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Luxury hotels increasingly place sustainability at their core

Reading Time: 6 minutes
Indian hospitality groups such as IHCL, ITC, The Oberoi Hotels & Resorts and The Postcard Hotel are incorporating eco-friendly practices to craft and nurture a regenerative circular economy. 

  ‘Less is more’ is a phrase often encountered by hoteliers, particularly by those working in the luxury realm. The dynamism of the phrase allows me to stray away from the lens of aestheticism and use it in an entirely different context.

The word ‘Nachhaltigkeit’ (sustainability) is of German origin, often used to convey that one should never harvest more than what a forest can regenerate. Today, this word occupies a soft spot in the hearts of environmentalists. 

Sustainability has made a comeback with a reformed definition, referring to the ability to meet our own needs without compromising that of our future generations, and it has found a new home in hospitality.

CSR in hotels
CSR activities of hospitality groups have begun including environmentally sustainable activities and practices

This is directly linked to the concept of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), which focuses on balancing economic growth and social welfare for a stable society. CSR makes a company socially accountable, and in this case, also liable to be questioned about their unethical and environmentally harmful practices.

CSR is not just starkly beneficial for the community, it also raises morale to know that employees themselves are partaking in the practice of sustainability. It enhances the brand image of the company that uses eco-friendly practices and creates positive PR. A study conducted by Unilever stated that one in three customers prefer sustainable brands. 

How luxury hotels are incorporating more sustainable practices

IHCL works with artisans and implements employee volunteering programme under which they participate in CSR activities

In South Asia, IHCL has an employee volunteering programme in which the team is expected to chip in their bit in the ongoing CSR and sustainability projects, thereby creating not just bonhomie and bonds that go beyond merely the workplace, but also ensuring the projects run most efficiently due to the contributions of the team. 

The focus is on skill-building programmes in the hospitality and tourism industry for underprivileged and school dropout youths. Similarly, The Oberoi Hotels & Resorts, under their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), launched ‘Project Saksham’ in 2015. Under this project, the group companies supported family homes consisting of children and their SOS mothers across nine locations in India. The project also supports higher education of youth across the same locations, enabling parentless children by ensuring access to quality education, health and nutrition facilities, holistic development, upkeep of the family home and extra-curricular activities.

In the corporate sector of hospitality, sustainability plays an even more vital role. Tourism is heavily reliant on it, as tourists often travel to various destinations to explore green landscapes, lush with beauty and resources. A hotel would also attract more guests if they choose to use organic ingredients (a healthier alternative) in their recipes rather than artificially grown, chemical-infused produce. 

The food staples at all The Postcard Hotels are completely organic and fresh. For example, all The Postcard Hotels in Goa serve Poee, which is a Goan household essential and is freshly baked by the local village bakers. Most hotels and resorts are integrating organic produce, hormone-free meats and dairy and other natural products that offer guests healthier food selections, on their menu. 

The Postcard Hotel works closely with leading architects and interior designers to build and restore hotels, extensively using regional materials and contributing to local artisans. 

This not just supports local artisans but also reduces the cost and time of construction, besides reducing the carbon footprint. Guest amenities in rooms include bamboo toothbrushes and combs, glass water bottles and organic cotton tote bags.

Busting myths about sustainability and energy-efficiency

cyclical economy for susatinability

By stabilizing the numerous electricity bills hotels have to pay, energy-efficient ways save money. An example of this is the concept of ecotels that incorporate environmental preservation in their very core. There is a larger emphasis on recycling, water conservation, non-toxic personal care products and much more. A successful endeavour is The Orchid in Mumbai. When it comes to sustainable practices, ITC Royal Gardenia (a part of the luxury collection) has gone as far as building a wind farm for renewable electricity in Bellary.

Wind Farms sustainable solutions
Running energy-efficient hotels is on top of the agenda for most hotel groups and they leverage wind energy and solar power

At IHCL Hotels, 24% of the energy is procured from renewable energy sources, wind and solar. Its carbon footprint has reduced by 18%. Similarly taking a step towards greener future, The Oberoi Gurgaon and Trident, Gurgaon has introduced solar power to meet the electricity needs of both hotels. A captive power plant in Balasar, Haryana will generate 7.5 MW of electricity to meet the energy demands. At The Oberoi Amarvilas, Agra, power is generated with the use of a gas turbine, which is run by propane, the cleanest fuel available worldwide. Thus, it ensures that the hotel’s proximity to the UNESCO World Heritage monument, Taj Mahal, do not contribute to the existing levels of pollution surrounding it.

Water conservation is another frontier on which hotels are very active. They continue to implement efficiencies that reduce water consumption in laundries, kitchens pools, spas and rooms. Efforts range from a linen and towel reuse programs, installation of low-flow faucets, and the use of showerheads and other fixtures that are now an industry standard.

Hotels are composing programs for recycling and waste reduction. Food waste composting programs contributes to 40% to 50% of waster diverted from landfills. Recognising the importance of safer products for guests, employees and the environment, many hotels have shifted to cleaning products made from bio-based oils and other natural cleaners which are less destructive to the environment. 

 ITC Green Centre at Gurgaon has been designed in a way that it enables maximum use of daylight. Similarly, Ibis Gurgaon uses motion sensors on floors, maximum use of daylight, installations of flow regulator in the taps, sensor taps in all public areas, and installation of variable-frequency drive (VFD) on all heating, ventilating and air-conditioning (HVAC) system of the hotel. Besides, hotels have switched to energy-efficient LED lights in all areas to conserve electricity.

Training the team in eco-philosophy

Taj-Mahal-Palace
It is crucial to train and educate the staff about eco-initiatives taken by the hotel at regular intervals, and motivate, guide and educate them about the eco-sensitive issues. Photograph: IHCL

Employees are in constant touch with guests and are involved in day-to-day operations. Most hotels that follow eco practices have a ‘green team’, which conceptualises and implements innovative ideas to conserve energy and preserve the environment. 

They are responsible for filtering these ideas to their respective departments. The employees are educated on environmental policies and saving of water and electricity procedures. Each employee, vendor, neighbour and business partner receives briefings on environmental related information. This helps individuals, organisations and society as a whole.

Hospitality education has grounded itself in teaching future hoteliers about environmentally friendly exercises. Cornell Hotel School provides its students’ courses on sustainable development, and they are taught to solve real-world sustainability problems. Another impactful course is “Introduction to Sustainable Tourism”. Students get an opportunity to work on sustainable tourism projects in Costa Rica. This ensures that responsible citizens and accountable hoteliers will eventually dominate the sector.

‘Less is more’ is an adage that applies to every sustainable practice. Many hotels have decided to change the plastic room key cards to metallic keys and other methods, thereby reducing their waste extensively. Even something as simple as installing a ‘reuse towels’ sign in a suite can remind guests to partake in creating an environmentally friendly world.

These small steps help us in crafting and nurturing a regenerative circular economy. 

In conclusion, as American theoretical physicist, futurist Michio Kaku rightly said, “We should try to leave the world a better place than when we entered it. As individuals, we can make a difference, whether it is to probe the secrets of nature to clean up the environment and work for peace and social justice or to nurture the inquisitive, vibrant spirit of the young by being a mentor and a guide.” 

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