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Hotels cash in on green tips
The Financial Express - 04 Sep 2011

Yesterday’s top-end hotels led by example in providing the best of luxury experiences. Today, the guest preference for responsible luxury is prompting them to embed sustainability in their business operations in a big way. In fact, the percentage of Indian business travellers committed to environmental issues outnumbers travellers from Asia Pacific, according to a just released survey.

While 66% Indian travellers prefer environmentally more conscious hotels against 61% Asia Pacific travellers, 62% Indian travellers are even prepared to pay additional 10% for hotels with a better environmental commitment than a comparable hotel against 59% Asia Pacific travellers. Besides, more Indian business travellers (37% against 26% from Asia Pacific) are looking forward to carbon-neutral hotel rooms, latest by 2014, according to the Accor Asia Pacific Business Traveller Survey 2011, which mapped business travel habits in the region. The survey covered 10,000 business travellers from Australia, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Singapore, New Zealand and Thailand.

The green check by travellers is interesting because the hotel industry is not a producer of goods. Instead it's a big consumer of resources and products ranging from land, building material, furnishings, gadgets, energy and water to foods. The implication is that guests require the industry to influence both the making of these products and their consumption in an environmentally safe manner. At the same time, it becomes imperative for the industry to reduce its air, water and solid waste pollution, degradation of natural resources and loss to biodiversity.

Indian hotels are quite seized of the guest preferences. In fact, ITC has emerged as a global green leader in the hotel industry. When ITC luxury hotels group got the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum rating recently, it became the greenest luxury hotel chain in the world. The status was earned on the back of the group’s commitment to green buildings, which are energy efficient, utilise renewable energy, conserve and recycle water, and manage waste.

Saying that the LEED platinum certification of ITC's luxury hotels is a further endorsement of their repositioned credo of ‘responsible luxury’ and a noteworthy recognition of their two-decade old sustainable development endeavours, Nakul Anand, executive director, ITC Ltd, adds, “The LEED platinum rating reflects our conscious effort towards demonstrating environmental stewardship. It is a source of competitive advantage not only because it subserves a larger national priority but today guests also prefer to endorse environmentally friendly hotels.”

Even the headquarter of the ITC hotel division located in Gurgaon near Delhi is in the ITC Green Centre, which is the first amongst large buildings in the world to earn LEED Platinum rating. ITC Sonar is the world's first hotel to get carbon credits. ITC Maratha, ITC Windsor, ITC Gardenia and WelcomHotel Sheraton Rajputana get their power supply from off-site wind turbine generators. Delhi's ITC Maurya has deployed paraboloid solar concentrator on it roof-top to cater to its thermal requirements. Besides, all ITC premium luxury hotels claim to consume 18-29% less energy than what has been recommended by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) for large size luxury hotels.

“Going forward,” Anand adds, “the DNA of our organisation requires us to constantly rethink and reinvent our products and processes so that we continue to meet emerging consumer needs and aspirations as also deliver new and delightful experiences to our guests through regular process improvements.” He believes that their upcoming projects shall not only benefit from such learnings, but will also be in a position to benefit from the latest technology, products and processes that assist in creating an environment of responsible luxury.

ITC is not alone in this journey. The Earth (Environment Awareness & Renewal at Taj Hotels) initiative sums it all in letter and spirit for Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces. The Earth initiative has been recognised for its energy conservation and environmental management by EarthCheck, which is a global certification programme in the hospitality industry. The fact that some of the company’s environmental and safety management systems are already ISO 14001 certified has helped. The Taj Group of companies also subscribes voluntarily to the Carbon Disclosure Project, which is the largest inventory of carbon emission records in the world and is backed by the global investor community. Leading global auditor

KPMG has endorsed the group's green credentials by awarding A+ grade to its Corporate Sustainability Report 2009-10 for following Global Reporting Initiative’s G3 guidelines, says Vasant Ayyappan, director, Corporate Sustainability, Indian Hotels Company Limited, the holding company of Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces. He adds, “Our carbon emissions and water consumption per room night have been coming down. We are also working towards getting all our properties LEED certified.”

The result is that the group is constantly striving to raise the bar on all fronts. For example, Taj Coromandel, Chennai, sources electricity from a grid fed by windmills. Rambagh Palace, Jaipur, has set up a biogas plant to reduce energy costs. Lake Palace, Udaipur, is connected to the mainland with the help of battery-operated boats, replacing gasoline-run boats. The Taj Mahal Hotel, New Delhi, has installed solar panels on its rooftop to augment its energy supply. “While the signature initiatives may be property specific, what is common is the thrust on creating environmental awareness in people. It's awareness, which fuels actions,” says Digvijay Singh, general manager, The Taj Mahal Hotel, New Delhi.

