Bringing together players from across the sector, the Zero Carbon Forum is the principal collaboration to set industry targets and define and implement a roadmap to lead the hospitality sector to net zero. We speak to CEO and founder Mark Chapman about the Forum’s progress so far.
Can you explain how the Zero Carbon Forum was formed and what its main aims are?
Over the last 10 years, I’ve worked with hospitality businesses to decarbonise. It’s an area often thought to be very complex. While it can be, there are a lot of things operators can do to pretty easily make an impact and reduce their emissions, just by understanding hot spots and causes. It became clear over time that the positive impact individual businesses can have becomes exponentially greater, and more timely, when we work together. So as more hospitality operators began to acknowledge our contribution to the climate crisis and make this a priority, we created the Zero Carbon Forum to create a space for us all to work together to do more, faster. It’s an amazing non-competitive, non-profit collaboration for some of the industry’s biggest competitors to come together in a really powerful statement that this crisis is bigger than any of us.
What progress have you made so far and how are you working to reach these goals?
We’re really proud to have some of the UK hospitality industry’s biggest operators on-board as active forum members. We’ve also set up an advisory board with Mike Berners-Lee, Mike Barry, Mark McGinn, and other prominent business and sustainability leaders, who guide the direction and strategy of the forum. We bring together all the CEOs on a quarterly basis to reconfirm our joint ambition, pace, and a top-down approach to integrating decarbonisation in every business. In addition to our quarterly all-member meetings, we’ve got three working groups, led by members, to address the biggest challenges facing operators across the industry. Working Group 1 focuses on consistent measurement, methodology and framework. Working Group 2 addresses scopes 1 and 2 greenhouse gas emissions, and Working Group 3 addresses scope 3 emissions. The Working Groups are getting started on a number of really powerful strategic collaborative initiatives, including how we define net zero, acceptable offsets, our industry switch-over to renewable energy, and credibly collecting and addressing our scope 3 data. All of our members openly support each other to share best practice and make sure we all move forward at a consistent pace. We’re really pleased with the progress this year so far, and it’s only picking up pace. We’ll be announcing our net zero ambition in a sector position to government, along with a roadmap of how we plan to get there, late this summer. We’ll also be providing forum members with a benchmarking guide and action plan detailing initiatives they’ll need to prioritise to achieve net zero, how they measure against other comparable operators, which internal teams will be responsible for delivery, what others have done, and the ROI, both in cost and carbon savings, to prioritise by maximum return.
How can hotels get involved?
We’re delighted that IHG has just joined as our first major hotel group. We’re in ongoing discussions to increase this number in the coming months. We’re looking forward to welcoming more hotels into the forum, to collectively address our shared challenges in decarbonisation. The forum deliverables offer an enormous amount of value to operators across hospitality, including hotel groups, customised to your emissions and operations. Likewise, we welcome your expertise and insights to help shape a credible, ambitious, and comprehensive roadmap for us all to achieve zero emissions together.
What would your advice be to hotel businesses looking to make a start on reducing their carbon footprint?
We’d recommend you join the forum, of course! Beyond that, we do generally recommend businesses set a science-based target, and hire either consultants or in-house sustainability experts to start reviewing your operations, supply chain, consumer use, and overall impact. Being part of an industry collaboration like the Zero Carbon Forum just increases the scope of what you can achieve, and drastically cuts down on the time to get there, by sharing best practice, what worked and what hasn’t for comparable businesses, and emissions profiling and hot spots across the industry.
What are the key sustainability issues facing the hospitality sector right now?
While some of the ‘quick wins’ are in our direct operations, like energy, water, and waste, and that’s certainly a fantastic place to start, challenges facing hospitality go a lot deeper than leaving machinery on overnight. A lot of the challenges we face as a sector are from the agriculture, sourcing, logistics and transportation of our meat, dairy, and other food products. We also focus on addressing consumer preferences, use, packaging, and food waste. This is a really strong statement for how important collaboration really is. We work very closely with our suppliers and distributers, but also with groups like the UK Farmers’ Union and UK Dairy. There are so many amazing things coming up in this industry around non-tilling regenerative agriculture to the carbon footprint of meat and dairy, and improve the quality of our vegetables and grains. We’ve also partnered with UK Hospitality and the British Beer and Pub Association, as well as other organisations like WRAP and industry collaborations like the British Retail Consortium, to make sure we’re addressing these collective challenges.
Where should hotel businesses be investing in key sustainability initiatives? Kitchen, bedrooms, back of house etc?
Key focus areas really differ for each business. But on a high level, environmentally-friendly business management systems, proper management of hotel equipment, and reduction of your water, waste (food and energy), and packaging are all areas that can drive a lot of impact. Environmental stewardship and giving back to the communities on which your business and operations depend are also very positive. More businesses than ever are investing in shared value systems, where they drive incremental business as well as environmental and social impact through their core operations – growing profit while positively impacting the world. There are so many inspiring, innovative solutions to common challenges that drive positive benefits for people, the planet, and your bottom line. There’s a huge potential to not only respond to growing consumer demand for environmentally friendly travel options, but also to enable, empower, and influence even greater impact, and cleaner choices, across your operations, procurement, and the end service you provide to your guests.
Do you think consumers are more aware of a hospitality businesses’ eco credentials now?
Absolutely. More consumers than ever are aware of the eco-credentials of the hotels where they stay, and their overall footprint when they travel. In fact, almost 2/3 of travellers consider the environment when making decisions about their holidays, and want to make more ethical choices. This is particularly true of younger generations. A recent study by Nielsen reported that 73% of millennials are willing to pay more for services from companies committed to creating a positive environmental impact. This presents an enormous opportunity to grow market share, build loyalty, and do the right thing for the planet. It’s up to businesses to step up and enable these eco-friendly choices for consumers. Beyond the obvious environmental benefits, improving your hotel’s environmental credentials can cut both your costs and your carbon emissions, as well as driving your brand reputation, regulatory compliance, and appeal to investors. There are really clear benefits of a triple-bottom-line approach, prioritising your financial, social, and environmental impact.
When do you hope to publish your roadmap and what will be some of the key points?
We’ll publish our roadmap late this summer, detailing the emission hot spots and key areas we’ll be addressing as an industry, along with our ambition year to achieve net zero. This includes how we collectively define net zero, which isn’t as straightforward as you might think, addressing our strong reduction-first strategy, and where, when and which offsets we’ll accept. We’ll also begin to explore removal pathways to address residual emissions in the atmosphere.
For hotels looking to make sustainable changes within their business, what would your advice be?
Once we’ve published our roadmap and ambition year, and we’ve provided each of our members with a company action plan and benchmarking, we’ll really be driving our collaborative initiatives forward at pace. Each initiative is a really strong product, and we’ll be discussing how and when to implement each across businesses, addressing challenges we face along the way, and aligning on milestones by when all members have achieved key steps.