How facing the critics helped hotels drive sustainability: The development of the Hotel Water Measurement Initiative

Siobhan O'Neill, Editor of Green Hotelier tells us what happens when you get 15 responsible businesses into a room with some of their strongest critics.

Back in 2012 the International Tourism Partnership (ITP) worked with 23 global hotel groups to create the Hotel Carbon Measurement Initiative (HCMI), a way of taking definitive action on the critical issue of the industry's carbon footprint. Collaborating to agree a standardised approach to measuring CO2, by guest room, stay or meeting, the working group produced a way for the industry to benchmark its performance for the first time. 

Today over 24,000 hotels worldwide use the HCMI to measure and report their CO2, paving the way for study, comparison, benchmarking and new technology development to drive down consumption.

HCMI's success meant that by 2015, ITP’s members were eager to take further steps forward in sustainability with a new project. So 2014, ITP began a stakeholder engagement exercise, surveying over 200 industry stakeholders including campaigning groups, unions, charities and business organisations to map out their thoughts on the issues they saw as of most concern.

It swiftly became clear that labour rights and water were the top two issues stakeholders felt hotels urgently needed to address.  But did the two sides understand each other?  A private event at World Travel Market 2014 hosted by ITP sat many of these concerned stakeholders in the same room as ITP hotel members.

Of course, some members were nervous about coming together with groups which had been critical in the past, but the event proved to be an eye-opener for everyone involved. In the spirit of learning and collaboration, stakeholders steered clear of criticism and hotel groups listened to their concerns, sought to understand the issues and then worked with them to seek solutions they could act on. Everyone left the event feeling positive that concerns had been acknowledged and hotels would act to improve their performance.

But what significant action could ITP’s members take together to decisively move things forward on water, which had emerged as the most critical issue? ITP Director Fran Hughes, speaking to the American Hotel and Lodging Association in November 2014 about the stakeholder engagement process, declared that what was needed was ‘an HCMI for water’.

ITP once again rolled up its shirtsleeves, and began working with hotel groups committed to strong sustainability practice to develop a standardised way to measure and report, this time on water consumption.  Over the following year and a half, 18 member and non-member companies collaborated to agree the different sources and uses of water that will be included in the metric, how to allocate water between guest rooms and meeting space and what to report on. Stakeholders were consulted at strategic stages to ensure the methodology addresses their concerns.

The Hotel Water Measurement Initiative (HWMI) launches on 31 August, during World Water Week on 31 August, after which all the companies involved will roll the metric out across their portfolios. With consistent measuring in place, this will bring comparison and benchmarking in play, encouraging and helping hotels to improve their performance on water consumption in the future.

Heeding your critics and taking on board their concerns can be daunting, but responsible businesses have to step outside their bubble to really understand the global issues they’re part of, and to discover the most effective solutions. Demonstrate that you’re willing to listen, and your critics can become your supporters.