The rise of Ecomodation

Eco-friendliness, for the hotel industry is steadily evolving f o r m a nice-to-have trend to a must-have priority as, according to U.N. World Tourism Organisation there will be 1.6 billion eco-inspired trips taken by 2020. The Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) has created GSTC industry criteria suggesting indicators for hotels to enable them to come to a common understanding of sustainable tourism. Ashok Malkani takes a look at the Indian hotel industry and the efforts that hoteliers are making to make their properties eco-friendly. There is a concerted endeavour by some hotels to meet the increasing demands of the eco-friendly tourists. While it is vital for the environment which is battling the threat of global warming, the hoteliers have realised that eco-friendly policies can also help the hotel achieve economically.

It took a few thousand years for mankind to shift f o r m Stone Age tools to the more scientific Neolithic tools. However the development since then has been extremely fast. Rapid industrialisation as well as creation of huge megalopolises has resulted in human activities which have caused irreversible damage to the global environment due to extensive emission of greenhouse gases. 

The serious repercussions of environmental damage are global warming, increased environmental pollution and decline in flora and fauna. The rising concern about environment is driving thinkers to seek sustainable solutions and educate people to reconsider and amend their way of living to become more eco-friendly. Several countries across the globe are working towards minimising the harmful impact of their business activities on the environment. Many, if not all, are seeking to redesign their lifestyles and get into the green mode. 

Most of the industries are now adopting eco-friendly techniques to help sustain an ecological balance. The hospitality industry, which has always been in the forefront for promoting causes beneficial to mankind, has risen to protect Mother Nature by adopting several techniques to maintain ecological balance.

First steps in adoption of eco-friendliness in hotels  

The adoption of eco-friend modes for preservation of Mother Nature started long time back. This writer remembers visiting ITC Grand Central in Lower Parel, Mumbai, over a decade-and-a-half ago, when the communications manager of the property informed him that the hotel utilise kitchen waste as manure for their gardening activities. At this time, eco-friendliness and going green were terms that were rarely heard. Today, ITC  has a platinum rating for all its luxury hotels. 

For ITC, sustainable design has become a buzzword for their five-star properties everywhere f o r m Paris to Peru.  Dipak Haksar, the company’s chief executive, informs that ITC Hotels set an unprecedented benchmark when its 11 luxury hotels all became certified LEED Platinum, a process that included retrofitting nine properties. Today, the company is India’s second-largest hotel chain, with more than 90 hotels throughout the country, and the only company in the world of its size to have been carbon positive for 13 years, water positive for 16 years, and solid waste recycling positive for 11 years—all in one of the world’s most polluted countries (India, according to World Economic Forum India has six of the ten most polluted cities in the world)

However, credit for being the first Ecotel Certiified Five Star Hotel of India goes to Orchid Hotel Mumbai. The hotel has been able to get this certificate owing to its several environment friendly initiatives like efficient solid waste management systems, energy conservation practices and its commitment to save environment. Its architecture is designed in such a manner that it uses maximum sunlight to light up its atrium area with natural light. Installation of solar panel enables the hotel to use sunlight as alternative to traditional expensive power supply solutions. The hotel uses LED and CFL lights to decrease usage of electricity. The hotel has set up an in-house vermin composting unit to reuse the food waste generated everyday at the hotel.   

Guests’ demand for Eco-friendly Hotels 

The hotels opting for eco-friendly techniques could be, partly, attributed to the fact that the tourists are becoming choosy. They are looking for sustainable and authentic experiences and prefer to stay in eco-friendly hotels. Over the last few years, concern for environmental issues has increased amongst the consumers. This change has led to a greater focus on green consumers and tourists using products and services which are eco-friendly.      

F o r m the past years, concern for environmental issues has increased drastically amongst the consumers, hence affecting their consumption pattern. This change has led to a greater focus on green consumers and tourists who use those products & services which are eco friendly.

Economics of Eco-friendly Hotels 

Besides the preference of the guests, the eco-friendly route is also believed to improve the hotel’s bottom line enabling them to offer guests rooms at lower tariffs. A hotel can, according to financial experts, save over Rs 33 lakh simply by switching to PL lamps or CFL, as in the case of The Orchid Mumbai. No wonder hoteliers are jumping on to the eco-friendly bandwagon by taking initiatives like installing chlorofluorocarbon-free air conditioners, rainwater harvesting, tapping solar and wind power to become energy-efficient, linen reuse programmes, and recycling waste. According to Krishan Singh, business head, domestic holidays,, a hotel could have a savings of 20-25% a year by adopting eco-sensitive initiatives.

