Greening Hotel Restaurants with InterContinental Hotel Group’s Maury Zimring & Green Restaurant Association’s Michael Oshman

December 30, 2013

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome to another edition of Green is Good, and we’re so honored today to have Maury Zimring on. She’s the Director of Corporate Responsibility and Environmental Sustainability for InterContinental Hospitality Group. And, also, today with us, a return guest, Michael Oshman from the Green Restaurant Association. Welcome to Green is Good. MICHAEL OSHMAN: Thank you for having us. MAURY ZIMRING: Thank you. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Thank you both for being here. This is such a unique show. We’re so honored to have you both on with us. Maury, before we get into talking about ISG and all the great stuff you’re doing there, can you talk a little bit about Maury? Talk about your journey. How did you come to get this role and doing all the great work you’re doing at InterContinental Hotels Group? MAURY ZIMRING: Sure. The environment’s always been really important to me. I always wanted to work in some sort of field connected with environmental sustainability and when I first started out, that really meant that you were either working in the government sector or in the compliance role or on the nonprofit side so I started my career working at the U.S. Green Building Council doing LEED certification and really in the nonprofit side. From there, I realized that a lot of the companies I was working with were really interested in not just their building footprint but all things environmental sustainability. They were looking at their supply chain. They were looking at a much broader base of how to talk to enter that space and I got really excited about work and if you were on the corporate side and how to leverage economies of scale to have a really major impact on the environment so I went back to business school to get some more tools in my tool belt in order to enter the corporate sector and then started working at Coca-Cola on their sustainability and corporate responsibility initiatives and that led me to this role now with InterContinental Hotel Group working with all our properties. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That is great, and Coca-Cola has a very great reputation of sustainability and green and recycling and all those other kinds of things as well so you obviously learned at one of the greatest brands on the planet. MAURY ZIMRING: Yes, it was exceptional training in this space so I was very lucky for that experience. JOHN SHEGERIAN: And, Michael, for our listeners that didn’t have the opportunity to listen to your great show the first time you came on Green is Good, share a little bit about your journey and the great organization that you founded and run right now. MICHAEL OSHMAN: Wonderful. Thank you for having me again. Back in 1990, when the world was very polarized between the business and environmental sustainability and there wasn’t quite a green business movement yet, we really saw a need to come in and create environmental solutions that were practical and easily implementable within a particular sector and we saw that the restaurant industry was having such a large impact environmentally, one tenth of the American economy, largest consumer of electricity in the retail sector, so at the young age of 19, I actually listened to those older people and said go out and make a change and created the Green Restaurant Association 23 years ago to create easy solutions, reward the restaurants, create empirical standards, and make it feasible for consumers to eat with their values. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Unbelievable, and we’re so honored to have you back on again and both organizations are doing such important work and I think our listeners will understand the interrelationship between both as the show goes on. For our listeners out there that want to follow along, more than just listening to Maury and Michael as we go here, please do what I’m doing. I’ve got my iPad open and I’m on both their great websites at the same time. For InterContinental Hotel Group, it’s www.ihgplc.com and for Michael’s group, it’s DineGreen.com so listen, let’s kick this off and Maury, this one’s for you in terms of InterContinental Hotels and Resorts is now branding and maybe the first to brand their restaurants Certified Green Restaurants. What does that mean with regards to what Michael has already done in his career and the greening of restaurants, which seems to be a massive trend right now? What does that mean at InterContinental Hotel Groups and Resorts? MAURY ZIMRING: Great. For IHG, it’s probably helpful to know that we have nine brands within our portfolio and InterContinental Hotels and Resorts is one of those brands so across all of our brands, we have a program called IHG Green Engaged and it’s our holistic sustainability tool. We use it across more than 50% of our properties and growing and it looks at both data measurement, tracking, management, and reporting for all of our hotels but also provides them with green solutions, over 200 different things that our properties could implement to reduce water, to reduce waste, energy, and so on and that’s where the green restaurant certification came in, as one of those potential solutions that our properties could implement. We realized that the restaurant space on the property was a unique space different from the rest of the hotel. There’s a lot of potential energy, water, waste consumption and