This summer, InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) became the first major hotel player to ban miniature bathroom amenity bottles and complete a companywide transition to bulk-size formats. The move, which is set to go into effect across more than 5,600 IHG properties worldwide by 2021, builds on the company's pledge to remove plastic straws from its hotels by the end of 2019. Hotels editor Christina Jelski recently caught up with Catherine Dolton, IHG's vice president for global corporate responsibility, to discuss the company's single-use plastics crackdown as well as what's next on the sustainability horizon.
Q: How has the transition to bulk-size bathroom amenities gone so far, and are there any unexpected challenges you've encountered as you target a companywide rollout?
A: We have had to work really closely with our owners, and obviously, being predominantly a franchise-model business, it really matters to us that they're onboard. It's been a really collaborative process, and from an owner perspective, it's been an educational process, as well, as we're asking them to invest a little bit more up front when it comes to changing some of those fixtures and fittings.
There's actually a lot to consider when it comes to the standard operating procedure of a wider rollout, in terms of how often you refill the bottles, how you ensure safety from a guest contamination perspective and at what point you clean them or are better off replacing them altogether. How do you find the right product and bottle for each brand or market and make sure those products still look attractive? And in regard to the housekeeper trolleys, they're also going to have to be adapted to carry the bulk-size bottles rather than the miniature bottles. So there's a lot to think about.
Q: How has guest feedback been thus far? And how much of the industry's sustainability progress has been shaped by public perception?
A: You're always going to get some people who love to take the little miniatures home and use them next time they go on vacation. But in the vast majority of cases, the feedback has been really positive.
I think market by market, there are regulations that are driving some changes, but it's not universal. In individual cities in China, for example, there are some new rules that have come in about single-use plastic in bathrooms. But overall, I think that we're looking to really lead the way and take more of a future-looking strategy when it comes to waste. We know issues like sustainability matter more and more to our individual and corporate guests.
Q: While plastics have been at the forefront of the industry's recent environmental efforts, where else is IHG looking to focus its sustainability efforts?
A: We're thinking about how we can really equip our hotels with tools to help them reduce food waste. It's a huge issue in terms of cost at the hotel level as well as water and energy efficiency. We're working in a number of hotels to pilot a system to manage and monitor food waste. We're doing it in partnership with a technology company called Winnow, which uses artificial intelligence that uses cameras and basically scans any food waste and can help chefs better plan ahead. So, when food comes back in from a table or from a buffet line, it gets scraped into a special bin with cameras and scales on it. And if you are the head chef at a hotel with a breakfast buffet every day, it will help to analyze what is going to waste from that buffet.
We think that it could help to reduce food waste by around 30% at some of our bigger hotels. We've got about half a dozen hotels that we are piloting in at the moment, predominantly in the Europe, Middle East, Asia and Africa regions. It's gaining momentum, and we're having discussions about potentially rolling out all the way to China and the Americas regions, as well.