InterContinental Sydney: a 30 year sustainability journey

The InterContinental Sydney, winner in Asia Pacific

The InterContinental Sydney, Green Hotelier Award winner in Asia Pacific

The InterContinental Sydney was winner of the Green Hotelier Awards 2016 in Asia Pacific. Their journey has taken 30 years of building sustainability in at every level and at every opportunity. There’s lots for hoteliers to learn from, so Green Hotelier asked them to tell us their story. Surprisingly, that story is intricately tied to our own history at the International Tourism Partnership.

GH: Can you take us on your hotel's sustainability journey?

InterContinental Sydney is a five-star hotel located on the skirts of Circular Quay, just seconds from Sydney favourite icons.

In its conception and design, InterContinental Sydney perfectly captures the Australian mood. Set in the city’s historical Treasury Building of 1851, it displays a blend of rich colonial heritage and the robust contemporary architecture of a young nation.

In line with conservation plans for the heart of Sydney, it was proposed in 1982 to incorporate the old Treasury Building with a new hotel. The final design for InterContinental Sydney called for restoration of the 1851 Treasury Building on Macquarie Street and the addition of a tower wing along the Phillip Street frontage to provide 28 floors above and five floors below road level.

Careful, painstaking restoration of the three-storey building gave the hotel its elegant public rooms (now updated with discreetly installed fire protection and air conditioning services), while the tower block provides the 509 guest rooms with spectacular views of Sydney Harbour and the Royal Botanic Gardens.

During the design stage of the building, energy and environmental management was not a priority, which has caused the operator to add many concepts to its existing plant and operations.

The philosophy of the hotel has always been to run an efficient building, implementing good work practices and technology, however not at the cost of guest comfort.

The hotel started off with no technology or processors installed, including manually operating plant and equipment, with the opportunity for human error. Now we are proud to say that we can compare ourselves with many new builds for efficiency and comfort.

GH: Why did you feel it was important to have a sustainable hotel?

Going back to 1990, InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) as a group, decided that sustainability was a major priority in view of protecting our environment. Based on this agenda, the company gathered a few interested and committed staff to formalise a programme, implementing it within their properties. InterContinental Sydney was fortunate to be one of the main players within this process. The final result was to create an Environmental Manual that was circulated to all hotels. This manual created the basic inception of the Sustainability Programme that continues to this day.

Subsequently, this manual was shared with the Prince of Wales’ Business Forum in the UK (ITP’s earliest incarnation) to create a worldwide manual for all hotel chains to use. The objective of the company’s programme was not to compare one hotel against another, but to set a benchmark and improve and continually improve from this point – ITP’s remit to this day remains helping global hotel groups to measure and improve their sustainability efforts.

IHG has now developed a tool called Green Engage. This programme is a total package that covers most aspects of sustainability – from energy reporting and benchmarking to waste management and action planning. There are over 100 action points creating four levels of certification. The InterContinental Sydney is currently completing level three out of four levels.

GH: What are the key initiatives that the hotel has undertaken to improve its sustainability?

There has been misunderstanding with sustainability programmes among many. As soon as the word sustainability is identified, it is associated with major cost. In realistic terms, sustainability programmes make buildings extremely efficient and in return offer you substantial monetary savings, and in some countries government incentives and grants, which is the case in Australia.

The implementation of our programme in Sydney was primarily steered towards energy, water and waste. To implement benchmarks, it is important to be able to measure your usage. The installation of 65 sub-meters for energy and water was one of the best investments made for this process. Similarly, waste audits have also helped. The support from our General Manager, Joerg Bocekeler, and our Owning Company, Mulpha, has also had a tremendous assistance to the shared goal. It is very important that you work as a partnership with your owners, to build up a relationship by supplying them with any success and not being shy of reporting any results that did not meet target.

The hotel has achieved nearly 50% savings on electricity, approximately 30% on gas and 30% on water. This has been achieved by implementing various projects, consisting of a Building Management System incorporating good operational strategies, upgrading two high efficiency chillers installation of variable speed drives, power factor correction, voltage stabilisation, total LED retrofits, fluorescent conversions, preventive maintenance programmes, boiler fuel optimisation, high efficiency shower heads and regulators to water faucets, improvement in flushing and most importantly staff engagement to control the human element.

Other projects include waste management, processing of food waste, chemicals used and air emissions. One of the other highlights of our programme was initiating “Trees on the Roof” programme, while this was very successful, due to other business pressures and losing the roof space, it had to be terminated. The programme included growing seedlings on our roof space and then taking voluntary staff to a reserve that was allocated to the hotel, to plant these seedlings. We started off with 5,000 seedlings, although only about 750 survived and this programme lasted about five years with various plantings.

Education and training have been another highlight of the hotel. The hotel has been involved in many presentations and educational seminars sharing our message. High school teachers have had formal lectures on sustainability in hotels. Postgraduate students very often contact the hotel with their projects and assignments, and the hotel is only too happy to help, with many success stories.

Our hotel has saved approximately AUD$500,000 in energy and AUD$150,000 in water per annum.

GH: What initiatives have had the biggest impact on your sustainability?

The major achievement the hotel has made is reducing energy and being a high competitor with the newly built hotels, holding lower energy and water consumptions per square metre and capita. In monetary terms, our hotel has saved approximately AUD$500,000 in energy and AUD$150,000 in water per annum. From a business point of view, these savings are a direct flow to the bottom line as profit.

With regards to waste, while it is challenging to quantify the savings in monetary terms, what the hotel has been able to achieve is the reduction to landfill with waste diversion. The hotel has also trialled various concepts to decompose food waste with satisfactory success. The food waste is currently being diverted to EarthPower which is a plant that accepts organic waste material from the industrial, commercial and residential sectors and converts it to green energy and nutrient-rich fertiliser.