so there’s a lot of opportunity to do something about that and so rather than reinvent the wheel, we looked to Michael’s group and it’s a great certification system. It’s holistic just as Green Engage is, so it follows a similar theory and model to our own internal system so we used their certification as our recommendation for how our hotels can green their restaurant space so a few years ago, rather than just leave it as optional, we made the commitment for the particular InterContinental Hotel and Resort brand to certify all of their restaurants in the Americas and that’s when we really started partnering with Michael and his team to make sure that all of our restaurants were also on a sustainability journey with the rest of our hotels. JOHN SHEGERIAN: How many restaurants are we talking about? Because you have so many properties and as you said, there’s so many different branding opportunities. How many restaurants was this first tranche? MAURY ZIMRING: Now we have 26 different restaurants across the Americas who are certified with the Green Restaurant Certification. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Wow, and Michael, talk a little bit about your side of the equation because I think what we’re seeing now around the world but here in the United States are some of the greatest brands partnering together, collaborating to create relevant and important change and to do a lot of co-branding and co-marketing together around the change that they’re effectuating. Michael, talk a little bit about your side of the equation and how this relationship started and why it was important for the work that you do? MICHAEL OSHMAN: Wonderful. Well, about two years ago or three years ago or so, we started working with the Boston Hotel actually, which happens to be walking distance from our office here, a wonderful hotel with some wonderful restaurant, right on the water there and they kind of piloted this. I think there was already an interest in their food service leadership and they piloted it. After a year of success of this restaurant becoming certified, at an annual meeting they had me speak to the GMs of all the hotels of the brand and very soon after, the leadership brought on two years ago all of the restaurants, as Maury mentioned, and I have to say this and I don’t say it lightly: Making a commitment of that level for an entire brand, we’ve worked with hotels before but to have an entire brand make a commitment was unprecedented, especially a brand such as InterContinental and that was a first in the hotel arena. What’s even more impressive is they got all but one of the hotels. They got all of the restaurants certified in a year. We have single unit restaurants. Most restaurants take less than that but to get 26 restaurants in a hotel brand in a big company certified in a year made our internal team excited. We talked about InterContinental as a model of how other clients can work. It ended up that one of the restaurants rebranded. A couple things changed and they delayed the announcement a little bit but the reality is, had they not rebranded, the accomplishment would have been in a year and they did a phenomenal job, all the way from the top of their leadership down to the people implementing it on the ground and so we announced just a couple weeks ago the new announcement that the last dotting of the Is and crossing of the Ts happened recently and they are the first hotel chain not just to commit, but to actually have met the Certified Green Restaurant standard and they have restaurants at two star, they have restaurants at three star. They’ve done a phenomenal job and I don’t say that lightly. They really go down in history of the Green Restaurant Movement as the first hotel that has achieved this goal. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s awesome and again, for our listeners out there that want to follow all the great discussion that we’re having here with Maury and Michael, please go to www.dininggreen.com and www.ihgplc.com. Maury, I’m on your website right now and I hit the corporate responsibility button and it is just amazing what you’re doing with regards to environmental sustainability, your Green Engage video. This is really exciting stuff but I’m an outsider. When you started this program with Michael and the greening of these restaurants in the Americas, how was it received by your employees and your staff and how did you get engagement from within to start with? MAURY ZIMRING: We’ve been incredibly lucky because we have such amazing teams in the field and on property. IHG Green Engage, our internal program, launched in 2009 and it’s a voluntary program. We don’t at the moment require that our hotels participate and on their own, we have over 50% of the estate who joined on the sustainability journey, who participate in that program so they really understand that this is part of how we do business. It drives our employee engagement scores, which is incredibly important when you have really tough jobs on property and high turnover rates and this has actually great results to all of our corporate responsibility initiatives. Our properties understand that it reduces their cost. Energy costs are typically the number two line item for a hotel so they understand the business values and our customers really care about this so I think because it’s been such an integral part of how we make decisions as a business and how we go to market. We had great enthusiasm in teaming up with Michael’s group and taking this a step further to really look at the restaurant