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The Hoffmann Global Institute for Business and Society


Changemakers in Business – 3 Takeaways with Dr. Megan Morikawa


The Hoffmann Global Institute for Business and Society

Changemakers in Business – 3 Takeaways with Dr. Megan Morikawa

Changemakers in Business – 3 Takeaways with Dr. Megan Morikawa

In an episode of the Hoffmann Institute’s Mission to Change podcast, Executive Director Katell Le Goulven spoke to Dr. Megan Morikawa on coral reef protection, responsible tourism and science-backed solutions.

Coral reefs are known as the rainforests of the ocean, and even though they cover less than 0.1% of the world’s ocean, they support over 25% of marine biodiversity. The UN Environment Programme estimates around 25% to 50% per cent of the world's coral reefs have been destroyed, with a further 60% under threat.

Unexpectedly it is a luxury hotel chain, Iberostar Group, that is making impressions within the field of coral reef and biodiversity conservation and regeneration. Iberostar’s 2018 “Wave of Change” programme is led by marine biologist Dr Megan Morikawa. We caught up with Megan at the IUCN congress to understand how an ocean scientist is successfully implementing a game-changing sustainability strategy within a multinational tourism group. Here are the three key takeaways from our conversation:

1. Ask the right questions

Gloria Fluxa, Vice-Chairperson and Chief Sustainability Officer of Iberostar wanted to understand how she could apply Dr. Megan Morikawa’s research on coral regeneration to her hotel chain. The complexity in scaling up academic research in one or two locations into over 100 properties can only be answered when the right questions are asked.  

Gloria asked Megan the classic business question, “So how would you classify the major bottlenecks for scaling these solutions?” in reference to coral reef regeneration. Many tend to focus solely on the business angles of financing, and how it interacts with scaling a project. However, it is the operational bottlenecks that are overlooked but need to be considered, and this starts from exploring and asking such questions.  

“That seems very obvious, but it's taken us about 15 years to realize that's the question. We need to be asking, the academic question, what is the science of scale?”

2. Cross disciplinary work works!

Megan has an academic background in marine biology, her career ambition was never to work within corporate ESG, yet the world within a luxury hotel chain afforded her many possibilities that the public or academic sectors could not. The coming together of science and business minds and the questions posed, enabled the ‘Wave of Change’ initiative to flourish.

As well as an ideological crossover, it was also a practical cross-over of expertise that helped the Wave of Change programme become what it is. Iberostar had engineers who were working on hotel pool systems that could be utilised. The pool engineers built a state-of-the-art climate control facility to recreate bleaching events for the cutting-edge research in the field of coral regeneration. The expertise crossover was an interesting component that Megan had not expected.


3. Two sides of the same coin

In attempting to solve one problem, you just might solve another. Gloria and Megan set out to work on restoring biodiversity. The focus on ocean health came from the fact that 80% of Iberostar’s hotels are on coastline and most of their 8 million annual customers visit coastal resorts. So, for Iberostar a healthy ocean makes healthy business.  Iberostar, under the Wave of Change programme, have opened 3 coral nurseries and planted 1,500 mangroves to prevent coastal erosion. Through collaborations with Universities and Research Centres, Iberostar are working closely with scientific experts to protect and care for the coastlines where the hotels are located. Further to this, Iberostar provides 11 scholarships for students at the Universidad de las Islas Baleares, as well as a “Iberostar Maritime Professorship”.  By solving the biodiversity loss and participating in nature regeneration they are actively also contributing to combating climate change. Nature restoration and climate change are mutually reinforcing.

“We found that biodiversity protection and climate change mitigation were intertwined but that they're not always necessarily linear and you need to make decisions about perhaps reducing your productivity and CO2 sequestration in order to ensure that there is also appropriate diversity.”

Bonus business takeaway: Structure, structure, structure!

The structuring of an organisation is vital when it comes to implementing new initiatives. Part of the success of Iberostar’s Wave of Change programme has been due to strong leadership, a clear vision, and a dedicated team of over 20 people focused purely on the Wave of Change movement.


To listen to the full conversation, visit Mission to Change, and explore more of our episodes about the journeys of changemakers.

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