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Interview: Maher Abou Nasr on IHG’s 10-year sustainability action plan

As VP of Operations in Saudi, Nasr is helping to drive the group’s ‘Journey to Tomorrow’ plan

IHG Hotels & Resorts is taking great strides to hit the hospitality industry’s shared sustainability targets. Here, IHG’s Maher Abou Nasr shares the group’s best practices, from partnering with an AI-based food-waste solutions company to introducing the IHG Green Engage system offering 200 green solutions to improve sustainability at property level. Could this be the way forward for all hotel groups? Connecting Travel met with Maher to find out more…

CONNECTING TRAVEL: What is IHG’s strategy for sustainability?
MAHER ABOU NASR: We understand that how we act over the next decade and beyond will help shape our industry and our planet, so we’re committed to continuing to recognise the many environmental and societal challenges being felt across the globe as part of our desire to be a bigger, better and stronger business, which grows successfully and sustainably.

Caring for our people, communities and planet has been at the heart of what we do at IHG for many years. We’re focusing our actions on these three key areas. For our people, we will promote wellbeing in the workplace, champion an inclusive culture, and advance human rights. In our communities, we want to seize the opportunity to improve millions of lives, whether by supporting disaster relief or tackling food poverty, or by providing skills training that can drive social and economic change.

For our planet, we’ll work with our hotels to reduce carbon emissions, eliminate single-use items and reduce food waste, and we’ll collaborate with local stakeholders to tackle water sustainability issues in areas of the greatest risk.

CT: What measures has IHG already taken to be more environmentally friendly?
MN: In 2021, we launched ‘Journey to Tomorrow’, a 10-year action plan of clear commitments to drive change for our people, communities and planet, aligned to both our purpose of ‘True Hospitality for Good’ and to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

In 2022, a major area of focus for us is on improving energy efficiency. We’ve introduced an Energy Reduction Metric in all our hotels. Additionally, in 2019, IHG became the first hotel company to commit to replacing bathroom miniatures with full-sized amenities across all brands – and we took this further in 2021 with a commitment to eliminate single use items or move to reusable or recyclable alternatives across all areas of a guest’s stay by 2030. We’re also working to minimise food waste and have partnered with Winnow, an AI-based food-waste solutions company in the region

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CT: What new sustainability measures have been the most effective?
MN: The hotel sector accounts for around 1% of global carbon emissions. Many organisations have made external net zero or carbon neutral commitments in recent years, including 90% of IHG’s top global accounts. We have launched a series of impactful measures in this area, including the ‘IHG Green Engage’ environmental management system to track, measure and report on energy, water and waste across our hotels.

The ‘IHG Green Engage’ system offers 200 green solutions to improve sustainability practices at property level

We have made it a global standard for all hotels to utilise the IHG Green Engage platform and we recognise their progress through four levels of certification. We are proud to share that IHG Green Engage was named as one of the top five most viewed digital resources in the US Department of Energy’s Better Building Solution Center in 2021.

To make the process seamless for our hotels, we have partnered with Schneider Electric to rollout an above-property automated utility data-entry solution.

CT: Should hotels or governments set sustainability targets and policy within hotels?
MN: For governments to set targets, we would need industry level standards in different areas of sustainability. Standardisation is a topic of critical importance that comes up in virtually every conversation we have as an industry, as well as the customer forums that we have, and we are actively trying to better harmonise all of these efforts.

Recently we have committed to a white paper on ‘Transitioning our existing hotels to Net Carbon Zero’ alongside ARUP, Gleeds and Schneider Electric. We are currently also holding discussions with governments and industry bodies across the EMEAA region to discuss how our commitments support their overarching sustainability objectives.

We’re committed to playing an active role, including co-ordinating our efforts with the World Travel Tourism Council (WTTC), and supporting the Sustainable Hospitality Alliance (SHA) and the world’s top hotel groups to collaborate for the greater good.

CT: Have you seen a visible shift in consumer sentiment towards sustainability?
MN: In a global study commissioned by IHG, we found that 83% of consumers would choose a hotel brand that operates responsibly, with guests willing to spend on average 31% more on accommodation that meets this need.

In response to this growing appetite for more eco-friendly stays, some search engines and OTAs are now highlighting hotels’ environmental credentials.

Google now labels hotels meeting its sustainability criteria as ‘Eco-certified’ and Booking.com applies its ‘Travel Sustainable’ badge to hotels

This attention to how a hotel operates is shared across corporate and leisure guests, with an increasing number deciding whether to book a stay based upon a property’s carbon footprint and sustainable practices, as well as how it supports its local communities. It’s a trend that will continue to accelerate.

CT: How do you communicate your sustainability standards with potential customers?
MN: We continually communicate with our stakeholders – which includes our guests – via various channels, owned and paid for, including websites, social media pages, and industry and consumer media. We also report on our sustainability efforts in our annual reports. Lastly, we always try to communicate and collaborate with our hotel guests directly. For example, this can be through reminders to conserve water or energy during their stay, or by raising awareness of local ingredients through our food menus.

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