The trend is not confined to only old leaders in the sector. The Leela Palaces, Hotels and Resorts may be one of the youngest hotel groups in the country, but its approach towards the environment has been quite seasoned. There is an endeavour to slash the environmental impact of products and services. Eco-friendly practices ensure higher energy efficiency, and optimal use of raw material, which are obtained from sustainable or renewable sources wherever possible.

For example, The Leela Palace, Bangalore, heats its swimming pool water with the help of solar panels installed on the roof of the porch. Even its newest property The Leela Palace, New Delhi, has joined other group properties in the environment journey. State of the art sewage treatment plants treat wastewater through a multi-stage process before reusing or recycling it.

From time to time, the group hotels have won green awards including the Green Hotelier Award from the International Hotel and Restaurant Association, the Maharana Udai Singh Award, the Pata Gold Award Excellence in corporate environmental programme, the United Nations Environment Programme’s Global 500 Roll of Honour, and the Corporate Environmental Achievement Award from the World Wilderness Congress.

For CP Krishnan Nair, chairman, Hotel Leelaventure Limited, which owns and operates Leela Palaces, Hotels and Resorts, going green is a way of life. Nair says, “For one who has grown up in the lap of nature, going green becomes a redundant term—I don’t know any other way to be.” He adds, “With the advent of newer and more advanced technology, we ensure that our hotels follow a scalable and sustainable model for ecological conservation and environment preservation. Today, irrespective of the cost implications, I don’t think anyone can afford to ignore the impact of ones carbon footprint.”

Some of the younger hospitality companies are even building their businesses on the environment plank. For example, Concept Hospitality's new brand The Fern is aiming to become a trademark for environmentally correct hotels in the country. Since it's a new chain, the Fern hotels are built keeping in mind optimisation of consumption of natural resources. Besides, energy conservation is taken care of right from the initial stages. More importantly, the staff is trained in environmental practices for six months. Green teams have been set up in each hotel. Innovation is at a premium. For example, an eco-button has been installed in each room. Pressing the button pushes up the temperature of the room by 2°C, thereby cutting energy usage. The energy saved is calculated in rupee terms and mentioned on a certificate given to guests at the time of check out, says Suhail Kannampilly, operations vice-president. He adds, “Embracing sustainability is becoming increasingly important in today's world with its high eco-awareness levels. Going green even gives us a competitive advantage in a fiercely competitive world.”

Concept Hospitality has also joined hands with HVS Eco-Services to promote eco-friendly hotels or Ecotel concept, which is a globally recognised hallmark of environmentally sensitive hotels, in the country. Ecotel certified hotels have to meet stringent criteria on energy conservation, water conservation, solid waste management, employee environmental education, and environmental commitment, denoted by five globes.

The trend is not confined to only big or new names. It's cascading across the whole industry.

Radisson Blu Hotel, Delhi, too, has got silver certification from EarthCheck, which is the official green certifying agency for parent company Carlson Hotels. Following the parent company, the hotel also subscribes to the UN Global Compact, which is a UN initiative to prompt businesses pursue socially and environmentally responsible practices. The hotel has installed energy saving cold cathodes, CFLS, LEDs and tube lights. Similarly, the rooms have double glazed windows to cut down energy consumption on air-conditioning, says Javed Ali, vice-president & general manager, Radisson Blu Hotel Delhi. He adds, “There is a financial advantage in lower energy bills resulting from using energy efficient technology. Customers prefer and encourage hotels that adopt eco-friendly practices. Conforming to recognised green business practices also helps the hotel to incorporate quality business practices.”

Similarly, The Imperial in Delhi is undertaking conservation of electricity by dimming lights in common areas when not in use, providing natural products like herbal soaps, harvesting rain water and using drip irrigation. Going green is an ongoing endeavour at the hotel. Besides, the hotel is focused on creating eco-awareness amongst all its stakeholders by holding art competitions, undertaking cleanliness drives and hosting green luncheons. The future plans include putting up CFC-free equipment in cold storage and refrigeration plants, upgrading pumps to cut down energy consumption, installing solar lighting fixtures and solar water heating systems, says Vijay Wanchoo, senior vice-president & general manager, The Imperial. He adds, “Though it’s challenging to retrofit a 75-year-old property, we are going about it in a phased manner. Going green makes business sense because it enables in optimising the use of resources. We also need to act in our self interest because awareness about the environment is increasing and guests are discerning.”

With the awareness about the environment only rising by the day, the hotel industry will have to constantly keep on reinventing itself to optimise the use of resources for that competitive edge.

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