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Sustainability Making every Drop count!

Tuesday, June 5, 2018, 14:15 Hrs  [IST]

WATER is a vital liquid for the existence of life on earth. The supply of this vital resource is getting threatened due to unbridled and senseless development. The fear of next world war being waged for clean water and air is not far-fetched if the recent incidents in Tuticorin, Shimla, etc. are indicators. Hotels being major guzzlers of precious water have the responsibility to wake up to this impending resource crunch. Akshay Nayak speaks to the industry experts to learn how they are geared to ward off this peril…

ITC Gardenia, Bangaluru

Recent headlines in multiple mainline newspapers cited the seven-day long water crisis in Shimla, May this year. The social media also made noise of the crisis with voices like ‘Shimla, Our Own Cape Town’ as tweeted by Mansi Asher, an environmental activist (The acute water crisis in Cape Town propagated alarming notes for the world to take the case with close scrutiny). With water sources like rivers, lagoons, etc. being encroached upon or made dumping yards, and the underground water tables going alarmingly down due to excess exploitation, most of the Indian cities are facing water crisis of highest order year on year. The long queues of water tankers queueing up in front of the service gates of big hotels after sunset in cities like Delhi, Mumbai, etc. are pointers to the terrifying water crisis that everybody has to wake up to.

“There is a great risk for water stress in Mumbai. But, fortunately, or unfortunately we have transferred this risk onto the adivasis (tribals) from those areas we are getting water maybe 100 or more kilometers away,” Janak Daftari, convener of Maharashtra Jal Biradari—a water conservation body—told BloombergQuint. Down South, the crisis didn’t spare the country’s Silicon Valley as well where Bengaluru’s lakes and rivers were seen parched during the peak vacation season.

The water scarcity in Shimla impelled various hotels and local dhaabas to serve food in plastic plates and bringing in water to their properties through water tankers. Hotel owners claimed that water shortage forced them to keep their rooms vacant even when there is a huge rush and demand. This has led to losses, they said.

Such crisis can deliver a body blow to tourism industry at any destination. The image of the industry as a major drainer on available resources can drive the local sentiments against the industry, which is what happening in places like Shimla today.

The growing awareness in the industry
On the face of it, the industry seems to have fair understanding about the challenge in hand. About half the population of the world is projected to be living in water-stressed areas by 2030 and the demand for water is expected to exceed supply by 40% by then, admits Aldrina Fernandes, Environment Officer of Meluha- The Fern, An Ecotel Hotel. “Hence, Hotels have a responsibility to use water judiciously in order to not create a disparity in water distribution among the local communities, as well as ensure sustainable supply in the future,” said Fernandes.

Indian Hotels Company Limited (IHCL) managed Taj Hotels work closely with International Tourism Partnership (ITP) for Water Stewardship programme. “The International Tourism Partnership (ITP) is working with its hotel group members to address water as a critical issue for the industry, and find ways to work together towards “United Nations Sustainable Development Goal -6” (UNSDG) i.e. clean water and sanitation. In addition to this, many hotels have taken water as a key materiality issue in their revised sustainability strategy framework,” a Taj spokesperson said.

Mukund Sahasrabudhe, Director-Technical Services, Sarovar Hotels Pvt. Ltd., one of the fastest growing mid-market hotel chains in India, says the value of water is beyond monetary worth. “It is not just a public resource but also a human right that everyone is entitled to.”

Putting two and two together
Agreeing to the hoteliers’ efforts to curb water crisis, the sanitaryware suppliers too indicate that the hotel industry is already well-aware of the concern and are on the move to bring in a steady change to use water discreetly.

Headquartered in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA, with locations throughout Europe, GRAFF, a globally recognised plumbing and hardware manufacturer of trend-setting products; Emanuela Tavolini, Director of Sales - Europe of the company informs that the hospitality sector is becoming increasingly more aware of sustainability issues and very often selects producers also according to their standards in such areas. “GRAFF receives several requests from hotels and other estate developers for faucets that can reduce the water consumption and are produced in respect of the environment,” adds Tavolini.

“Over the years as consumers have become well-travelled and environmentally aware, where we have seen a significant rise in demand for water-efficient products from developers, architects and even hotels who are willing to invest in them,” said Manish Bhatia, President – Building Products Division, HSIL Limited.

Sandeep Shukla, Head of Marketing and Communications, Jaquar Group also spoke on similar lines to Bhatia, saying that the concept of water saving and energy-efficient bath fixtures are gaining a lot of popularity among the hospitality industry. They (hoteliers) are getting more and more conscious and are willing to adopt water-saving technologies to reduce their consumption, for which variety of products like Air Showers, Sensor faucets, etc. from the brand are being initiators of the eco-friendly measures.

Taps, toilets, showers and bathtubs/ Jacuzzis alone contribute to 30-40% of typical hotel’s water usage, making it a key area to reduce consumption and improve sustainability, says KE Ranganathan, Managing Director, Roca Bathroom Products. “Today, modern technology led products are chosen over their traditional counterparts not only for the ease-of-use but also for their energy and water saving properties,” informs Ranganathan.

Speaking on the initiative taken by The Indian Hotels Company Limited (IHCL) to reduce the tension, the Taj spokesperson said that the Group initiated a target setting exercise for hotels to improve specific water consumption. “Hotels were given a target of up to 5% reduction in water intensity over a 3-year baseline. Several of these hotels upgraded and/or replaced existing elements of their systems in favour of water-saving equipment and fixtures. A total of 3,276,923 KL of water was consumed from recycled and reused sources, including harvested rainwater. This is comparable to conserving the amount of water in 1311 Olympic-size swimming pools,” told the spokesperson.