However, it may be mentioned that experts are of the opinion that setting up a truly green hotel costs roughly 15-30% more as project cost – as it involves installing renewable energy sources, insulated facades, waste management systems, etc., which are additional expenses. But this additional investment can be recovered within 3 years due to savings in operational costs. Is it any wonder, then, that the number of green hotels in India has amplified in the last 10 years. The Green Hotels have adopted policies like use of  low-flow  showers  and  toilets,  occupancy  sensors  to control lighting  and air conditioner  requirements and  the commonplace practices like linen and towel reuse policies. 

The state-of-the-art technology can help hotels to decrease power consumption and reduce waste creation, water consumption and pollution. The centralised monitoring and control of consumption points can reduce power consumption and increase efficient utilisation of resources. Use of smart keys can ensure that all electrical devices are switched off when the guests exit f o r m the room and are switched on when they enter.  

With varying climates in different parts of the country hotels in India need large amounts of energy either to keep guests warm during chilly winters – like in Shimla, Darjeeling, Ooty or Manali – or help guests keep cool in extremely hot climes such as in Jaipur, Udaipur, Chennai, Ahmedabad or Hyderabad. Therefore proper monitoring of energy requirements and the optimum utilisation of available resources can help hotels cut down on overheads quite substantially. This is one of the reasons why Energy Management Systems (EMS) are becoming popular in India. The country’s expertise in software development is helping hoteliers to get customised software which would enable them to manage conservation of energy in an efficient manner. Consisting of a network of components such as HVAC interface communicators, digital wall thermostats and in-room sensors, EMS packages could become the norm in hotels in the near future.

Essentials for Eco-friendly Hotels 

But to be recognised as an eco friendly property, the hotel usually has to meet the following criteria: 

  • Dependence on the natural environment
  • Ecological sustainability
  • Proven contribution to conservation
  • Provision of environmental training programs
  • Incorporation of cultural considerations
  • Provision of an economic return to the local community

Green hotels also have to follow strict green guidelines in order to ensure that the accommodation is non-toxic and energy efficient. Some of the basic characteristics necessary for an eco-friendly hotel are: 

  • Ensuring that the Housekeeping uses non-toxic cleaning agents and laundry detergent
  • Usage of 100% organic cotton sheets, towels and mattresses
  • Preserving a strict non-smoking environment
  • Using renewable energy sources like solar or wind energy
  • Utilising bulk organic soap and amenities instead of individual packages, to reduce waste
  • Having recycling bins for guest rooms  and hotel lobby
  • Using energy-efficient lighting
  • Utilising green vehicles for on-site transportation 
  • Offering a fresh-air exchange system
  • Having Greywater recycling (using kitchen, bath and laundry water for garden and landscaping) 
  • Re-using towel and sheet (guests can tell housekeeping to leave these slightly used items to reduce water consumption)
  • Serving organic and local-grown food
  • Using non-disposable dishes
  • Having a newspaper recycling program

With a global online study f o r m Nielsen disclosing that the 66% of the respondents are willing to pay more for products and services that come f o r m companies committed to positive social and environmental impact – up f o r m 55% in 2014 – hotels are keen to go eco-friendly.  

The desire to become eco-friendly becomes more resolved when it is pointed out that younger generations share this sentiment at an even higher rate, as almost 75% of Millennial and Gen Z said they would be willing to pay extra for sustainable offerings, up f o r m around 50% in 2014. Grace Farraj, Senior Vice President, Public Development and Sustainability at Nielsen claims, “When it comes down to financial commitment, a sustainable sentiment shifts to one of increased social awareness and responsibility.”  

Thus the idea, which was a non starter about a decade ago, that a luxury hotel can be environment-friendly has now turned on its head and several star hotels and resorts are now, encouraged by responsible customers, adopting eco-friendly environment for their guests.

Eco-friendly Properties       

Some of the luxury properties which have become eco-friendly properties are: 

Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces have implemented the Environmental Awareness and Renewal (EARTH) program, a project which began as a conscious effort to commit to energy conversation and other sustainability strategies. Taj Hotels was one of the first groups to join the tourism industry in its efforts for conservation of energy. The program EARTH began as a conscious effort to save energy and develop environment friendly sustainable business strategies. This has now been formally adopted across all its properties.  