space. Every food and beverage director that I spoke with about this program was really excited about the opportunity to share sustainability with their specific food and beverage teams and highlight all the things that they could do together working with Michael’s group. JOHN SHEGERIAN: With 26, that’s a fascinating number from the standpoint where you get to both have all your managers and your leadership across those 26 share best practices as this got implemented but also compete with one another to get it done better, faster, more efficiently, and to succeed more. How does that work when you’re trying to build the kumbaya feeling and teamwork but you’re also potentially appealing to everybody’s love of competition? How did that work? MAURY ZIMRING: Well, certainly a little healthy competition never hurt. We have a great community in that hotels speak to each other quite regularly. They share best practices. They connect with each other so it’s a really happy camaraderie that they’re able to share and Michael, I don’t know if you have other perspectives from having worked with them. MICHAEL OSHMAN: There’s a couple things that worked well for InterContinental. One is the fact that Boston had already had such success. There was leadership within the Boston Hotel that the other managers could go to so they didn’t have to just rely on my presentation. They could go to somebody on the inside and say, ‘Is that right? Did you really save money? Are employees really excited about this?’ and they got to hear it from somebody who was one of their colleagues, not me, so I’d say that was one piece of success and there’s also, which I attribute to we always loved to bring as many restaurants on board as possible but there are definitely many times where it’s great to start with a few and leverage the success to the rest of the brand and I think that InterContinental did that in a very smart way. There’s also a second piece that must have to do with an internal culture at the hotel because even before we signed an agreement and there was just talk and it looked like things were happening, we had such excitement from these hotels. I remember getting a contact directly from somebody in one of the New York properties saying, ‘Okay, great. We’ve got our documents ready. We’re ready to go!’ They were so jazzed and we had to actually say to the gentleman, ‘Wonderful, just hold off a week. We’ll finalize it right now. We’ll create a strategy, ‘ That is the opposite problem that we normally have. The normal challenge is getting restaurants to submit the documentation. They’ll do it but they’re so busy that it ends up taking what normally could take a few days could take a few weeks and with InterContinental, a commitment is something but there’s a very big difference between implementing something in a year or two versus 10 and they not only got these incredible numbers, but these details. The 26 Certified Green Restaurants implemented 1,180 environmental steps over those 26 properties earning them 3,341 green points. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Unreal. So, this is a question for both of you. Michael, is this a new paradigm for your great organization that will now be replicated at other great hotel and hospitality brands and Maury, for you, is this now the beginning of a paradigm within your great brand that is now going to be spreading to some of your other restaurants within your other hotel properties? You can take it one at a time. Michael, why don’t you go first and then Maury? MICHAEL OSHMAN: Okay, wonderful. Thank you. What we found is there’s so many different sectors. There’s the education sector. There’s hotels. There’s fast food. There’s fine dining. There’s celebrity chefs. There’s sports stadiums and in the university sector, we definitely find that certain leaders have come on board and now we’ve got Harvard and Boston University, Northeastern, UCLA and some of the preeminent educational institutions but it always starts with one and then other people look to that one. I can’t tell you who it is yet but we just got a huge, huge, huge sports event and sports stadium that hopefully, will be announced in the next couple of months and that will likely leverage to other sports stadiums and I would say based upon our history, people will look to the InterContinental Hotels and Resorts and answer the question that is the biggest one that prevents people to act, which is does this really make business sense? And, when people see Mario Batali doing this, the other chefs follow. When people see InterContinental Hotel Group doing this, they say, ‘Gosh, that is a highly successful brand. They know what they’re doing and if they did this, then maybe our brand can do it too,’ so based upon precedence, I would say it’s very likely that InterContinental will see the leadership of their steps not only leveraging internally but also having an impact on the industry as a whole. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Maury, and how about for you? Do you see this as a shining light inside your brand and other restaurants within your other great properties are now going to take up this mantle and run with it as well? MAURY ZIMRING: Absolutely. I would expect for this to continue to grow for us. We’ve learned so much and Michael was spot on. When we have properties that can reach out to one another to find out how did this really work for you, what was the impact, what were the savings, it really changes the comfort, the ease of interest, the ability for our properties to feel like this is something they too can go after, so I think now that we’ve had so much success with the InterContinental Hotels and Resorts brand, it’s quite likely that other companies will catch on and will start to follow suit. We love to lead in this space so the more best practices and case study that we can share so others can join in, the better. