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Achieving Industry-wide Sustainability Benchmarking: Q&A with Denise Naguib

The global hospitality industry includes tens of thousands of hotels, but lacked a consistent way to calculate carbon footprints. That all changed in 2012, when hotel companies united to do the math, explains Denise Naguib, vice president of sustainability and supplier diversity at Marriott International.

Naguib will be discussing the benefits of industry-wide sustainability benchmarking at the 2017 Environmental Leader Conference in June. Recently we spoke with her to find out how competitors developed an ambitious carbon footprint methodology.

How is the hospitality industry approaching environmental, sustainability, and energy management?

There’s a lot of work happening around carbon, water, and now food waste. A few years ago, Marriott International connected with our competitors. The main subject was how do we effectively communicate our environmental metrics to customers in a way that’s consistent? We engaged two industry associations, the International Tourism Partnership and the World Tourism and Travel Council.

The first step was to align as an industry with a methodology to calculate a carbon footprint. Then customers have a way to compare. We worked across 23 hotel companies from all over the world, and the two associations. The methodology is called the Hotel Carbon Measurement Initiative (HCMI). Everybody took that and implemented it.

We wanted even the independent hotel to be able to calculate their carbon footprint. The industry group created a spreadsheet so anybody could take the data, plug it in, and get the same output. They did not have to have a full enterprise level tool. It’s free for every single hotel. For Marriott International, this became a brand standard tool.

How did you come together as an industry to work on the methodology?

We met on a monthly basis, either on the phone or in person. We had working sessions. The 23 hotel companies worked on the equation and the definitions. There is a lot of complexity. For example, if your laundry is getting sent off-site, how do you calculate for that? Your carbon for that laundry is not being accounted for, and would be putting another hotel that does have laundry on-site at a disadvantage. Even the square footage, which is the basis of the calculation, what is included? How do you deal with leased spaces? We went through all possible scenarios needed to figure out this calculation.

When and how did the methodology get adopted?

The launch of HCMI was 2012. Then one year from that point we all had to be in compliance. As part of this process, a group of hotel companies provided their portfolios of data to Cornell University and Greenview, a sustainability hospitality consulting company. They served as a blind trust, crunched the numbers, and developed an online tool called Hotel Footprinting. This allows us to benchmark against our competitors without having their data.

What are some examples of information you can provide to customers now?

The carbon footprint per occupied room is the primary metric. A customer can come to us at the individual hotel level and say, ‘What is the carbon footprint per occupied room for this hotel?’ or on aggregate across all the hotels they utilized in our system.

We get a full list from our sales team. For example, all the hotels a customer used across our system. We can roll up to them their total carbon footprint for their entire hotel portfolio stays with us.

Some customers use that data to charge internally for carbon, others report it through the Carbon Disclosure Project, and others use it as a competitive data point during RFP pricing season. They look at price, amenities, and carbon footprint is one of those metrics. Part of the outcome of the calculation was also a carbon footprint for meeting space, based on the size of the room and the number of hours that room was utilized.

How are the carbon footprint calculations made?

This is an aggregate, average data point across a 12-month rolling period. We don’t have submeters in every room or ballroom. It also takes out the seasonality. So if you happen to be hosting a meeting in Palm Springs in August versus in January, the data will be reflective of the 12 month average. It takes away the peaks and valleys of factors like weather and occupancy.

What has the introduction of these calculations meant for Marriott International?

We are able to respond to our customers’ requests for this data set. We have customers trying to get to net zero carbon by a certain time period. As a supplier, it’s really important that we understand that.

We have almost 6,000 hotels around the world. The benchmarking with Cornell and Greenview has given them visibility to how they are doing against competitors. I can be a Hyatt across the street from a Marriott and know if my building is running more or less efficient than the other building. There are ways to use that to help support ROI projects.

Lastly, we report our own carbon footprint as a company. We have been reporting against our carbon reduction targets for years through the Carbon Disclosure Project, and we have suppliers that push CDP Supply Chain to us. We’re all doing the math the same way. It has helped us to make sure investors know we’re paying attention to this.

What’s next for sustainability measurements in your industry?

The same group got together and worked on the Hotel Water Measurement Initiative (HWMI). And then we’re doing industry work with WWF and Rockefeller Foundation on food waste. The next big thing are Science-Based Targets. There was work we did as an industry to understand if the calculations being created address our building types versus commercial buildings because we are 24 hours.

What does the hotel experience of the future look like from a sustainability perspective?

A lot of it is already the hotel of today — digitally-enabled to remove the transactional so individuals can be connected personally. Having mobile check-in and check-out potentially eliminates the need for computer stations, physical infrastructure, key cards, receipts, even space for lobbies.

Customization is going to be more embedded within the hotel experience. Everyone always complains about cold hotel guest rooms. They go in and crank the heat. That room can be ready and waiting at the temperature you want it. From a sustainability perspective, it’s more mindful of individual needs.

Denise Naguib will be speaking at the Environmental Leader Conference in Denver June 5-7, 2017. Her keynote panel, Three Roads Converge – Environmental, Sustainability and Energy Management: Collaboration and Connectivity in Successful Corporate Initiatives, starts at 8:45 am on June 6.

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