InterContinental Hotels Group CEO Keith Barr: the sustainability superstar

by James Wilkinson

InterContinental Hotels Group’s CEO, Keith Barr, wants the global hospitality leader to become the champion when it comes to reducing waste and protecting the environment, writes James Wilkinson in London.

InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) has taken its anti-plastic commitment one step further by transitioning to bulk-size bathroom amenities over the next two years.

The move is part of IHG CEO Keith Barr’s broader sustainability agenda and will see the chain become the first global hotel business to commit all brands to removing bathroom miniatures.

He said it was important that corporations – no matter their business – took a stand to help reduce landfill across the planet.

Barr said while Governments across the world did not do enough to help reduce global waste, it was essential that corporations – as seen by fellow hospitality giants Accor, Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott and Wyndham – made the move to reduce as many single-use plastic items as they could because “every little bit helps”.

“It’s more important than ever that companies challenge themselves to operate responsibly,” Barr said. “We know it’s what our guests, owners, colleagues, investors and suppliers rightly expect.

IHG is removing bathroom miniatures from 843,000 guest rooms globally

“Switching to larger-size amenities across more than 5,600 hotels around the world is a big step in the right direction and will allow us to significantly reduce our waste footprint and environmental impact as we make the change.

“We’ve already made great strides in this area, with almost a third of our estate already adopting the change and we’re proud to lead our industry by making this a brand standard for every single IHG hotel.

“We’re passionate about sustainability and we’ll continue to explore ways to make a positive difference to the environment and our local communities,” he said.

Barr said the move would affect almost 843,000 guest rooms globally and IHG would remove some 200 million bathroom miniatures in use across its entire company every year.

One of the keys to success, Barr said, was the quality of bathroom amenities manufactured by the world’s leading suppliers had reached a level where bulk-sized and refillable items could be procured for all of IHG brands.

“I’m happy with the quality and confident the products will work for all of our brands,” Barr said.

IHG’s CEO Keith Barr wants the company to champion sustainability globally

He said as the new brand standard is adopted between now and 2021, the company expects to see a significant reduction in plastic waste.

Barr said this commitment builds on IHG’s pledge to remove plastic straws from its hotels by the end of 2019, and a number of broader waste reduction initiatives already in place.

In October 2018, Barr announced IHG would remove single-use plastic straws from its hotels globally by the end of 2019, a move that would see an average of 50 million straws removed from IHG’s hotel estate each year, enough to stretch all the way from New York to Tokyo.

“IHG is in almost 100 countries and we touch the lives of millions of people each day,” he said. “This gives us a responsibility to protect the environment and an opportunity to make a real difference.

“There is always more we can do to minimise waste, but the work we’re doing to reduce single-use plastic is a powerful example of how we can come together with guests, owners and colleagues to drive positive change.

“This work is not going unrecognised. Very recently we were named an industry leader on the Dow Jones Sustainability Indices for the second year running, which is a real point of pride for us and recognition of the hard work and dedication of our people and partners around the world,” Barr said.

IHG staff removing waste from the banks of the River Thames in London

Barr said IHG remains a constituent of the FTSE4Good Index, and recently joined the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Circular Economy 100 network, signalling its commitment to working with cross-industry partners to build a more sustainable world.

Switching to bulk-size amenities is a tried and tested approach at IHG, according to Barr: “Whether for business or leisure, hotel guests increasingly want their stays to be more sustainable without any impact on the quality of their experience.”

Several IHG brands are already achieving Barr’s goals today, part of the reason the CEO was able to initiate a company-wide commitment.

Six Senses Hotels Resorts Spas offers bathroom products in refillable ceramic dispensers across its entire luxury estate, whilst Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants are already moving to larger-size amenities.

IHG’s voco Hotels, EVEN Hotels and avid hotels brands have all offered bulk-size amenities since launch, working closely with suppliers to offer dispensers and products that retain a quality feel.

More than 1,000 Holiday Inn Express hotels in the Americas have already been implementing the change, alongside a number of Staybridge Suites and Candlewood Suites properties in the region.

More than just the removal of single-use plastics, the company and key brands are making a sustainable difference with several other initiatives.

voco is one of IHG’s most sustainable brands with brilliant hotels, including voco Kirkton Park

IHG’s voco Hotels brand works with suppliers to provide duvets and pillows that are filled with 100% recycled materials and this equates to 150 plastic bottles per guest room diverted from landfill.

IHG also has the Green Engage system, a well-established online sustainability program, which recommends ways for IHG branded hotels worldwide to manage their waste more effectively. This includes guidance on how hotels can handle, store, recycle and dispose of waste both on and off-site, to minimise environmental impact and costs.

Several IHG hotels have partnered with technology company Winnow to automatically track, measure and reduce food waste for more sustainable and efficient restaurant and bar operations. Winnow’s AI-enabled technology will help IHG hotels achieve a 30% reduction in food waste.

Through partnerships with Clean the World in the Americas and Soap for Hope in Asia, nearly 450 IHG-branded hotels have collectively prevented nearly 200,000kg of soap from going to waste. Instead of heading to landfill, the soap has been recycled into nearly three million new bars for redistribution to communities who need it the most.

IHG is also making a difference to local communities across the world.

Launched in collaboration with the IHG Owners Association, the Renovation Donation Initiative is an industry-leading effort which allows IHG-branded hotels in the US and Canada to manage the removal of furniture, fixtures and equipment during renovations by donating them to non-profit organisations, including United Way Worldwide and Good360.


British Airways staff with the airline’s retro Boeing 747-400

WAYFARER flew to London with British Airways. The great British airline flies to London and the author recommends flying in Club World (Business Class), which features flat-bed seats, hundreds of hours’ entertainment on demand, a great selection of wine and some of the best meals in the sky.

To find out what to expect in the British Airways Club World cabin as tested by James Wilkinson, click on the video below.