the sector at the moment?
AB: People and energy typically represent the two largest costs for our hotels and managing those costs can be a real challenge. However, we feel that through the IHG Academy and the Green Engage system we are helping address both of these issues. IHG Academy allows us to create a sustainable talent pipeline for our hotels, whilst the Green Engage system, when fully implemented, can help an average hotel save up to 25% on energy costs per year; that works out at roughly $90,000.
GH: What initiatives will you be looking to implement at IHG going forward?
AB: We’ll continue to focus on doing a few things really well. This means driving awareness and engagement with our existing initiatives and finding ways to improve them where we can.
GH: What practices or programmes are you most proud of and why?
AB: I’m really proud of IHG Shelter in a Storm. It’s a great way for our people to get involved and really make a difference. That might be giving a helping hand to local communities on the ground in times of need or fundraising for the Shelter Fund. Our hotels have deep roots in the communities we’re part of, and acting in a positive way that improves the lives of local people makes our links with these communities even stronger.
GH: If you could look into the future, what would you most like to see?
AB: Whilst being a responsible business already goes hand in hand with our purpose of creating Great Hotels Guests Love, there’s always more work to do, so we must remain focused. I’d therefore like to see us continuing to drive impacts through our key corporate responsibility initiatives, ensuring we’re able to make good progress against the 2013-17 targets we set last year.
GH: Is it ever difficult to convince people of the worth of what you’re doing? What’s the best way to demonstrate the value?
AB: Our Responsible Business practices underpin our strategy so for us the benefits of what we’re doing in this area are quite clear. Acting responsibly means our brand reputation gets a boost, our people are empowered and we operate more efficiently, thereby creating value for all our shareholders and stakeholders in the long term.
GH: What advice would you give to any hotel starting out on their own sustainability journey?
AB: Seek out the advice of experts, learn about the industry you’re in and ensure you engage every single one of your employees in your sustainability initiatives. Above all, believe in what you’re doing because if you believe in it, you will succeed.