Environmentalism, Smart Business Converge With IHG’s Green Engage Program

As of Jan. 1, IHG will provide access to Green Engage, its online environmental platform, at no charge, said Kirk Kinsell, president of the Americas, earlier this month at the IHG Americas Investors and Leadership Conference.

“This will help you track, measure, and reduce energy, water, and waste, so you can conserve energy and save money without compromising the guest experience,” he said. “It’s a true win-win.”

With the system, the average hotel can save up to 25 percent on energy use, with an average annual savings of $90,000. This year, Green Engage helped 230 hotels in California address the drought crisis.

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Paul Snyder, vice president of corporate responsibility and global lead on sustainability, sat down with Lodging at IHG’s brand conference to provide more details on the program.

This is probably an obvious question, but why is it important for IHG to be a leader in sustainability? Because IHG has committed itself to be a leader in the hospitality industry. Our dedication to leading this industry goes back to the Holidex system, the first reservation system, the first web reservation, the first loyalty program. We lead at IHG, and so the decision was made a number of years ago that we’re going to lead on this too.

And we’re not leading just for the sake of leading. When it comes to sustainability, you’ve got an area of business where innovation as well as citizenship really intersect in a way that drives value for everyone with whom we’re associated, whether that’s owners or guests or employees or shareholders. That kind of opportunity is not one we pass up.

Can you give me some highlights of the Green Engage program? Green Engage is a website with essentially two parts. It has the ability for properties to input their energy, waste, and water data and then see how the property is performing against other similar properties. So, if you’re a Holiday Inn Express in Kansas, you can look at other Holiday Inn Expresses like yours. You’re not being compared or benchmarked against an InterContinental in Switzerland.

Then, of course, there are 200 green solutions. These are individually vetted and customized for IHG and its brands, from light investment, to medium investment, to heavy investment. As one of the world’s largest hotel companies with nine leading brands, we need to have a platform that’s applicable for all.

The fact is that with 2,800 hotels currently on the system already, we’ve shown that Green Engage is applicable for an InterContinental and Crowne Plaza all the way down to a Staybridge Suites or a Candlewood Suites.

I think the important thing, too, is that not only are hotels benefiting the environment, they’re also saving money. They’re saving money, and they’re making money. The big things that we’re really concentrating on there is, first of all, yep, they’re saving money. We got all of our company-managed hotels to Level 1 last year because we wanted to have a bit of a shakedown cruise, see what it was like for them and see what were the impacts. We’ve had an externally validated analysis that shows our company-managed hotels avoided $70 million in costs last year, so it delivers on the cost side. We all know that.

What’s becoming increasingly apparent and emergent is the fact that it delivers on the revenue side. We have large corporate accounts and individual travelers who are saying they care about what we’re doing here. That’s why we have Green Engage auto-feeding into the GBTA and global RFP. When one of our large corporate accounts buys hundreds of thousands of room nights from us, and you want to answer the question, “What’s the carbon footprint per occupied room in this portfolio?” you need only press a button and get that answer from Green Engage. So, it’s helping us win business.

You do those things, and then, of course, there are employees. Our employees are increasingly of a mindset, an orientation that they want to purchase from and work for companies that are doing good things with regard to citizenship. If you want to win the war for talent, if you want to win the war on the street corner in terms of getting market share, these are important factors becoming increasingly part of how people are making decisions about who they purchase from and who they work for.

With the drought crisis in California now, Green Engage seems to be especially relevant. Can you talk a little bit about that and how the program is helping those properties there? First, there are a whole host of water solutions already in Green Engage, and we’ve made a commitment by 2017 to lower water on a per-occupied-room basis by 12 percent in water-stressed areas. Obviously, California is going through a historic water stress, and so Green Engage gives us the ability to really jump into action there.

In April, we sent water activation kits to every single one of our 230 IHG-branded properties in California. It gave them information about how to leverage the water solutions within Green Engage. It gave them some aerators so they can see exactly what that looked like, and it gave them some guidance about how they actually shepherd themselves and their hotels through water stress.

I’m happy to report that we have over 80 percent of our properties fully engaged with this program, and we’re saving over 7.2 million gallons annually. Now, if we didn’t have Green Engage and California started to have its water stress, we would have had to create something from zero base. We would not have been able to react as quickly or as impactfully as we did.

Photo caption: Paul Snyder, vice president, corporate responsibility, IHG, speaks to White House officials with the Council on Environmental Quality and the U.S. Travel Association at the InterContinental Willard Washington, D.C. The discussion covered the successes of the IHG Green Engage program in supporting the President’s vision for the Climate Action Plan.