Intercontinental Hotel Group is the third largest hotel chain globally , with 754,265 rooms in 5,099 hotels spread across each region of the world. IHG franchises over 4,000 of these hotels and operates 824 themselves .
Climate Change Risks Threatening IHG
As a result of their global footprint and intensive building management requirements, they will inevitably be effected by climate change in 3 key ways:
- Given their global scope, they will inevitably face regulation on properties in specific countries, whether that be cap and trade rules or carbon taxes.
- Their consumers will demand a certain level of sustainability from their services or else they will opt to work with competitive hotel groups.
- Since infrastructure is their livelihood and appetite for travel drives their revenues, they will be negatively impacted by both the increased prevalence of natural disasters and the rising sea levels that threaten their properties in low-lying cities.
Going Green One Guest at a Time
In order to mitigate these issues IHG has already taken a number of steps to work towards a more sustainable business model. First, and most importantly, they opted to lower their water and energy consumption and carbon emissions rather than pay carbon taxes in order to continue operating at their current standards. They set water and carbon reduction targets for their entire portfolio of hotel brands for 2013-2017: 12% reduction in carbon footprint per occupied room and 12% reduction in water use per occupied room in water-stressed areas. In 2015 they achieved a 3.9% reduction in their carbon footprint per occupied room, a 4.8% reduction of water consumption per occupied room in water-stressed areas, and a cost savings of $86M through the implementation of 34,389 green solutions.
They also created the IHG Green Engage system, which compiles online carbon, energy and water usage data, in order to better enable their hotels to manage consumption and take action to reduce consumption over time. IHG Green Engage also recommends over 200 green solutions such as
- Switching to energy efficient lighting
- Installing low flow bathroom fixtures
- Harvesting rainwater
- Using energy efficient appliances 
Additionally, some hotels have partnered with third parties to recycle used toiletries and distribute them to communities in need . Finally, Holiday Inns in America have asked their guests to be more environmentally friendly, by offering them points from the IHG Rewards Club, their loyalty program, in reward for participating in their “A Greener Stay” program, which minimizes housekeeping services .
Changing the Sheets but Not the Bed: Recommendations for How IHG Can Get Structural with its Green Initiatives
While their actions are laudable, they are mostly cosmetic and non-binding. Their goals are not enforced through any strict policies and all green initiatives are suggestions, rather than requirements, from IHG corporate. Additionally, their goals are pretty moderate as they aim to reduce usage by only 12% and only in specific regions for water consumption.
IHG should work on more impactful changes that require structural changes to business operations, not just improvements upon the existing model. For instance, instead of just replacing incandescent bulbs with LED bulbs, they should wire rooms to require key cards to be inserted into the wall to activate the lights. This feature is common across hotels in Europe but is almost nonexistent in the United States, leading to wasted electricity when lights are left on while guests are out of their rooms. Additionally, instead of sending half-used mini-bottles of shampoo, conditioner, body wash, and lotion to communities in need, they should replace mini-bottles altogether with refillable installed toiletry canisters. This would reduce plastic waste and eliminate the need to transport their used toiletries to another location, which in it of itself necessitates the use of fuel and creates additional carbon emission.
Moreover, the largest contributor to carbon emission is the buildings themselves. IHG has 1,461 hotels in its pipeline. It should require that all of these hotel be LEED certified. It should also retrofit its existing buildings to improve insulation and water consumption. Without these more intensive changes they will never see meaningful reductions in their carbon, energy and water consumption.