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Anthony Capuano revealed an an ambitious sustainability plan at Skift Global Forum on Wednesday, which puts a lot of the onus on franchise owners and partners.

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The world’s largest hotel company plans to juggle global growth over the next few decades with a major step forward in its sustainability efforts.

Marriott International CEO Anthony Capuano announced Wednesday at Skift Global Forum a company plan to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions no later than 2050. The measure would follow criteria and recommendations of the Science Based Targets initiative — a partnership among climate non-profit CDP, the United Nations Global Compact, the World Resources Institute, and the World Wide Fund for Nature.

The measure may seem like it goes against the energy-intensive endeavors associated with global expansion and new-build construction in markets like Asia — two topics Marriott executives hyped in recent weeks. But growth has to go hand-in-hand with sustainability, according to Capuano.

“When I think about Marriott, we really serve distinct constituencies: those being our associates, our guests, our owners, and our investors,” Capuano told Skift in an interview ahead of his appearance at Skift Global Forum. “Each of those groups, perhaps for their own reasons, are showing more and more interest and, in many cases, more and more urgency around not just the words, but the tangible stamps that their partners or their employers or the companies they’re investing in are taking to address issues of climate change.”

Marriott’s timeline is 10 years later than the Climate Pledge, an Amazon-backed initiative calling for companies to achieve net-zero emissions by 2040. More than 200 companies signed onto that pledge ahead of the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York this week, where climate change was expected to be a central topic.

“First of all, it’s a no later than [timeline], it could definitely be sooner, so that’s an important caveat,” Denise Naguib, vice president of sustainability and supplier diversity at Marriott International, told Skift while noting new guidance on net-zero emissions from the Science Based Targets initiative is expected soon. “Based on that methodology, we will reassess where we are and determine if there are pathways that we can get to that goal, even sooner.”

The net-zero emissions pledge isn’t Marriott’s first foray into sustainability. The company puts out an annual report in the lead-up to its 2025 Sustainability and Social Impact Goals, which cover an array of issues like environmental impact to pay parity. But this latest pledge is notable given it spans the company’s entire network of roughly 7,800 hotels in 138 countries and territories.

While Capuano is confident the company can hit its net-zero emissions target, he isn’t downplaying the challenges that lie ahead. The hotel industry is facing economic challenges following the catastrophic financial drag from the pandemic. How can be Marriott be held to account, when there’s pressure to bring back revenue?

“We’ve aligned with the United Nations’ Race to Zero initiative, and I think they will continue to evolve metrics, which will inform our progress,” he said, speaking at Skift Global Forum 2021 on Wednesday.

However, the franchise structure of the company and its competitors makes it more difficult to rapidly enact a new standard compared to airlines, which own all their assets. Marriott owns less than 20 of its branded hotels and franchises out the rest, Capuano said.

“As a result of that model, deep engagement with the owner and franchise community is critical,” he said. “Last week, we spent two days with 130 franchise partners in the U.S. and Canada. I took part in four executive forums. This was the first topic that came up in each forum. They’re passionate not just talking about sustainability, but evolving our business model in a way that will allow us to achieve these ambitious goals.”

The CEO also said many owners were pushing Marriott in this area, and said many were actually ahead of the company.

With growth plans for China, does sustainability fit comfortably here too? Capuano played down the dilemma: “As we’re talking to our partners about new construction, we’ll be looking at sustainable materials, new building methods, energy efficiency.”

The hybrid in-person and online event at TWA Hotel at JFK Airport in New York City will feature Sebastien Bazin, CEO of Accor, on Thursday.

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Tags: coronavirus, coronavirus recovery, marriott, sgf2021, skift forum, skift live

Photo credit: Marriott CEO Anthony Capuano (right) speaking at Skift Global Forum on Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021, with Skift hospitality reporter Cameron Sperance. Skift

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