Home Energy Management Iberostar’s Megan Morikawa, a Marine Biologist, Leads Company’s Wave of Change Program

Iberostar’s Megan Morikawa, a Marine Biologist, Leads Company’s Wave of Change Program

Dr. Megan Morikawa

PALMA, SPAIN—Iberostar Hotels & Resorts is a hotel chain with more than 120 four- and five-star hotels, located in the most popular holiday destinations in Europe, Africa, and America. The Iberostar hotel portfolio offers customers beachfront hotels, city hotels and heritage hotels. In addition, there is the Grand category, the highest level of luxury and excellence. Iberostar’s Wave of Change movement is an initiative based on three complementary but different action lines: eliminating the consumption of single-use plastics, promoting responsible seafood consumption and the improvement of coastal health. Leading Iberostar’s work under the Wave of Change movement is Dr. Megan Morikawa, Global Director of Sustainability.

Green Lodging News recently interviewed Dr. Morikawa about her work for Iberostar and what excites her most about her work. The following is the result of that e-mail interview:

1. What do you consider to be your primary responsibilities? What is your typical day like? If there is such a thing?

As the Global Director of Sustainability, my primary function is to develop strategy that allows the business to realize our long-term agenda towards 2030. A typical day during the pandemic has been planning the steps that are necessary for the business to take in order to eliminate waste from our operations, to source seafood from responsible sources, define what “Responsible” is in the first place in a way that is validated by the scientific community, and much more. Then, we turn that strategy into action. Fortunately, we have a fantastic team with an assortment of expertise from several fields that synthesize the latest scientific information in order to ensure that our strategy is science-based, quantified with legitimate metrics and helps the company achieve our goals at scale. It’s a great privilege to simply help them turn these actions into a holistic movement with Wave of Change.

2. What do you consider to be your company’s most significant accomplishment so far in global corporate responsibility?

We were incredibly enthusiastic in 2020 to be able to achieve some major milestones across all our destinations. For example, we have our operations free of single-use plastics and we source 41 percent of our seafood from responsible sources. However, I think the most significant accomplishment so far, for the Wave of Change movement, has been the integration and adoption of the movement as an integral part of the business strategy for recovery from the global pandemic and differentiation in the market.

3. What do you consider to be your company’s most significant challenge moving forward in global corporate responsibility?

Fortunately, because our team has a broad background in sustainability, conservation, and ocean sciences, we’ve never had a hard time understanding what the challenges are that the private sector needs to solve in order to create a more sustainable ocean economy or a responsible tourism model. For us, the most challenging aspect has been turning lofty goals into clear actions for the business to make clear changes in our everyday procedures to achieve those goals. For example, we have a goal to have no waste sent to landfill across our entire operations by 2025. This is a goal that not only needs to involve our entire purchasing team in order to ensure that all products that are entering our facilities can ultimately be managed, recycled or composted, but it also requires that every single one of our employees at every touchpoint of waste management are able to segregate waste, know the types of waste that are accepted within the country and help our clients, who are visiting, understand waste management practices in the region. It is one thing to build a strategy; it is another thing to have a community of 34,000 employees and 8 million clients join us in this movement. This to me has been one of the largest challenges but one of the areas where we have been able to have great successes in our work on circular economy, coastal health, and responsible consumption of seafood.

4. How many full-time folks with sustainability titles do you oversee?

We are very fortunate to have quite a large team that is working full-time on our way to change sustainability for Iberostar group. The team is broken up into areas of expertise. For example, we have a science communicator and a community manager who help tell the story on what it is that we are working on across the company. We also have a series of strategy experts who come with comprehensive knowledge on circular economy, coastal health and responsible consumption of seafood and have helped us develop the strategy and guidelines that allow us to help push the boundaries of responsible tourism. Finally, we have the operations component with those who are implementing our strategy in their departments or actually on the water.

6. Explain how your company tracks its energy and water impact, as well as its waste. Does this formal tracking process have a name?

I think it is very clear that, with time-bound quantitative goals, measurement is the most fundamental way to track progress on those goals and reach them with any form of efficiency. Our first task has been ensuring that the quality of the data is at the resolution necessary to be able to work with quantitative improvements in our targets to 2025 and 2030. This is one of the reasons why we set annual milestones in addition to our final milestones by 2025. For example, in 2020, we had an objective to source 45 percent of our seafood from responsible sources. For energy waste and water, this is where standardized metrics and certifications, such as Earth Tech, have helped us greatly to be able to understand common metrics that we can use across multiple geographies to monitor and track the water energy and products that we use in our facilities. However, when we started our journey of our tech certifications in 2017, we quickly realized that we needed a platform to be able to add more detail to the information that we were collecting. For example, we wanted to have greater resolution in the scope 1 and 2 emissions that we had in our carbon footprint. As such, we have also been working to establish our own internal tools and metrics to be able to track total values, for example how much waste we are sending to landfill in kilograms per hotel per stay. We are also working on the metrics necessary to be able to then take that information and break it down to the various components that make up the waste.