ITC Hotel chain can be said to have achieved the distinction of becoming an over four decades old chain with a concept of ‘responsible luxury’. The chain has more than 100 hotels across 70 destinations, and its ten premium hotels have bagged LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) recognition at the Platinum level. ITC Grand Chola Chennai is the largest LEED Platinum certified hotel in the world. It’s the largest hotel in the world to bear the accolade, with its wind farms providing the entire hotel’s electricity. The ITC chain has come out with its ‘WelcomEnviron’ initiative, which has been started in order to propagate environmental causes in the cities where the company’s hotels are located. The guiding principle behind the initiative is ‘Reduce, Reuse and Recycle’.

The Orchid Hotel, Mumbai is the first Ecotel Certified Five Star Hotel of India. The hotel has been able to get this certificate owing to its several environment friendly initiatives like efficient solid waste management systems, energy conservation practices and its commitment to save environment. The hotel is also involved with community education towards environment conservation. The hotel has set up an in house vermi-composting unit to reuse the food waste generated at the hotel. The property’s architecture is designed in such a manner that it uses maximum sunlight to light up its atrium area. Instead of using traditional lighting system, it uses LED and CFL lights which save electricity for the hotel. Installation of solar panel enables the hotel to use sunlight as alternative to traditional expensive power supply solutions. The taps and other water using devices are specially designed to save water. 

The Fern Hotels & Resorts chain has a number of environmentally sensitive hotels spread throughout the country. Some of the top eco features that can be found in these hotels include Ayurvedic toiletries, eco-friendly baskets, water-friendly tap and flushes, cloth bags instead of plastic shopping bags, etc. 

The Raintree Hotels, Chennai has kept environment friendly practice in mind while constructing the hotel. The wood used for the building was medium density fiber, bamboo and rubber wood. Moreover the cement used in construction of the hotel has a significant percentage of fly ash. Similarly, the hotel has installed a water device called the ‘George Fisher Concealed Cistern’ which uses only six liters of water per flush, as compared to 15-20 liters in the case of a conventional flush. The water that is recycled by the sewage treatment plant at the hotel is used in the air conditioners. Interestingly the heat generated through air conditioning is used to warm water for bathrooms and kitchen. 

Alila Diwa Goa which is the first Alila hotel in India supports sustainable tourism by reducing carbon footprints with the usage of biodegradable material. The resort takes great care in minimising its environmental impact by using primarily local materials and working with the landscape to preserve indigenous ecosystems. Measures such as the use of Areca leaf plates and bowls for outdoor catering events helps reduce plastic waste. These plates and bowls are made using naturally fallen palm leaves. Since February 2018 the hotel has discontinued serving straws with beverages in support of the #NoPlasticStraws campaign.

There are several other hotels like Pune Marriott Hotel and Convention Centre and the Heritage Madurai Hotel and Resort, which have been awarded gold certification, and Fortune Select at Lavasa which has a silver rating.  

Summing up 

One finds that several hotels across the country are following sustainable practices. Indeed the ‘green’ bug seems to have bitten the Indian hotel industry.  This is heartening for the country, which is emerging as a major global tourism hub, to find the hospitality industry adopting sustainable strategies as tourists are now keen to occupy eco-friendly properties. Several hotels are now claiming to be LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and Ecotel certified to attract customers. While LEED Certification is a third party certification of green buildings, the Ecotel Certification is initiated by HVS, a global consulting giant in hospitality sector.   

The Green Hotels have adopted policies like use of  low-flow  showers  and  toilets,  occupancy  sensors  to control lighting  and air conditioner  requirements and  the commonplace practices like linen and towel reuse policies.

The increasing number of Green Hotels has been mainly due to the growing sustainable tourism which has become a rising travel trend. According to the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership, tourism contributes about 5% of global greenhouse gas emissions. This figure is expected to grow by 130% by 2035. The hospitality industry, to align with the Paris Climate Agreement, would need to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions per room per year by 90% by 2050 (compared to a baseline f o r m 2010).

These are sobering statistics indeed!

The challenge for the Indian hotel industry may not be that high but it would definitely be a significant one. So the industry has to find a way in which the industry could grow but at the same time reduce its carbon footprints to help achieve the global target of complete decarbonization by 2050.

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