Measuring lodging’s environmental impact is less straightforward than for air travel or car rental. All three contribute to a business trip’s carbon footprint, but hotels also use lots of water and electricity, and deal with a lot of trash. When deciding which properties to work with, most companies don’t consider environmental data. Many, though, ask for it. More than half of IHG’s business accounts last year sought such information. To meet the need, it’s been working on new, customized reports for certain corporate clients.
Marriott International also is building out mechanisms for sharing sustainability data with corporate clients. Last year, for example, eight accounts asked that Marriott report their carbon footprint info via the Carbon Disclosure Project form. That’s according to Denise Naguib, the hotel company’s vice president of sustainability and supplier diversity. This year, she said, 15 accounts asked. The information lets customers assess their supply chains and understand the impact of their Marriott stays across a calendar year.
Marriott also conducts quarterly or semi-annual sustainability reviews with customers requesting them. Naguib said dozens of customers do so now, and that number grows every year. They have different needs. For example, Naguib said some want to know which properties achieved LEED certification so they can flag them for travelers.
For its thousands of corporate customers, Marriott provides property-specific information via the Global Business Travel Association’s request for proposals template.
So does IHG, whose brands include InterContinental, Kimpton, Crowne Plaza and Holiday Inn. The company in 2009 introduced the Green Engage program to enable hotels to track and report carbon emissions, water and electricity usage and waste management. The platform since 2013 has fed property data to inquiring buyers.
“Traditionally, most corporate RFPs have included these asks in the form of standard GBTA corporate responsibility language,” according to written comments attributed to IHG vice president of corporate responsibility Paul Snyder. “However, we’ve recently seen a rise in supplemental asks. It became almost a no-brainer to formalize this as a proactive offering for these accounts.”
IHG’s sustainability and sales teams work with clients to develop custom programs, “whether by producing bespoke carbon and water footprint reporting, showing alignment between corporate responsibility goals or pursuing partnership opportunities,” Snyder explained. “For instance, we’re able to provide accurate and specific footprinting reports based on the specific hotels a company stayed in, which goes beyond what is available in typical supplier surveys.”
Snyder indicated that IHG is working in this way with more than a dozen accounts. They come from the consulting, computing, engineering and utilities industries.
IHG environmental sustainability manager Lindsay Wilkinson spoke during last month’s GBTA convention in Boston. She said it’s important to have sales discussions beyond just rates.
Wilkinson acknowledged the challenge to lodging companies of communicating sustainability metrics and initiatives. For one thing, most properties are franchises, Wilkinson said, and “there is limited flexibility in what we can make hotels do.” In 2015, though, IHG made the Green Engage program a requirement for all 4,800 hotels in its portfolio.
Summing up the lodging sector’s challenge, the U.S. Department of Energy referenced a lack of “industry-appropriate” ways to “manage hotel energy, water and waste reduction efforts in a global, franchised business environment.”
Microsoft travel manager Marta Rodriguez Martinez said some hotels cannot regularly provide carbon footprint data. As a result, Microsoft started compiling it itself.
Taking the next step and accounting for hotels’ water usage, waste disposal and electricity is “doable” but “complex,” Rodriguez Martinez added. “Hotel data is hard to translate to someone outside the sustainability ecosystem. I do think hotels could do a much better job — and all suppliers, really — in making sure they have numbers publicly available and we all understand what the impact is. But it’s what you do with that data.”
Wilkinson wants to see more buyers request hotel sustainability data in channels their travelers use. “Let’s make this a little bit easier to get the data to people that need it,” she said. “We need some pressure from the other side saying, ‘This is something we want. We can get that information for air so let’s get it from hotels, too.’ We need to connect the dots a little better.”
Within GBTA’s standard hotel RFP template, there is a Corporate Social Responsibility module. It has 20 fields related to environmental impact.
Not all users apply every RFP module. Beyond the basics, those for blackout dates and safety and security are among the more popular. About half of 161 GBTA buyer members used the CSR module, according to a GBTA Foundation/Best Western February 2017 survey. Of those, just 17 percent agreed that the gleaned information influenced decisions on which properties to include in their programs. These findings, according to the report’s authors, “strongly” suggested that “travel programs are requesting data for information purposes only, but not necessarily to make purchasing decisions.”
A month earlier, GBTA Foundation and AIG surveyed 90 travel managers in the United States and Canada. Two-thirds indicated their company policies don’t address booking suppliers with sustainable practices. Asked about the degree to which LEED certification played a role in picking hotel properties, nearly half said “none at all.” Roughly the same number said as much about suppliers that offset carbon footprints.
Naguib said the gap between interest and action exists because “people didn’t know how” to use the information. Business travel pros within organizations typically paid more attention to cost than other factors. Now, though, she senses a changing mindset.
“One of the biggest triggers for a heightened focus is the Paris agreement,” Naguib said. “Many Fortune 500 companies are making commitments. I do believe that it is starting to make a difference in how they are assessing as opposed to just asking the question and doing nothing with it.”
Naguib said sustainability metrics for meetings are a bit more complicated. Rather than basing calculations simply on roomnights or attendees, the size of the facility is important. “The footprint for a meeting in a boardroom and a ballroom will look very different,” she said.
At a few other chains, sustainability reporting for clients focuses mostly on the meetings side.
Similar to IHG, Hilton Worldwide in 2010 unveiled a program to help properties measure and reduce water, energy, emissions and waste. Called LightStay, the program now is mandatory for all properties in the company’s global portfolio. It includes a “meeting impact calculator” for interested clients as they plan and conduct meetings.
AccorHotels offers the Carbon Optimizer tool within the Meeting 21 program. It has modules for calculating the footprints of meetings and associated hotel rooms. “At the client’s demand, it is possible to calculate the carbon footprint of one or several hotels, for a roomnight or yearly,” according to a spokesperson.
Hyatt’s Thrive corporate responsibility program includes sustainability reporting. Materials make no mention of reporting for corporate clients, though. According to a company official, there is nothing “substantial to share in this area.”
Additional info: The International Tourism Partnership, the World Travel & Tourism Council and 23 hotel companies in 2012 created the Hotel Carbon Measurement Initiative. The goal is to provide a consistent methodology for calculating the carbon footprint of hotel stays. According to ITP, 24,000 hotel properties now use it.
Working with 18 hotel companies, ITP also developed the Hotel Water Measurement Initiative. It published the methodology in September 2016. According to ITP, both the carbon and water measurements can help hoteliers respond to corporate RFPs. Naguib said Marriott uses them for that purpose.
Cornell University’s Center for Hospitality Research publishes the annual Hotel Sustainability Benchmarking Index. The 2016 edition compiled carbon, energy and water data from 8,800 properties across 11 global hotel companies. For the first time, it segmented benchmarks by geography (to account for local climate) and hotel type.
According to CHR, the index can help hotel guests calculate the impact of their own stays. It also can “save group customers and hoteliers time in transmitting property-specific data.”
Another benchmark source is the U.K.’s Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs. DEFRA provides conversion factors for a range of carbon-emitting activities. For hotel stays, it provides averages for various countries. It bases them on the Hotel Footprinting Tool, produced by the International Tourism Partnership and Greenview, using Cornell benchmarks. Measured in kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent per roomnight, the 2017 published factors range from 9.3 kg/CO2e in Switzerland to 180.8 in Saudi Arabia. The United Kingdom came in at 31.4 and the United States at 36.4.