Hotels and the environment

Dagmar Woodward
General Manager, May Fair Inter-Continental London and Chairperson of
Inter-Continental Hotels and Resorts Worldwide Environmental Committee

Inter-Continental Hotels and Resorts is committed to protecting the environment and the cultures of the locations in which we operate.

We are celebrating our 50th anniversary this year and we want to ensure that our hotels and the environment around us are still here in another 50 years!

So, what has our company done so far to encourage the greening of the hospitality industry? And why has environmental awareness suddenly surfaced in the 1990s?

Many issues disregarded in the 1980s in the headlong rush to meet profit targets are now considered good corporate practice and, indeed, represent competitive advantage in their own right. That certainly seems to be the case with the environment. Integrating environmental considerations into the heart of corporate practice is now a competitive imperative for most industries. As such a large industry, the hospitality sector has a huge environmental responsibility, not only to ourselves but to our local communities and to our future generations. Inter-Continental Hotels and Resorts' corporate mission is to be the leading global hospitality and travel group serving the world community. As part of this we consider we have a responsibility to the world community - and that means making our own, measurable contribution to the preservation of the planet.

This is in fact sound business practice. Unless travel and tourism (which is already the world's largest industry and set to continue spectacular growth well into the next century) is sustainable, none of us will have any product to sell.

We have always prided ourselves on our unparalleled commitment to the environment, and the leadership role we have for raising awareness in the travel industry and taking real action. We also acknowledge that environmentally protective actions must have a commercial as well as ethical objective. We are, after all a five-star international hotel company with a commitment to our staff and guests as well as to the environment. However, we realise that not all commercial and profit making decisions have to be taken at the cost of the environment.

As a company we don't just talk about doing something 'green' - we have done something, we have made results and will continue to make environmental savings across all our hotels. Concern for the environment is not new. It is something we have been hearing both from our guests in our ongoing consumer research and from our employees with increasing frequency over the last decade. That was why, in April 1990, we decided to seize the initiative by executing an extensive review of all the hotel operations to establish how environmentally friendly they were.

We then took the unprecedented step of giving the manual to our key competitors around the world... International hotel chains may compete in terms of winning guest loyalty - but we all use the same environment, and if we don't work together to protect that environment none of us will have any guests or hotels!

In 1991 Inter-Continental Hotels and Resorts was approached by the Prince of Wales Leaders Forum which suggested setting up an independent forum in which environmental practices could be shared.

This led to the founding of the International Hotels Environmental Initiative (IHEI) in 1992. Eleven hotel companies as well as Inter-Continental Hotels and Resorts were founder members. This now means the hotel industry takes a proactive role in ensuring that all procedures in hotels have an environmental foundation.

Some of our environmental policies include changing substantial amounts of refrigeration units from damaging CFCs, large recycling programmes, plant propagation for nature reserve reforestation, to educating staff to turn off lights in staff areas. These make a real difference to both the hotels on an individual basis, but also to Inter-Continental Hotels and Resorts as a corporate company.

In celebration of our 50th anniversary we commissioned an independent review of our global environmental initiatives. The Inter-Continental Hotels and Resorts Environmental Review is an objective assessment of the current environmental status of our properties and offices throughout the 69 countries we operate in. We haven't rested on our laurels and expected the results to be all in our favour. We acknowledged that the review would highlight areas where we are not doing as well as we could. But, until these areas are pointed out to us, we can't act on them or do anything about them.

One thing that is essential to us is the level of service our guests expect from us. They need to know this will always be delivered and will never be affected by our green policies. Guest feedback is an important way for us to evaluate our service and facilities. We know that a five-star business or leisure traveller will want bed linen and towels to be changed on a daily basis. What they want must never be sacrificed. We must never forget that the guests are our bread and butter. Our priority is to provide the guests with what they went, and ultimately what they pay for - but we have learnt that this doesn't have to be at the expense of the environment...

Many hotel chains put tent cards in the guest room, asking guests to throw towels into the bath if they want them changed, telling the guest that bed linen will be changed every three days. Inter-Continental Hotels and Resorts will automatically change sheets every day and replace all the bathroom towels, but we can still be 'green' by using eco-friendly washing powder, and making sure the laundry is run efficiently in an energy saving way.

So we continue to provide the standards, but we can still be 'green'...

The decision to make Inter-Continental Hotels and Resorts a 'green' company wasn't a hard choice to make. We have seen some amazing results - not only in the physical things we have managed to achieve - such as our hotel in Zagreb leading the way to eliminate coal burning in the city centre - to the chief engineer at our Nairobi hotel becoming Africa's leading spokesperson on environmental issues.

Results have also been strong in terms of staff motivation. All the staff at our hotels and corporate offices have risen to the challenge, and all efforts large and small have enabled us to record the results we have. It is important that all our staff feel included in this initiative as it is the person on the ground who puts management into practice.

In 1995 we announced a new awards scheme to recognise the efforts of our hotels towards protecting their environments. Whilst we are renown for our dedication to this topic, we wanted to ensure that all our employees stayed motivated in their efforts. Inter-Continental Hotels and Resorts have no other corporate staff awards, so this was recognition for everyone involved - not just the management teams. First place went to Hotel Inter-Continental Zagreb, second to Hotel Inter-Continental Sydney and the third prize to Hotel Inter-Continental Nairobi.

These awards will become an important part of our envionmental activity, and an honour that all our hotels will be encouraged to fight for.