What Choice’s CIO sees in a cloud-native approach to sustainability

May 24, 20236 mins
CIOCloud NativeDigital Transformation

Choice Hotels International CIO Brian Kirkland is at the head of a forward-looking sustainability effort fueled by a cloud-native imperative to deliver digital innovations to both franchisees and guests.

Brian Kirkland, CIO, Choice Hotels International
Credit: Choice Hotels International / Elliott O’Donovan

Choice Hotels, the Maryland-based multinational hotel chain, is a $10 billion, 80-year-old hospitality company with about 7,500 hotels in 46 countries. And with such a presence of history and reputation in the market, it had the foresight and resources to make early investment and commitment to dovetailing its digital transformation with sustainability. A lot of this was, in recent years, borne out of a strong partnership with Amazon Web Services, so Choice became able to benefit from cost savings and energy efficiencies, while utilizing many related services AWS offers—such as analytics and AI—to advance its digital offerings.

“Sustainability is one of our main drivers,” says Kirkland. “Usually when a company looks to go to the cloud, it wants to take advantage of the tech, get the ability to scale on demand, and manage cost differently. But a big benefit you get is a step up on sustainability, to be more efficient with workloads, and to use technology that uses less compute power, which, in turn, drives down carbon emissions. You use the tech and the capabilities of the cloud in real time on demand for what you need to do. And if you’re smart about it, you can really drive down costs, as well as have a good impact on the environment.”

As one of the cofounders of, a collection of about 25 senior executive CIOs across many verticals who believe in a collective responsibility and ability to help drive positive environmental impact through technology and IT, Kirkland is committed to the big picture and what business will look like for generations to come.

“This group of leaders came together to say it matters what we do as an industry,” he says. “And as technology leaders, we can have a big impact on the world and the environment around us. It’s time for us to step forward and do something about it, as opposed to expect somebody else to do the work. So we formed it last year and we’ve been working on getting it off the ground with partnerships and memberships, and we just launched the first ever standards specifically around IT on how to drive sustainability.”

CIO senior writer Paula Rooney recently spoke with Kirkland about how Choice Hotels International’s big bet on the cloud has allowed it to glean the many benefits of its digital transformation, while following through on a strategic commitment to sustainability. Here are some edited excerpts of that conversation. Watch the full video below for more insights.

On the cloud journey: Choice Hotels has a big footprint as a technology firm. We see ourselves as a mix of technology, hospitality and franchising. For the technology piece, it’s something that’s been part of our DNA for a long time. We started our cloud journey back in 2003 with the first-ever cloud-based property management system. Heavy investment for us in cloud, though, really started in 2017 when we launched our redesigned, cloud-based, cloud-native central reservation system called ChoiceEdge. We then made a commitment to AWS in 2019 and started this five-year journey to move entirely into the cloud. So far, we’re on track and will be completed with that migration next year, and we’ll be all in with the cloud. But as everybody that’s working in cloud knows, that’s step one of a million. There’s a lot of things you can do, a lot to take advantage of in the cloud that we’re working on at the same time.

On the big picture: Swiss Re, the big insurance giant, has a prediction that not acting on climate change and not driving up sustainability and environmental efforts is going to destroy about 18% of GDP by 2050. If that’s true, that also correlates to about a three degree shift in global temperatures, which is in line with the Paris agreement and the targets that were set there. Let’s pretend that Swiss Re is right. Then at some point in the future, we’re talking about many places probably becoming uninhabitable. If we don’t start trying to have an impact now as technology leaders or as leaders in our organizations, that can happen. So going back to, it felt like it’s time for us to start acting. So that’s why we’re trying to drive these efforts and initiatives forward.            

On ESG cost savings: The first thing to do is start asking questions. There’s a growing number of people who care about this topic and are involved in sustainable IT or other ESG-related functions. Once you get there, you’re going to find out that a big part is figuring out how to collaborate with people, how to get advocates, whether it’s outside or inside the company. How do you tap into the research, best practices, frameworks, standards—all of those types of things? And then at the back end of this, how to drive accountability, leveraging the metrics you’re gathering and what goals you’re going to set. Cloud is just a tool to help you get there. But there’s still a lot more we have to do. Some of the data I saw recently from Amazon called out hotels having the largest savings opportunity when it comes to energy usage by building type. Obviously not every building or hotel is equal, but out of the data they gathered, hotels consume a lot of energy and have the biggest opportunity to drive savings. So for us, it’s about how can we have a big part of that.

On demonstrable progress: Amazon has a new AWS carbon footprint tool to measure the emissions being generated from workloads, and see what kind of an impact you’re having. Just looking at that tool alone, last year, according to the data Amazon gathered, we saved 480 million metric tons of carbon emissions. So that’s a huge footprint of savings we had by leveraging what they’re doing in the cloud. And according to Amazon and the National Resource Defense Council, they think they’re getting three to four times higher server utilization when you’re in the cloud, and you’re able to be 88% more efficient than you are in on-premise data centers. So we can leverage that information and their commitment to be 100% renewable energy in the next couple of years. That is a way we can all piggyback on that effort and drive sustainability forward.