7. Briefly explain how your company intends to meet its goal of being waste-free by 2025. Give me an example of a companywide initiative and the progress you have made.

This has been one of the most unique and exciting components of our journey with Wave of Change—to see how the company has quickly grown to realize the ambition balance by the feasibility of our goal to send no waste to landfill by 2025. We quickly realized that to achieve this goal we needed to have individual staff members who were fully dedicated to the waste management processes that were occurring within our hotels while coordinating alongside local waste management authorities. In places like Spain this was very easy. We have great leaders in waste management who help train hotels on the types of waste they accepted, who answer all our questions on treatment methodology and recyclability of the products that we’re using, and as such, we’ve been able to make a lot of really great progress on our journey towards zero waste in Europe. However, in destinations where there are very few options for waste management at a national scale, we depend on these teams to be able to motivate the company to segregate waste instruments that can be received either by our own composting facilities or private companies that help us be able to manage waste streams at scale.

9. Is it your company’s intention to be 100 percent carbon neutral by 2030? If so, explain how you intend to reach that goal. Can you cite a few examples of energy conservation initiatives your company has in place?

Yes, when we set a goal to achieve carbon neutrality across our operations by 2030, a major part of that is basically guided by the 1.5 business signatories for climate action. This basically says that businesses are going to do their best to create a roadmap to be able to reduce energy consumption and source from renewable sources. In that case, it is a timeline that goes to 2050, but our timeline is to 2030. We also realized that especially because scope three emissions include things like the amount of carbon that was emitted to produce the red meat that we are consuming in our buffets and depends a lot on the involvement of our supply chain and a neutrality journey that we expect it to still have a carbon footprint by 2030. This is one of the reasons why in 2020 we announced our nature-based blue carbon offset. We could be purchasing these offsets in destinations that are focused on protecting nature in places where we did not have our tourism operation. But why would we want to do that when we had the double win of also being able to help make our destinations more resilient? So, we announced that 75 percent of our total global footprint would be offset by protecting and restoring nature in our destinations and this is information that you can also see further in our 2020 in review document.

10. What is your company doing to reduce water consumption? Does your company have a water consumption reduction goal?

We have a water consumption reduction goal. Water is an area that we wanted to make sure was included as part of our circular economy strategy. We are still working to make sure that we have quantitative goals around our water consumption. This is something that we want to not only make sure is as efficient as possible across our destinations, but also make sure that the water efficiency and treatment is something that is tailored to the water availability of the destinations themselves. For example, we know that in tourism, especially in coastal locations, not only the consumption of water, but any of the nutrients or excess nutrients that might come from irrigation, golf courses, or our own wastewater treatment facilities can be an additional stressor on local ecosystems, like coral reefs or seagrasses, and can help to, unfortunately, spur algal blooms, which create all sorts of really challenging problems. This is one of the reasons why, with our nature-based blue carbon offset program, we wanted to have additional sources of nature-based ways to filter nutrients. For example, mangroves are famous for being able to additionally filter out nitrogen and phosphorus from the environment. We are looking to plant and restore these areas within our facilities where our wastewater effluent can ensure that additional nutrients are captured and restored before they reenter into the environment.

11. How far along are you in reaching your company’s 100 percent responsible seafood consumption in its operations by 2025 goal?

This was an objective that we launched at the beginning of 2020 and one of the first steps was to define what responsible meant in the first place. One of my favorite interviews I had with one of our partners at the Marine Stewardship Council said: “sustainability and seafood is a moving target and we really need to be responding to what is known in terms of the health of aquaculture practices and natural populations of seafood.” We were depending on our partners at the Global Seafood Sustainability Initiative, who have a program that ranks certifications of seafood among several standards to help us determine whether a certification can and should be considered as responsible. That includes things like MSC, AFC, GLOBALG.A.P. We have a second category of responsible, which is seafood that has been rated yellow or green by Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch or is an accredited fishery improvement project or aquaculture improvement project. We also have a third category after realizing that if we wanted to source responsible seafood, almost none of the countries where we operate had local certified, in improvement, or rated fisheries. Therefore, we would have no way to source local and responsible products. This third category, which we call responsible but not yet assessed or certified, is where we are working to lift up local fisheries in our destinations. None of our seafood is currently falling into this category but this gives us a five-year timeline to be able to work with local fisheries to improve upon their fishing methods and practices, to eventually bring this in as responsible as part of our sourcing. Last year, amidst the pandemic, we started with data collection to evaluate whether seafood is coming from these sources. We needed to know more information than what was available from our technical data sheets. We were working very closely with our responsible seafood strategy director, our providers, and our purchasing teams to collect this information. Ultimately, we found that many of the products that we were already sourcing were coming from certified farms or fisheries. That, along with several changes that we made in our supply chain, using the shifts that occurred in 2020 to our advantage, made us go from not having a lot of clarity about the KDEs necessary in order to evaluate whether or not our seafood was responsible or not, to having 41.1 percent of our seafood responsibly sourced by the end of the year. In 2021, we have a goal of 65 percent responsibly sourced seafood and up to 100 percent by 2025.