GH: Do you have any community outreach programmes and if so, can you describe them for us?

The hotel has and is currently involved in many community activities.

Earth Hour is now a worldwide programme that was initiated in Australia by WWF, starting off with turning off the lights for one hour on a day in March, as a symbol to remind all that it is our responsibility to make our individual contribution and change to protect the environment. The hotel assisted Earth Hour with launching the program in NSW ten years ago and documented the procedures for Hotels. Earth Hour used InterContinental Sydney’s contacts to engage other hotels and hotel chains, including personal communications to other hotel groups to convince and commit to this programme. Earth Hour uses InterContinental Sydney as the ambassador in the hospitality industry. InterContinental Sydney has now taken Earth Hour to a monthly event, on the last Sunday of each month. This is to reinforce our commitment to global warming and remind and engage guests and staff.

The hotel has adopted St Canice, a Soup Kitchen in Sydney that feeds over 200 homeless people on a daily basis, and periodically supplies food and old linen and amenities. The hotel periodically visits St Canice to carry out repairs and maintenance to their facility using voluntary staff. Through this Catholic Parish the hotel has also renovated refugee accommodation and renovated a church hall. This partnership has now been in place for over five years. The voluntary hotel staff who work at this site, not only enjoy their involvement but also get the opportunity to meet and get to know people from other department whom they would not associate with on a daily basis, which is a great team building experience.

The hotel, through its corporate responsibility also supports the IHG Foundation with various fundraising events. The hotel also has had many other fund raisers with charity events to support some of the natural disasters that have taken place in various parts of the world.

GH: What has been the biggest surprise on your sustainability journey?

The biggest surprise that the hotel has received is the recognition locally and globally, which was not the reason to take the journey. We are fortunate that companies contact us to carry out various trials on new products and concepts, due to our commitment and achievements.

The challenge is to sustain sustainability

GH: What has been the biggest challenge?

Sustainability very often comes with challenges. The challenge is to sustain sustainability. Very often staff treat sustainability as a project and once a goal is achieved, the enthusiasm is no longer present. Sustainability is written into KPIs for key stakeholders so that it can be incorporated into day to day life.

GH: How have guests and / or business partners reacted to your sustainability programmes?

Earth Hour as a monthly event has become a talking point with many of our hotel guests, which is the objective.

GH: Is there a stand-out aspect to your sustainability that is unusual or eye-catching or different from other hotels?

The stand out feature of our hotel is that we are willing to evaluate any and every new concept or technology that makes sense to our goals, of course taking into account the safety aspects and no compromise to our customer satisfaction.

This has been made possible with the continued support of our General Manager, Joerg Boeckeler who thrives and supports his team to engage in creativity.

GH: What plans do you have for your hotel’s sustainability in the future?

While the hotel would like to continue all the implemented programs, with any future plans for renovations, a high priority will be given to implement green initiatives.

GH: What tips or advice would you offer to any other hotel in your region which is just beginning the sustainability journey?

The most important aspect of a sustainability programme is not to have one person driving the programme, but all staff engaged and participating in some way or form.

GH Please list any awards and certificates your hotel has been awarded for its sustainability.


IPART Gov Newsletter                           Case Study on Hotel Claiming Carbon Credits

Institute of Hotel Engineers                    Process on Claiming Carbon Credits for Hotels.

Institute of Hotel Engineers                    Case Study on Installed Innovative Lift Security Systems

Institute of Hotel Engineers                    Case Study on New Technologies

Sydney Electricity                                 Hotels Savings Brochure distributed to customers with bills

Australian Enviro.l Protection Authority   Publication of Best Practices Case Study

PATA Magazine                         Hotels Environmental Program

Tourism Update Paper                           Two Articles

Cleaner Productions Magazine               Article

Energy Focus                                       Article on Hotels Energy Savings

Electrical Engineering Magazine             Hotels Pro-active approach towards energy savings

Water Conservation Guide                     Case Study

Energy Australia                                    Corporate Report

AGL Energy Topics                               Case Study

World Travel & Tourism Development     International Magazine, Case Study

Greenhouse Challenge Booklet              Examples of Initiative


  • Green Hotelier(UK) – Sustainability award Asia Pacific 2016
  • TAA Best Environmental Initiative, 2011
  • Water Conservation Achievement Award 2008, Sydney Water
  • Water Conservation Achievement Award 2004, Sydney Water
  • Corporate Winner 1998, IH&RA Green Hotelier & Restaurateur Environmental Award
  • The Keep Australia Beautiful Vision for Australia Award 1997 (Overall Winner)
  • Trane Air Conditioning USA Energy & Environmental Award 1997
  • PATA Gold Environmental Award (Pacific Asia Travel Association) 1996
  • Inter-Continental Hotels and Resorts Environmental Awards - Second Place 1996
  • Runner-Up ‘Green Hotelier of the Year’ - International Hotels Association 1996
  • Green Globe Commendation Award, 1996, for substantial improvements in environmental performance contributing to sustainable development of the Travel & Tourism industry
  • 1993 Environment Awareness Award in the Lodging Leadership Awards, Hotel Motel & Management Magazine
  • 1993 International Hotel Association Diploma of Excellence in recognition of commitment to protect the environment
  • Australian Hotels’ Association Awards, for Excellence in Energy and Environmental Award 1992, 1995, 1996, 1997
  • National Energy Award 1992

Andy Goonesekera, Director of Engineering, InterContinental Sydney

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