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Let’s just go back, and for our listeners out there, I want them to understand in terms of the environment, what really was accomplished? So they can understand in these 26 restaurants, what are some of the understandable terms and vernacular that the general public who enjoys your restaurants, what was accomplished during this whole greening process? MAURY ZIMRING: I think there’s a couple key things for us. It’s a great way to look at the restaurant holistically so we’re able to look at waste reduction, both in terms of how much product the restaurant is bringing in so they’re doing appropriate ordering, and then how they’re managing the waste leaving the property, recycling, composting, really finding different solutions so that we’re not sending waste to landfill unnecessarily. There’s energy conservation measures, water conservation measures, local and organic sourcing. I think the great thing about this certification is that there’s a lot of opportunities to find reduction but there’s also flexibility so each restaurant is able to meet some base requirements and then find the right path and achieve the appropriate points to achieve certification but in a way that makes sense for them and that flexibility and that ability to be on a sustainable journey that has some customization is really important for the different restaurants, the different profiles, the different locations. JOHN SHEGERIAN: You know, Maury, it’s so fascinating because you are part of such a large organization and I’m on your website right now and it’s just a great website and again, for our listeners out there, it’s www.ihgplc.com and there’s so many areas, as you say, from biodiversity to waste to water to energy to climate and carbon. Does this leadership role that you’ve taken and this step off to greening these 26 restaurants, is it looked upon from the hotel ears with inside your organization and does this bleed over to inspiring the folks who run the rooms side of your business to further green their rooms and do more inside the hotel part of your business? MAURY ZIMRING: Absolutely. It does, and that’s something we’re so excited about, that the room side of our business and the food and beverage side of our business can have complementary goals and achievements and on the room side, we’ve really been focusing on our program that I mentioned, IHG Green Engage and it’s similar in that it looks at waste and water and carbon and really takes a holistic approach to environmental sustainability and there, our properties have also been on a similar journey, picking and choosing the right solutions that make sense for them, so we’ve seen everything from properties with rooftop gardens to solar to properties who are really doing best practices behind the scenes and finding great energy and water conservation measures so in that space, we’ve actually launched just a few weeks ago new targets for our entire estate so by 2017, we plan to reduce our carbon per occupied room by 12% and our water use in water stressed areas by 12% so we’re excited that we’ve now completed the green restaurant certification but also launched new targets for our hotel side of the operation to really strive for more reductions and more success. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Michael, you know, for you the business opportunity here, if I’m a guy that sits in a position similar to Maury’s at another great brand or if I’m a guy who owns a franchise of a smaller hotel or motel chain but of course, I have food in that chain, is it smarter now for me to call Michael Oshman and partner with your great organization to green my beverage and dining experience than go do this on my own? Is that just better practice now to collaborate with your great organization because of the experience that you have at this? MICHAEL OSHMAN: I’d love to answer the question, but do you mind if I say something about the environmental details of InterContinental’s accomplishments? JOHN SHEGERIAN: Absolutely. No, that’s why we’re here today. MICHAEL OSHMAN: Great. Just in some of the details and pulling up your listeners should know that every single restaurant of InterContinental and every certified restaurant has on the web free and accessible to every consumer to see exactly what they’re doing so I just went on to Barkley Bar and Grill InterContinental property in New York just to see what they were doing so I could share it with you and it’s available to you also. They’re a three-star restaurant with 237 points, and just to give the listeners an idea of what they’re doing for their 60 or 70 points that they’re implementing, over 80% of their lighting is LED, which is the most efficient non toxic lighting out there today. They’ve got pre-rinse spray valves that clean the pots and the pans with less than one gallon, which exceeds the legal limit. One point six is the max. They’re way, way, way under that. It’s a super efficient one. They’ve got touchless sensor faucets. They have one neat statistic in water where they serve water upon request, which seems like a very simple thing until you listen to the following statistic: Serving water only upon request provides