12. Moving toward such a goal has certainly been a joint effort with other organizations. What has it been like for you to work with so many other like-minded organizations?

This has been one of the most rewarding components of doing this work because when we are saying responsible tourism, sustainability is a core part of our operations, and we are now disseminating this across anything that we do. We quickly realized that many businesses were looking for that sort of leadership. One of your earlier questions was what was the most challenging component? And I said, turning strategy into action and when we can crack some of those codes and achieve some of this work, it really helps us to be able to serve as inspiration, to help build roadmaps and guidelines for other groups to be able to follow themselves. For example, on our website, Wave of Change, when you go into our pillar pages, we want to tell other companies what we are measuring and tracking. On our roadmap page, we want to tell other companies what we have as annual milestones and focuses for those milestones so they can also learn from that experience. I think it has been really rewarding to see that not only are other organizations interested in working on these areas, but that we have also been able to quickly help provide support and help within the sector to be able to look towards these roadmaps and practices for responsible sourcing and responsible seafood, as well as work with several other partners and organizations that have really made a lot of strides in these areas in the past year.

13. What did it mean for Iberostar to be the first funding tourism partner of GSSI? Have any others joined since? To your knowledge?

I do not know whether others have joined GSCI since. For us, this was a really important component of getting very proximate to the conversation that is on the leading edge of how folks are talking about seafood sustainability. It is a very advanced set of partners, especially on the providers’ and the fisheries’ side who are thinking about what are the environmental, the social, and the economic factors that are needed for sustainable fisheries, both on land and in sea. GSSI was a great partner for us to have a litmus test to say we do not have to be the ones saying: “we think these certifications are OK, these certifications are not” and instead GSSI could help do that for us. Their certification benchmarking has been helpful to give us a guideline for tourism and to be a source for others to be able to use that tool.

14. Supply chain verification/certification is so important to your company. Why make it such a high priority?

If we need to be tracking whether our seafood products have certifications or fishing methods that usually are not on technical data sheets, whereas we are entering into understanding about non virgin materials and recyclability of products in a circular economy, we need to be able to have a lifecycle analysis to follow products before they not only enter our facilities, but a few steps before the manufacturers or the distributors who are selling us those products in the first place. Therefore we want to also support things like interoperability. The GDSC of WWF that is working on interoperability for seafood supply chains is something that we think is important. We also need to make sure that this data collection allows us to have the resolution of information necessary to verify that the products that we are sourcing really are coming from responsible sources and/or are representing the total, the total impact, or components that those products are made of.

15. Briefly discuss the steps your company has taken to ensure coral reef health. How many coastal health facilities and offshore nurseries does your company have?

This is a great question. In fact, this is how I entered the project as I did my PhD at Stanford on how we could restore reefs that were more resilient to climate change. It was not natural for us to take the first steps and saying, tourism is a great beneficiary of coral reefs in their healthy form so how can they take a stance to be able to actively contribute to maintaining those ecosystem services throughout time? And so, we have a multinational reef restoration program in the Dominican Republic, in Mexico, and soon to be in Aruba and Jamaica that are focused around three points.

The first is to restore reefs not just for numbers and numbers of species but restore reefs that help to protect our coastlines from storm damage. This is about having reefs in the right place, at the right height, at the right roughness to be able to reduce flow from extreme weather events.

The second is to ensure that restored reefs can help us to return food security. So, fish biomass and how can we restore reefs in a way that critical fish populations can return? In fact, one of our science team members published a paper about a study she did in the Dominican Republic in the nursery that we’re working in to demonstrate that if you consistently restore the reef throughout time and saw an increase in coral cover, you saw some critical ecosystem species return, for example, a specific species of parrotfish that in the ecosystem is really important to graze on the coral reefs and make sure that they’re healthy. So, ensuring that fish populations can also return to reefs is our second goal.

Our third goal is to maintain biodiversity in a changing climate. You cannot just restore reefs with one species, you need to restore an entire ecosystem and you need to make sure that that ecosystem can withstand stressors from climate change that we have into the future. Those are the in-water operations that we have going on. We find that land-based facilities often need to complement what we are doing in the water. In the Dominican Republic we constructed our first coral lab that serves as an outreach center for clients to be able to engage with us, as well as a research facility. We have tanks that can help us recreate bleaching events to help find the winners and losers of climate change and help us to fast forward the clock and being able to ensure that any reef restoration efforts we start today can remain resilient in the future.

