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Is Sustainability in the Indian Hospitality Sector a Myth?

Wednesday, June 14, 2017, 10:40 Hrs  [IST]

A while ago I was with a friend of mine, sitting in the office of the PR person of a well known hotel. My friend is a journalist and he had been called by the hotel to cover their “Sustainable Development Initiative”. I listened to the lady speak proudly about how the hotel had taken initiatives to take sustainability to the “next level” and urged my friend to write a large article about it in his journal.

Now, I normally keep my counsel in these matters, but my friend put me in a tight spot. “Jaideep, help me out here. You ask the questions and let me write the responses down.” Knowing the pitfalls, I hesitated, but asked, “Ma’am, how do you segregate waste?”

The lady gave me a condescending look, “We have separate bins for dry and wet kitchen waste. Even in dry, we have separate bins for metal, plastic and organic waste. Our electronic waste is segregated too and handed over to a company that recycles them”. She gave me a confident smile. I took a deep breath and asked, “So what happens to the waste when it is picked up?”

She frowned, “I guess it goes to the right place for recycling”. I gave her an incredulous look. “Haven’t your teams seen what happens to the waste after being picked up?” There was a long silence. I decided that it was time for me to leave and made some excuse to walk out.

I have seen that in India, sustainable development initiatives are more a PR and publicity exercise by most hotels and hospitality companies. What is even more distressing is that this initiative is often confused with CSR activity.

What we have to understand is that sustainability is a measureable exercise that has attained the goal of a sustainable economy through a clear focus on the “triple bottom line” i.e.

1.PLANET - the environmental dimension: how can we minimise environmental impacts in our organisation?

2.PROFIT - the economic dimension: how can we maximise our economic profit?

3.PEOPLE - the social dimension: how can we maximise the social well-being of all stakeholders?

The hospitality sector has a huge environmental impact through energy and water consumption, use of consumable and durable goods, and solid and hazardous waste creation. Hotels consume energy for HVAC operations, lighting, fuel and other power needs. Water is used for bathrooms, F&B, and laundry, as well as other general operations. Waste is generated by the disposal of paper, batteries and bulbs, furniture, equipment, appliances and more.

Within a philosophy of Total Quality Management (TQM), sustainability implies continuous improvement in environmental and social actions. As such, a huge responsibility lies with the hospitality sector and any initiative for sustainability needs patience, time and careful monitoring, besides training and education, to be successful.

It is believed by many hoteliers that green operation is more expensive and that guests are not interested in sustainability. In fact, according to Cornell University’s Centre for Hospitality Research, the reverse is true. Recent advances in technology related to renewable sources of energy (solar, geothermal, wind, etc.) have improved the economics of using these kinds of alternative energies at the property level.

The following points need to be considered when a hospitality company is thinking of launching a “Green or Sustainable Initiative”:

1.Sustainability must be definitively seen as a new quality management dimension, a source of innovation and as a new paradigm for the twenty-first century, though it still needs to keep up with other strategic variables such as providing memorable experiences, offering a good product and an outstanding service and value for money.

2.Sustainability education must start at the very base levels in order for it to be successful. Employees must understand the impact of not following sustainable initiatives correctly and how it affects the environment and economy. Their direct involvement is a must for a successful campaign.

3.They must ensure that the initiatives run down right to the end of the chain. Thus, all stakeholders down the line must be a part of the initiative and contribute to the success of the initiative.

The interesting thing is that if done correctly, sustainability generates great participation from educated customers and stakeholders which actually help in increasing the bottom line. When hotels are willing to go deeper into their sustainable path, they can find a very powerful tool for better positioning their brands. These hotel groups can also share values with customers and thus increase their brand credibility and recognition.

The views expressed within this column are the opinion of the author, and may not necessarily be endorsed by the publication.

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