an amazing method for consuming water, working to reduce the 410 billion gallons of ground and surface water withdrawn by the U.S. every day. In the U.S., an estimated 70 million meals are served in restaurants each day and if one quarter of the customers declined water service, 26 million gallons of fresh water would be saved every day/ That is a basic thing that every consumer at every restaurant can do and the statistics are phenomenal and we all know that not everybody drinks their water when they go to a restaurant. It’s a great opportunity also to save energy, to save chemicals so some of them are high tech solutions like LED or this restaurant is actually growing their food right on the premises, and some of them are just common sense that every single restaurant can do today so I encourage the listeners to look at all the other steps that they’re doing, the menu paper they’re using to the nontoxic chemicals to the zero-VOC paints, etcetera. To answer your question is it smarter to go it alone or is it smarter to kind of leverage what’s already been done: I gave a speech a few years back to a distributor conference called The Wild West of Green. We’re still a little bit in the wild west, meaning if you go it alone, you could hit the jackpot. You also could make a big mistake. For example, you could go after a cleaner that has lots of great green marketing. However, if you look at the details of it, unless you’re a chemist or unless it’s got a certification that’s trustworthy, you might end up with an awful chemical with really great packaging. Same thing with the takeout package. There are brown takeout packaging that I’ve seen in distributor’s guides labeled as green and I’ve had to tell them that particular packaging is actually bleached at virgin and they actually dyed it brown to make it look ‘green’ so this distributor was actually communicating that message unintentionally. They didn’t know so you could really end up in the wild west. Even on the lighting side right now, you can go after something that isn’t wrong but there’s a better solution. Instead of saving 30%, you could save 70%. Instead of getting a bulb that lasts X, you could get a bulb that lasts five times as long with a warranty so unless you do this every day, you can miss that opportunity, If you’re in New Jersey and you don’t know about the direct install program, you might not know that you can get 70% off of lighting and spray valves and all these things directly right off the bat and if you’re a restaurateur, you might not know that so it’s important generally leveraging success and it’s saving the restaurants time. It’s going to save them money and most importantly, it’s going to get them the products and services they’re actually after. We don’t care what napkin the restaurant uses. If they use this brand or that and so we’re able to kind of advocate based upon the mission and not what the distributor or somebody in particular is selling and the last piece is there’s only one way to communicate to the public what a business is doing. If a business says, ‘Hey, I’m doing this in my restaurant,’ that’s nice but you’re no different than the guy across the street who’s saying the same thing who might not be as trustworthy so it’s hard to distinguish so it’s really important in this day and age of greenwashing when the claim is made. At InterContinental Hotels and Resorts, the consumers can get more detail than most consumers want, which is not only what level of certification, how many points, how many steps, and what are all the steps that they’re doing, and they know that the restaurants are being recertified each year and that creates an incredible sense of confidence and brand awareness that this is now legit, that this is transparent down to the core and that really inspires people so yeah, I would say whether it’s in the restaurant industry or whether it’s people working in other fields, in the environmental world, we’re still in the place where it makes sense to leverage experience, not only in transparency. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s great, and we’re down to the last two minutes or so. Do you have any final thoughts for the listeners out there who want to join in on all the great work that you’re doing at InterContinental Hotels and what Michael’s doing? Share some of your last thoughts as well. MAURY ZIMRING: Yeah, for us I think Michael really hit it when talking about transparency because it’s all about really being able to share the story, share the ups and downs, the obstacles and the success and for us, that’s all about meeting our customer needs, letting our customers know exactly what we’ve been doing, all the details behind the scenes that we’re taking care of for them in terms of sustainability and then hearing from them what’s important to them in terms of sustainability at the hotel level so I think we will continue to share our story so that our customers know that they can stay with us confidently and what we hope for those who are listening in interest is that they continue to share with us what’s important to them about this space so that we can continue to meet their needs and have even more sustainable hotels at IHG. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Perfect, and for our listeners out there that want to learn more about Maury and Michael’s great organizations, please go to www.ihgplc.com and DineGreen.com. Maury Zimring and Michael Oshman, you’re both inspiring and visionary sustainability superstars and truly living proof that green is good.