16. Does your company own and manage all its hotels? Just some?

Just some. Iberostar is unique in its leadership from the Fluxà family. Miguel Fluxà, Sabina Fluxà, our CEO, and Gloria Fluxà, who is my boss and our Chief Sustainability Officer, have always had a close proximity to their properties, and as such, a very large portion of the portfolio is owned and managed. This gives us a lot more agility in being able to implement these projects at scale. However, it is important for us that our property managers are also our biggest advocates for Wave of Change. If a hotel has the name of Iberostar above its building, it is part of our effort to have 100 percent waste not sent to landfill, sourcing of responsible seafood, eco systems, and improving ecological health and this is all a critical component of what it is that we are doing at scale.

17. I have to say that this is the first time I have heard about a marine biologist being named a Director of Sustainability but of course, it makes sense for Iberostar. How did you learn about the job with Iberostar? Did you ever imagine working in the hospitality industry?

This is another great question and one that I would never have expected four years ago. But three and a half years ago, Gloria Fluxà walked into the doors of Stanford and my advisor and I were prepared to answer any range of questions from the owner of a tourism chain who is interested in reef restoration. I like to say that by the first question, I realized that Gloria was dead serious and not interested in any way about greenwashing, in fact she said that explicitly. But by the fifth question, I had always been working in the sciences to ultimately find research that helped us to solve real world problems, ocean conservation, terrestrial conservation, and how that scientific knowledge could help us make a more sustainable ocean economy and a better relationship with the planet. As such, I have always thought that science can move quite slow. The peer review process is necessary, but the incentives of what it is and that we need in academia to survive make it really challenging to be able to have solutions occur at scale. So, by the fifth question, Gloria was asking my advisor and I about the barriers to reef restoration. She says, “ok, so what are the barriers to scaling reef restoration around the world in a very practical business sort of way?” And I remember looking at my advisor and looking at Gloria and saying, “you know, that seems really obvious, but it’s taken us 12 years in the field to realize these are the questions that we need to be asking.” And I think that is ultimately the real lesson. What convinced me that this was an incredible opportunity is that the private sector understands scale. The private sector understands how to turn projects operational as quickly as possible while also being able to adjust when things are not working effectively. This is what we ultimately are trying to do with our Wave of Change movement, with removing waste, removing single-use plastics, sourcing responsible seafood, having ecosystems, and improving ecological health, moving at a pace that allows us to be able to scale solutions as quickly as possible to see whether it’s feasible for the sector to do at large.

18. What do you enjoy most about your work? Is there an assignment of which you are most proud? Or, that has excited you the most?

For me, the most exciting component about the work is probably twofold. The first is in our incredible ability to have impact and scale, and that is in great testament to the global footprint that Iberostar had many, many years before Wave of Change became a part of its identity because all of Iberostar was built off of really strong values about community, humbleness, and being able to respect a destination where the company is operating. It became incredibly easy for us to transform this into a strategy around the oceans because a lot of those values were already there. So, I think what I enjoy most about the work is the ability for impact, which is only made possible because of the decades of effort that the family and the business leaders had put into this portfolio.

The second component are the people. It has just been an absolute joy not only to have grown our own team, who many of which are coming from government jobs or NGO jobs, and immediately see how genuine this effort is, how much their contributions can very quickly make a difference, but also how much the private sector can support solutions at scale. In addition to that, it has been just incredible to work with the executive committee of this company. They are just such passionate people who understand that they are able to be able to help, and it’s a joy for them to use their roles as Head Human Resources Officer, as Head Chief Operations Officer, to be able to help us to achieve our goals as well. Working with these people has absolutely been one of the components that has been the most incredible.

19. How far back goes your interest in CSR/sustainability? Is there an individual or individuals who inspired you?

I have always been a scientist, working in the sciences and understanding that you need to be evidence based and data driven to solve problems that occur at the scale of ecosystems. Ecosystems are, when you get in the most, most advanced mathematics class, they are looking at modeling ecosystems and nature and how various alterations that we can make to the ecosystems interact. But for me, it has also always been about impact. About using that science to help us understand how to better protect the planet and how to scale solutions. That is what corporate social responsibility in its greatest forms is about. It is about how do we leverage the resource and the impact that we have, to make sure that the ecosystems, the communities, and not only the communities in terms of the communities and employees, but actual local communities that are living in these destinations that are welcoming tourists to be able to come to these destinations and enjoy these resources in the first place. This is all about the ability to sustain these resources throughout time and so in in many aspects, it has always been about finding solutions to be able to apply at scale. And I think what we need now is something as agile as the private sector, very much guided by science to be able to close some of those gaps.

Glenn Hasek can be reached at greenlodgingnews@gmail.com.