Empowering a franchise – engaging sustainable practices at IHG

Of the 4,600 hotels owned by the InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), 3,934 operate under franchise agreements. This makes engaging staff in sustainability a monumental challenge, IHG's Paul Snyder tells Leigh Stringer

With hotels in nearly 100 countries and more than 350,000 employees worldwide, funnelling sustainable practices through the business was always going to be challenging for IHG’s vice president of corporate responsibility and sustainability Paul Snyder and the team.

“We’re primarily a franchiser, so the riddle we had to solve was how to establish, what I like to call, a sustainability empowerment platform for franchisees, because it’s their business and it’s their hotel to run and their environmental impact to address,” says Snyder.

In 2006, IHG carried out research to measure the carbon footprint of its hotels and found that it was responsible for approximately nine million metric tonnes of carbon. As a result, the company developed ‘Green Engage’, an online tool that allows hotels to identify their environmental impact.

The system works by hotels inputting their site data which generates reports and an energy benchmark so that hotels can compare performances. It then provides ‘green solutions’, advising both new-build and existing hotels on the specific actions they need to take to reduce their impacts, depending on their climatic location.

The advice offered covers every aspect of the hotel lifecycle from picking a suitable site, to selecting the correct lighting for the hotel through to choosing responsible cleaning materials and providing staff training on sustainability.

With the original pilot of Green Engage launching in 2009, the tool now has over 50% of IHG’s entire estate enrolled. The system was extended to the entire owned and managed estate and then opened up to any other hotels who wanted to participate.

According to IHG CEO, Richard Solomons, energy costs are the second biggest cost to hotels and with governments and guests demanding more sustainable practices in the sector, the issues needed urgent attention. As a franchise, however, the platform had to encourage sustainability, not enforce it.

“The real philosophical underpinning of Green Engage is that it provides our franchisees and our properties the opportunity to write their own sustainability story. With 4,600 properties around the world, we have all kinds of different brands located in different climates, so we knew that a one size fits all approach would not work,” says Snyder.

Through the tool, Snyder says the company is essentially creating small sustainability acolytes throughout the properties.

And, he says, this is a far more effective way of driving sustainability as opposed to “just dropping in an environmental engineer into one property and letting them push all the buttons”.

“This is important because sustainability is not just about how you run a building but it’s also about how you approach and speak to customers from individual travellers to large corporate accounts,” says Snyder.

Green Engage is also driving the development of its sustainability strategy. As an enterprise, a major benefit of having a centralised resource like Green Engage is the large amounts of data it gathers. Data can be collated on each individual property, a groups of properties, portfolios of property or even brand versus other brands, which allows the company to not only review performances but also helps inform ‘green solutions’.

“Few people involved in sustainability would argue that the more that you’re integrated with the business the more that you’ll be able to achieve. Engage is being utilised by general managers, unit level engineers, unit level sales people who are driving top line revenue and making that platform available online,” he said.

But is Green Engage having an impact on guest numbers? Currently, IHG is focusing on “driving impact as opposed to driving communication” so the company isn’t able to provide specific data on how many hotel guests have migrated to IHG hotels because of its improved green credentials through Green Engage.

“Once we start speaking more loudly about the things that we’ve authentically achieved, that will give us the data sets to say how and in what fashion is this moving share or customer preference,” says Snyder.

What Snyder does know is that 70% of the travelling public want to be green or want to be sustainable in their travel, which he says makes Green Engage all the more profitable for the company and the environment.

Leigh Stringer is edie energy and sustainability editor

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