Stephen Farrant, director of the International Tourism Partnership (ITP) reflects back on 20 years of the organisation that has been leading the sustainable and responsible agenda in the hotel industry.
It was in the wake of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (the original Rio Earth Summit) that the International Hotels Environment Initiative (now known as the International Tourism Partnership (ITP)), was formed.
Over the last two decades, ITP has grown and evolved as part of the International Business Leaders Forum, a not-for-profit registered in the UK and US, and with offices in China, India and Russia.
Twenty years on, this is a good moment to reflect on what has been achieved up to now, and what still remains to be done.
What is ITP?
ITP is a unique industry partnership, whose role is to act as the voice for environmental and social responsibility in the global hospitality industry.
The hospitality businesses that established ITP recognised that they had a choice to make. They could either choose to ignore the environmental and social implications of their businesses and pursue economic development at all costs. Or they could use their collective might to find and communicate ways of doing business differently.
And so ITP was born.
While the precise language used may have changed over the years, the mission of this small not-for-profit organisation with a global reach has remained remarkably constant. Back in the early 1990s the ‘sustainability’ agenda was in its infancy, whereas today every major company has a corporate responsibility function, and ‘green’ initiatives are ubiquitous.
So what have been the accomplishments, lessons and developments along the way that have kept the partnership together for so long?
What have we learned over the years?
When tackling some of the world’s greatest social and environmental challenges, finding the best solutions that already exist and then taking them to scale remains the holy grail for many organisations, whether they be businesses, NGOs, governments or multinational agencies.
It has often been said that if we took the best in class and made it the norm tomorrow, we would be half way there already. ITP has always had a key role in highlighting and encouraging best practice in environmental and social responsibility across the industry, and that role continues to this day.
When asked what ITP has contributed to Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Alex Leclerc, associate director of global citizenship for Europe and the MIddle East acknowledged that, "the ITP has been a valuable platform for best practices – this has been a source of inspiration and motivation, strengthening our commitment to doing the right thing for the environment and communities in which we operate".
Founding member and chairman Ian Carter of Hilton Worldwide says that "we’ve enjoyed membership for many years; we feel that ITP has represented our industry very well on a number of issues that actually pertained to all of the members rather than individual companies".
However, over the years we have also learned that best practice alone is not enough to drive real change.
There has to be action to match the words. So ITP has also developed a range of practical opportunities for companies (at whatever stage they may be on their sustainability journey) to engage with the big issues and take the next step forwards.
Examples include our Youth Career Initiative (YCI), Going Green, the Environmental Management for Hotels and Sustainable Siting, Design and Construction publications, and more recently, the Hotel Carbon Measurement Initiative (HCMI), a major collaborative programme that ITP leads in partnership with the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC).
Yvo de Boer, formerly executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and now special global advisor on climate change and sustainability at KMPG, says that the HCMI initiative "ensures that hotels are aligned in their approach to carbon measurement, which is a vital step in addressing the challenge".
For Inge Huijbrechts, director of responsible business at The Rezidor Hotel Group, the ITP "gets people around a table to discuss sustainability openly, whilst also coming up with practical solutions".
"This is unique; in the industry organizations of the motor industry sustainability was on the agenda mostly from a government relations perspective, but here you see genuine exchange and a platform for sharing information.”
And more than this, we also know that, in some areas of the broad, complex and fast-moving sustainability agenda, there may not always be suitable best practice in existence that we can point to.
That is one of the reasons why ITP is also now putting an increasing emphasis on forming and co-ordinating a range of thematic working groups, so that through collaboration we can work with the industry to co-create new practical solutions (for example, in areas such as water, supply chain and human trafficking), where none may currently exist.
Ed Fuller, former president of Marriott International adds: "What’s unique about ITP is the consolidation of the competitive membership and the cooperative spirit they have displayed in all efforts, alongside the acceptance of ITP and partnerships by other organizations such as WTO and WTTC."
It's an opinion shared by those organisations on the other side of the coin; Neill Wilkins from Staff Wanted Initiative, a joint project between the Institute of Human Rights and Business and Anti-Slavery International says he's "very pleased with the level of engagement at the UK government roundtable on human trafficking and it certainly seems that ITP has played no small part in organising the hotel industry around this agenda".
What have been some of the milestones along the way?
Published in 1993 and now in its third printing, the Environmental Management for Hotels, a comprehensive guide to quality environmental management, remains one of the industry’s leading reference texts;
Since 1995, Green Hotelier magazine (now online at www.greenhotelier.org) has been the leading voice regarding the sustainable and responsible agenda in the hospitality industry;
In 2004 we launched the Youth Career Initiative (YCI), a six-month work and life skills programme for disadvantaged young people, delivered through a unique partnership with the hotel industry and local community NGOs;
In 2005, ITP published the Sustainable Hotel Siting and Design Guidelines, on the back of industry demand;
In 2007 ITP launched its Going Green guide, a free and easy-to-follow framework for the wider hospitality industry;
In 2010 ITP launched its first working group on sustainable certification schemes. Since then ITP has led numerous working groups on issues such as human trafficking, carbon measurement, and the importance of sustainability criteria in corporate procurement;
In 2010, the US State Department began funding the YCI programme to help support the re-integration of survivors of human trafficking into work and society;
In 2011 the Hotel Carbon Management Initiative was launched in partnership with the World Travel and Tourism Council (a unique collaborative initiative to unite hotel industry efforts to calculate and communicate carbon emissions from guest rooms and meeting space in a uniform way);
In 2012, YCI began operating in its 12th country (India), with the active support of Accenture and the HIFI hotel investment conference;
ITP now has 16 corporate members with a collective reach of over 23,000 properties, more than 3.4 million rooms and 1.5 million employees in over 100 countries worldwide