Skift Take

Sustainability has become a priority for today’s travelers, not only for consumers but also for business-to-business hotel customers. To overcome fears of greenwashing, hospitality companies need to demonstrate they’re making authentic and measurable efforts toward responsible business practices.

This sponsored content was created in collaboration with a Skift partner.

Sustainability is a top consideration for today’s travelers when booking their trips. According to a Skift Research study, one in four U.S. respondents feels that green tourism and business practices are more important now than before the pandemic. It’s also a chief concern of suppliers, partners, buyers, and other business-to-business hotel customers, who increasingly view sustainability as a key factor in how they evaluate hotel partners.

Against the backdrop of these growing needs and expectations, in 2021, IHG Hotels & Resorts launched its Journey to Tomorrow responsible business plan, a holistic framework that spans diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) efforts; support for the local communities within the company’s footprint; and environmental goals that include water conservation, carbon and energy, and waste reduction.

SkiftX spoke with Catherine Dolton, chief sustainability officer at IHG, and Tamara Laster, vice president, global sales strategy, about their vision behind the 10-year plan, the tangible progress the company is pacing toward, and how sustainability in hospitality is evolving.

SkiftX: What has been driving the evolution of sustainability in the hospitality space over the past couple of years?

Catherine Dolton: Within the hospitality industry, caring for others and our communities is naturally woven into our DNA. Certainly at IHG, operating responsibly and sustainably is absolutely core to our business and culture.

When we consider all that’s happened over the last couple of years globally, what we’ve seen is a further expectation for businesses to affect positive change. The conversation around sustainability has come to life in a more pronounced way among those who stay, work, and partner with us — whether that’s travelers, who are more mindful than ever about traveling responsibly; customers and partners who are prioritizing like-minded organizations that can help them reach their own sustainability goals and commitments; or employees and job seekers, who are keen to work for an organization that has a solid approach to responsible business.

SkiftX: Considering this changing context, what is the vision behind the company’s Journey to Tomorrow plan?

Dolton: We launched Journey to Tomorrow, our 10-year responsible business plan, in February 2021. Our goal is to help shape the future of responsible travel together with those who stay, work, and partner with us.

Aligned with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, Journey to Tomorrow is a powerful framework for how we can focus our efforts to deliver IHG’s purpose of True Hospitality for Good. Within this framework, our key ambition areas include our people, our communities, carbon and energy, and waste and water.

There are synergies across these efforts: everything we’re doing from an environmental sustainability perspective drives progress toward broader targets. It also has a very real role in helping to minimize the individual footprints of our hotels, to the benefit of the thousands of local communities in which we operate around the world. With efforts to champion an inclusive and diverse culture where everyone can thrive, we’re not only helping to create a welcoming environment for all our guests, but also helping to attract and retain colleagues across our hotels and corporate offices with different experiences and perspectives to help shape the planning and implementation of these initiatives.

SkiftX: How does IHG mitigate concerns about “greenwashing” and show that it is making authentic and measurable efforts towards sustainability?

Dolton: We participate in numerous environmental, social, and governance (ESG) questionnaires and rating indices overseen by a number of external ratings agencies, which assess our ESG performance on an annual basis. In addition, we publicly report key metrics and progress milestones against our responsible business initiatives in several annual publications, including our Annual Report, our Responsible Business Report, and our ESG Databook.

Beyond the metrics we share as a part of these disclosures, there are also a number of key internal metrics and milestones we monitor across each of the various Journey to Tomorrow workstreams to ensure we continue to maintain the right trajectory. Through these exercises, we’re able to drive transparency, visibility, and confidence in the strength and diligence of our efforts.

SkiftX: Outside of the aims within each of the subject pillars, where do you see a broader benefit in these Journey to Tomorrow efforts?

Dolton: We see several halo effects, which come to life in various ways. For owners, participating in initiatives to drive energy efficiency and water reduction at their hotels also helps to drive bottom-line savings in their utility costs. For investors, the plan is an indication of responsible and prudent management. For our business-to-business customers, who are looking for their suppliers to support them in their ESG commitments, our progress helps position our brands and hotels as the partner of choice for responsible travel.

Additionally, today’s workforce is looking for employers to share their values, and we are seeing more and more interviewees reference Journey to Tomorrow as a key reason for wanting to work for IHG.

More broadly, we also place high priority on sharing our knowledge and learnings across the industry, with a goal to promote and accelerate sustainable hospitality and tourism practices.

SkiftX: What topics around sustainability come up in conversations with business-to-business customers?

Tamara Laster: As Catherine mentioned, we have seen shifting expectations among customers as they have become more aware and mindful of traveling more consciously following the pandemic.

Corporate customers and travel buyers are increasingly looking for additional sustainability tools and information to support their decision-making processes. They’re evolving travel management and budget analysis from dollars and cents to a more mindful footprint point of view.

Many of our customers and partners are progressing toward their own goals in this area and want to ensure they are working with organizations that share these values. Some customers are even implementing sustainability budgets to manage and reduce their carbon footprint.

SkiftX: Can you share a few examples of noteworthy business partnerships that align with the plan?

Laster: In June, IHG announced a global collaboration with Unilever to replace bathroom miniatures with bulk amenities in over 4,000 hotels. This partnership builds on IHG’s promise in 2019 when it became the first hotel company to commit to replacing single-use bathroom miniatures with full-size amenities across all brands, and today all of IHG’s markets are now covered by bulk bathroom amenity contracts. Switching to bulk is expected to save at least 850 tonnes of plastic annually in IHG’s Americas region alone — the equivalent weight of five fully grown blue whales or 70 double-decker London buses.

Another great example is IHG’s partnership with Goodr, a company that picks up edible food waste and donates it to local nonprofits. At our Americas headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia, we’ve partnered with Goodr to help tackle food insecurity and serve the local community through pop-up grocery stores and meal and snack packing.

In addition, as part of our effort to deepen IHG’s early-career recruitment among historically underrepresented groups, we recently launched a partnership with two historically Black colleges and universities in the Atlanta area: Clark Atlanta University and Morehouse College. IHG will contribute resources and expertise to support students’ professional development, with a goal to inspire careers in hospitality and create a robust pipeline of future employment opportunities within IHG.

These are just a few examples that highlight our commitment to strengthening and evolving our work across sustainability and DE&I, and we’ll continue to identify partners that align with our mission.

SkiftX: What message would you send to hospitality leaders who may not yet be on board with making true sustainability efforts?

Laster: I would say that operating responsibly is no longer a “nice to have.” It has evolved into a mandatory need for IHG and its customers and partners. The focus from all stakeholders has shifted, and it’s more important than ever that we work together to help shape the future of responsible travel and continue to positively impact the communities around the world we operate in.

For more information about IHG’s responsible business efforts, click here. For more information on how IHG can meet your business travel needs, click here.

This content was created collaboratively by IHG Hotels & Resorts and Skift’s branded content studio, SkiftX.

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Tags: hospitality, ihg, SkiftX Showcase: Hospitality, sustainability

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