Hospitality Industry Needs to Expand Sustainability Program Participation

By Jennifer Moon

The largest hotel companies have all launched sustainability or corporate responsibility programs. The programs feature significant similarities and differences. This post provides an overview of how the programs of the top firms compare.

The top five hotel companies (by number of hotel rooms) are Intercontinental Hotels Group, Marriott International, Wyndham Worldwide, Hilton Worldwide and Accor.  Combined these hotel groups represent over 23,000 hotels (about 3 million hotel rooms) worldwide—suggesting the large potential impact the global hospitality industry can make.  The table below summarizes how these hotel companies have structured their sustainability programs.

Hotel sustainability/responsibility programs have two principal pillars: social and environmental.

Social. Why should hotel companies care about developing social components to their sustainability strategies?  Hotels are social hubs that bring people to destinations.  This makes hotels responsible for the impact they have on surrounding communities. Hotel brands tend to place importance on supporting economies of developing countries within which their hotels are located.  All five companies have invested in education and training programs for their associates.  In addition, IHG and Wyndham both offer degree programs for hospitality management studies.  IHG, Hilton and Accor also emphasize the importance of ethics and preserving cultures through their philanthropic aid programs. Accor stands out from the group with the broadest social program, one that supports several human rights campaigns.  Hotel companies seem to take the ”social” aspect of the triple bottom line strategy quite seriously.  I was impressed to find that these hotel companies offer such robust support of social initiatives.

Environmental.  Environmental programs are at the forefront of hotel sustainability.  Aiming to reduce a hotel’s ecological footprint is at the heart of all environmental sustainability efforts for hotel companies. With the exception of Hilton, all of the other companies engage in sustainability reporting. Accor was the first in the group to issue a sustainability report, starting in 2006. Most hotel sustainability reports provide sustainability metrics that assess the environmental impact of the company’s hotels— by measuring energy, water and waste.  IHG, Wyndham and Hilton have developed proprietary systems that help measure and report environmental footprint data, but requires data input from individual hotels in order to be used as an effective sustainability measurement tool.

Sustainability and Franchising

Not all the properties under these brands actually participate in the brands’ sustainability programs.  Why not? The answer can be found in the operating structure of the hotel business.  Many hotels that bear the name of a brand are often franchised.  In the event a property is franchised but managed by the hotel brand then participation can be widespread.  However, when a property is solely franchised it gets increasingly more difficult to mandate participation in reporting programs.  Wyndham, for example, where 99.6% of the properties are franchised (based on 2010), is positioning their investments in the right direction by engaging stakeholders through establishing the Green Franchisee Advisory Board.  I strongly believe that as sustainability practices get more refined, the next frontier for hotel companies to tackle will be 100% participation from their franchised properties.


Jennifer Moon is currently pursuing a M.S. of Sustainability Management at Columbia University and holds a B.S. in Hotel Administration from Cornell University.  She works in hotel operations at The New York Palace hotel.

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