Ethical Performance
inside intelligence for responsible business
 
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interview

Making room for CSR

July 2014

InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) may be an internationally recognised hotel brand but its business model is actually asset light in that it only directly owns 9 hotels worldwide. However, within the IHG portfolio there are in fact 4,700 establishments. Kate Gibson, head of CR and sustainability, tells Ethical Performance about the challenge of instigating CR policy and change in such a multi-layered business.

How did you get interested in the field?
I joined IHG eight years ago on the business strategy side and joined the CR team in 2011. But it’s been a subject I’ve been passionate and interested all my life. I was in the environmental club at school, have worked as a volunteer and was also involved in doing pro bono work as a management consultant.

How important is CR to IHG?
The CR function was set up at IHG in 2006 and is a strategic issue for the company. It’s no bolt-on here. It’s built on the foundation of shared value: what’s good for the business, should be good for the community and good for the environment.

What’s your approach to CR?
Our starting point is doing a small amount of things and doing them well. They also have to be directly related to the business. What we’re saying to our hotels is: this will help your business, there is no trade-off. We have three specific programmes that are founded on our vision of shared value: Green Engage, the IHG Academy and IHG Shelter in a Storm.

Give us more details about the three programmes.
Energy is the number two cost for the hotel business model. This can drive a hotel’s top line so Green Engage is our online sustainability system which tells hotels what they can do to be a ‘green’ hotel. It gives them the means to conserve resources and save money – by measuring, managing and reporting on their hotel energy, water and waste consumption, as well as benchmarking and the ability to create action plans to track progress. There’s no trade off in taking actions associated with Green Engage. It can help our hotels achieve energy savings of up to 25%, roughly $90,000 for an average hotel. Over 2,600 hotels are now enrolled in it.

Staff is the number one cost for a hotel, it is a people business after all. So IHG Academy is all about a sustainable talent pipeline. IHG Academy provides local people with skills development and employment opportunities in one of the world’s largest hotel companies. Within a common framework each IHG Academy is tailored to meet the needs of local communities and hotels. The Academy was pioneered in Greater China and the framework is now globalised.

The IHG Shelter in a Storm programme provides our hotels with guidance on when and how best to respond when disasters occur. The IHG Shelter Fund is a pool of resources built up by fundraising activities throughout the year, allowing us to respond as soon as disaster strikes.

Isn’t the Academy simply a HR tool?
It’s both HR and CR. That’s the shared value network at work. No trade off at all and people are fundamental to our business. That’s why it is so compelling.

Given your business model, how widespread are the programmes?
Currently there are 313 programmes running in 52 countries. And running in hotels of different sizes. Obviously the aim is for all IHG to be involved but like all our programmes, they are not mandated. They need to see the benefits of scale, so we share stories of impact and also the impact data.

How do you try and engage the different layers of the business?
We publicise this via our CR report, our Facebook page, and through case studies. There are lots of opportunities to engage with employees. Success lies in the combination of data and stories. We find that data puts the programme in context. The data is the call to action. We have teams on the ground and operational people to spread the message as well as digitally. We also have IHG Associations which meet regularly and show that ‘we’re all in this together’.

How engaged are people within the IHG family with the IHG brand?
One thing I’ve noticed is how people who work in, for example, a Holiday Inn Express in Mexico say they work for IHG. There is a strong connection to IHG and we want it to bind our people together. It helps found the idea that there are benefits to joining us and shows, in part, the scale of the company.

What’s your biggest challenge?
Working within the layers of the business. We are in a complex business for sure, and that creates challenges but also huge opportunities for making a positive impact. We intend to roll out our programmes in as many hotels as we can. The targets in our sustainability report are our true north.

What’s been one of the biggest changes you’ve seen?
Carbon engagement – that’s really evolved in the hotel sector. It’s changed from guests asking ‘how green are you’ to the more specific: ‘what is the carbon consumption of your room per night?’
The issue has become more mainstream and there’s a lot more interest in this area. Customers have the power to pull and have become part of the decision-making. It will make business move faster on these issues in the sector.

What’s your ambition now?
My long term ambition is for as many of our hotels to use our programmes as possible. What gives me hope, in IHG, is how we generate momentum and how the scale of our company generates more and more momentum. Green Engage is a very good example.  




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