In 2007, the InterContinental Hong Kong wanted to increase its sustainable measures and programs, so it formed a “green committee” to attend to all aspects of environmental impact—a move that resulted in InterContinental Hong Kong becoming the first hotel in the city and also the first property within InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) globally to achieve Gold certification through EarthCheck, a strenuous environmental certification and benchmarking platform for the travel and tourism sector. Gold is its highest level.
“In recent years, Hong Kong businesses have been more environmentally aware, so we began looking at what we could do to ensure we run an environmentally responsible business,” says Harvey Wong, head of InterContinental Hong Kong’s green committee and its director of engineering. With that goal in mind, the green committee decided to adopt an international sustainability standard to guide its efforts, and EarthCheck fit the bill. “There is simply no shortcut in the EarthCheck certification process,” Wong says of the hotel’s efforts, which took six years, “but the achievement was worth the effort.”
The hotel’s sustainable initiatives all fall into one of four categories: recycling, energy efficiency, green purchasing and environmental activities, and community engagement. For the first category, the InterContinental chose to focus on waste reduction and recycling in its kitchen facilities. The hotel worked to accurately forecast business levels to reduce food waste. Additionally, the hotel donates untouched whole-fruit items daily to a local charity called the FoodLink Foundation. The hotel also gives used food waste to two local organizations to be used as fertilizer and fish feed, and used cooking oil goes to local company Dynamic Progress for conversion to biodiesel. Also recycled are aluminum cans, plastic, paper, and glass through the Hong Kong Hotels Association and a local factory that runs a program converting glass bottles to tiles. “Our total general waste in the first 10 months of 2013 was reduced by over 10 percent versus the same period in 2011, and we recycled over 20 percent of total garbage in weight in 2012,” Wong says.
In order to achieve EarthCheck certification, the hotel had to look at energy efficiency. Wong’s team converted guest rooms, corridors, and back-of-house areas to LED lights; installed a steam-based heat-recovery system to preheat cold water before it enters a boiler; and moved the hotel’s signature three-temperature spa pools to a heat-pump system. In addition, the team implemented a building-management system that monitors and controls the building’s HVAC systems to use energy more efficiently. Wong says that with the energy-saving solutions in place, in two years the hotel reduced energy consumption by nine percent even though occupancy levels were higher in 2013 than in 2011.
Materials selection played a very large part in achieving certification. The hotel uses environmentally friendly products including FSC-certified paper products, biodegradable plastic bags, and cleaning products that are free of chemicals and pesticides; it also purchases sustainable seafood and food items from local farms. “In addition, on an ongoing basis, we offer the option of a low-carbon menu and sustainable seafood menu for our banquet and event guests, and we serve low-carbon dishes in our staff cafeteria,” Wong says.
The green committee organizes and participates in activities within the hotel and the community, including the annual Green Power Hike and Tree Planting Challenge, which are fundraising activities for local environmental protection organizations. In April 2013—“green month” at InterContinental Hong Kong—the hotel offered a sustainable seafood seminar, a low-carbon cooking class, an upcycle workshop, and organized a fundraising campaign and video contest with the Clean Air Network and EarthCheck to increase awareness about air pollution in Hong Kong, among other activities.
One of the benefits of following the EarthCheck guidelines, Wong says, is measurability. “Not only do we have exacting standards to follow, but we’re also able to monitor how well we’re doing and to identify the areas for improvement through benchmarking our environmental performance with the EarthCheck global database every year,” he says. “We’re also audited by EarthCheck’s independent third party auditor on-site every two years.”
And guests notice that the hotel is greener. “We often receive both compliments and suggestions from our guests regarding our green efforts, and the feedback helps motivate us,” Wong says. “We’re now planning another environmental campaign for the community for 2014.”
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