Q&A: Megan Morikawa, global sustainability office director, Iberostar Group

by: Felicity Cousins | September 19, 2023

Iberostar aims to reach Net Zero 20 years ahead of the 2050 deadline, half its carbon emissions by 2030, and be waste free by 2025. It was one of the first signatories of the Glasgow Declaration, which now has more than 450 signatories. Dr Megan Morikawa, global sustainability office director, Iberostar Group spoke to Sustainable Hotel News about its ambitious targets, how it is applying Winnow technology to deal with food waste, and how she believes it is imperative the industry tackles sustainability together.

Iberostar recently managed to cut nearly 30 per cent of its food waste at 48 hotels in six months using Winnow AI technology. Will this now be rolled out across all 100 resorts?

MM: It’s been an incredible success, amounting to a total of 735,000 total meals and 1,264 tons of CO2 saved in this short period alone (Jan-Jun 2023). We’ve been truly inspired seeing our chefs and kitchen staff embrace the programme and create this kind of tangible change, so we’re fully committed to eventually implementing Winnow AI technology in all our hotels globally.

The aim is to be waste free by 2025. How will Iberostar achieve this and what other waste management initiatives are in place?

MM: With objectives as ambitious as these, you can quickly see it can only be achieved through partnership. For example, our 3Rs department, now implemented in 61 hotels around the world, works to segregate waste into fractions that can be reevaluated at the end of their use. However, in many destinations there is often not the infrastructure to accept different kinds of waste – organic waste tends to be really tricky for example. 

What about single-use plastics?

MM: In 2020 we were proud to become the first hotel chain in the world to eliminate single-use plastics from all properties. This was just the beginning of a long journey toward implementing a circular economy in our hotels, opting for secondary materials, prolonging the service life of products and materials, recovering, recirculating, repairing and, ultimately, recycling. We continue working toward our goal to not send any waste to landfills or incinerators by 2025 in a number of different ways. 

How are you doing this?

MM: In 2022 we established a composting centre at the Iberostar Playa Paraíso resort in the Rivera Maya, enabling us to decompose various raw materials including garden trimmings, fruit and vegetable peels and even sargassum seaweed. The result was that in 2022 alone we transformed 100,000kg of waste into compost. 

Also, alongside the Winnow initiative, we are part of the brilliant Finhava project, a public-private partnership with Mallorcan waste treatment company, Tirme. This project means we separate organic waste and take advantage of new technologies such as sensors, allowing us to quantify organic waste generated in the hotel. 

What is the most exciting green technology you have seen, which the hotel sector could benefit from?

MM: Renewable hydrogen is a really interesting form of energy for the industry to tap into. It’s something we’ve always been keen to explore – we became the first consumer of renewable hydrogen in the Spanish tourism sector in 2021 after signing an agreement with ACCIONA Energía and Enagás to source from Spain’s first renewable hydrogen plant. The offtake contract allowed us to reduce our consumption of natural gas at our Mallorca hotels by 2 per cent – 5 per cent. 

Iberostar also has the ambitious target of Net Zero by 2030, which is 20 years ahead of a lot of others in the hotel industry. How will the group achieve this, and if Iberostar can do it should other hotel groups be making larger strides?

MM: I really believe we need to do our part in hospitality to all achieve Net Zero well before 2050. For example, WTTC showcases that industry average should reach Net Zero by 2040 for hospitality. At Iberostar, yes, our goal is to do so by 2030. At the centre of this is decarbonising our operations and value chains. One fundamental piece of this 2030 target is reducing scope 1 and 2 greenhouse gas emissions by 85 per cent compared to the 2019 baseline year. One way we’ll achieve this is through reducing our energy consumption by 35 per cent with changes in internal and customer behaviour, through training, good energy practices, procedures and protocols towards efficiency and audits for savings. 

And how are you handling scope 3 emissions?

MM: Another key way we’ll reach 2030 is through the reduction of scope 3 GHG emissions by 50 per cent. There are several levers that the business must pull to reach this, including prioritising low-emission products and services in our sourcing decisions, moving towards Net Zero buildings in new constructions and renovations, maximising the efficiency of existing ones, prioritising low-emission materials in equipment and furniture investments, and involving suppliers in the decarbonisation process. However, just like our objectives on waste, this must be done in partnership. For example, from that 85 per cent emissions reduction, we expect two thirds of that to correspond to adding up to 220 MW of new renewable energy across our destinations. While we’re installing our own solar panels in some locations, we don’t expect this to contribute more than 10 per cent of our needs. This is why we’re pushing for renewable energy transitions in the places where we operate. So, as you can see, there’s a lot going on to meet these goals. 

Can you tell us more about Iberostar Cristina hotel in Mallorca?

MM: In late March, we reopened the Iberostar Cristina hotel in Mallorca as our first 100 per cent electric hotel in Spain, which was pretty exciting as it showed we could run a hotel entirely on green energy.

Is it a race to reach Net Zero or a joint effort to collectively achieve across the sector?

MM: I know it can sound like a race, particularly when many brands have big announcements that seem like they keep raising the bar. In reality, I don’t think a single sustainability professional in hospitality thinks it is a race and that we’re really interested in finding collective solutions together. Our leadership roles in the Sustainable Hospitality Alliance, WTTC, UNWTO, and many other committees on sustainability create places for us to share knowledge and build collective action together.

We’re very much aware that access to fundamental elements to decarbonisation, like renewable energy, is absolutely not something we can achieve by ourselves and we recognise that we need to inspire and support change amongst our suppliers and partners who have not yet started.  

The reduction of our industry’s footprint can only be achieved in partnership with local governments, energy providers and other key stakeholders at our destinations, so we highly encourage everyone in the sector to join our mission – the more of us there are, the faster progress will occur.  

What does Iberostar have in place to champion DE&I in the hospitality space?

MM: One way this is being achieved is through the company joining of the ‘CEO for Diversity’ Alliance, led by the Adecco Foundation and the CEOE Foundation in Spain, whose mission is to unite the CEOs of the most prominent companies towards a common, innovative vision DE&I. It also makes everyone who supports it promoters and ambassadors in accelerating the development of strategies that contribute to excellence in business, competitiveness in terms of talent, and the reduction in inequality and exclusion in society. Without diversity, our success can only go so far. 

How does Iberostar encourage guests to be more sustainable?

MM: When staying at our properties, we want guests to feel sustainability isn’t a difficult, conscious ‘choice’ – it can become a natural way of being. For example, restaurant menus prioritise sustainable seafood, there are no toiletries form single-use plastic in rooms, reusable cups are provided, and re-fillable water taps conveniently placed around our properties.

Education also plays a huge role for us. In the Dominican Republic, we run a land-based coral lab that serves as a haven for threatened Caribbean coral, which is open to visitors, including children in Iberostar’s Star Camp entertainment programme, helping raise awareness of the dangers marine life faces in the area. This education piece doesn’t stop there – the Star Camp curriculum at every property features sustainability, ensuring children come home inspired. 

What sort of sustainability reporting does Iberostar offer and what measurements are in place to benchmark against these figures?

MM: You can access the Iberostar Group non-financial ESG report which is our audited annual report. We also have many topics specific reports and updates which we include on our Wave of Change resources page…. To benchmark our progress, we utilise a combination of qualitative and quantitative measures that align with our core sustainability goals. We use a number of different metrics depending on the actions that are taking place. For example, our decarbonisation targets are SBTi approved, and for hotels, more than fifty have achieved the leading science-based certification EarthCheck.

Image: Iberostar