Speaking about how Meluha - The Fern is trying to draw the silver lining in operating the hotel despite the water-distressed conditions, Fernandes says, “All the tap faucets are either installed with flow restrictors/aerators or sensors; shower heads and urinals are equipped with flow control devices and timer-based sensors respectively; all toilets are water-efficient and meet low-flush standards with a dual-flush system of capacities three and six litres per flush; Sewage Treatment Plant: The waste water of the hotel is treated and reused in the cooling tower of the AC plant, flushing, gardening, etc.”

Giving figures on how Sarovar brand have strategically planned to save water in bathrooms, Sahasrabudhe stated, at Sarovar Hotels & Resorts, they have strived to monitor area-wise water consumption by fixing water meters. “Further, using dual flush toilets which release 0.9 gallons per flush for liquid waste and 1.1 gallons for solid refuse, we have tried to conserve 20% of the flushing water requirement. We also focus a great deal on equipment maintenance to avoid leaks as a single leaking faucet with one drip per second can potentially waste more than 3000 gallons of water every year,” he added.

Need to build synergies
In order to bring drastic changes in the way natural resources are used, there is a need to have a synergies between the internal and external stakeholders. Working in isolation will not bring results. “Water conservation initiatives are meaningless without the support of internal and external stakeholders such as associates, guests, and the community. In India, companies can design their CSR programs to be aligned with the needs of water-related programs in areas in and around their operations. This will not only bring awareness to the community but will also help businesses to have a strong, positive relationship with the community,” opined the Taj spokesperson.

Fernandes also expressed similar sentiments when it comes to conservation, “Access to water is a human right and educating those around us about its fragility is therefore vital. Hotels have a responsibility in educating and communicating water issues to their stakeholders, employees, the local community and the customers. The market is flooded with options for decentralised wastewater management, intelligent irrigation systems, etc. Other emerging developments are smart systems for leak detection, low-cost water purification using nanotechnology, etc.”

While it comes to conservation and sustainability, globally there are ideal models which can be emulated by stakeholders. Siobhan O’Neill, Editor of Green Hotelier and Communications Manager of International Tourism Partnership (ITP) highlights such examples from their latest Green Hotelier Award list. “Two hotels from our Awards stand out for their commitment to conservation and sustainability. Six Senses Laamu won our Community Award. They’re based in a small island atoll. It gives 0.5% of total revenues plus guest donations for sustainable development projects in the community, contributing to roofing for a school, construction materials for a mosque, aggregate for a harbour, lights for an airport, and metal for a waste management centre. Mercure Convention Center Ancol Jakarta actively works with local government to ensure more water of high-quality is available locally. They ceased drawing from their well, engaged experts and undertook a comprehensive audit, installing meters across the property, training staff, checking weekly for leaks, adding efficiency measures and reusing greywater. They’ve achieved a water saving of 51% in six years and 10% costs against an increase of 7% on revenue.”

Sustainable Hoteliering
The recent backlash against tourism in many ‘touristic’ cities of Europe was a wakeup call for global tourism industry. The reasons for such wave of anti-tourism protests across Europe had its core on sustainable tourism. Although various disjointed efforts are on across the globe at the behest of various global agencies to reduce the negative impact of tourism on community and environment for some time, they are yet to become a mission and a movement of sort. For that to happen the tourism businesses have to incorporate Sustainable and Responsible Tourism as a fundamental part of their brand architecture.

It is important that hotel developers and operators design their hotels in sync with the local environment. It is also important to get their messaging right with their target audience. Designing a luxury private pool villas in a water-scare area will definitely invite the wrath of the local people. “Hotels really need to get a lot better at communicating with guests and managing their expectations. Visitors really need to stop and think about why their resort in the desert has two pools and a lush green golf course and what that’s doing to people who live there?,” says O’ Neill.

While the world is fighting the scourge of global warming and its ill-effects, and the global agencies are setting guidelines and best practices for industries to follow so as to reduce the emissions and wastage, the hotel industry cannot remain a mute spectator for the sake of ‘customer experiences.’ Experts feel that the spirit of sustainability and conservation is still not well understood by industry stakeholders. In the absence of absolute knowledge about its contours, people tend to pick up some aspects of it and come to the conclusion that they have adhered to the principles of sustainable tourism. Sustainability has business management aspect, the social aspect, cultural aspect and finally the environmental aspect.

Major hotel companies do make announcements about their initiatives on the sustainability front from time-to-time. There is also growing acceptance for Green certifications in the hotel industry over the last decade. Market research by global agencies have revealed that Green Building certifications matter considering 51% of the business travellers prefer to stay and hold meetings in hotels which give weightage to environment and sustainability, and about 75% corporates have shown preference for Green venues for their conferences.

Setting a major milestone, the Taj Hotels Palaces Resorts Safaris set a global benchmark in hospitality for environmental sustainability with 67 of its hotels being awarded Gold Certification by EarthCheck - an international agency in environmental benchmarking and certification - out of a total of 79 EarthCheck certified hotels. The certification program has not only helped to set and achieve targets in reducing the amount of waste, water consumption, emissions and energy, but also enabled the certified hotels to improve its environmental footprint by a considerable 5%.

Hilton, another international hotel chain, last month announced that it will eliminate plastic straws across its managed hotels in Asia Pacific by end-2018, and transition away from plastic bottles from its conference and event spaces. This follows the company’s global commitment to cut its environmental footprint in half and double its social impact investment by 2030. “The company will also double the amount it spends with local and minority-owned suppliers, and double its investment in programs to help women and youth around the world. “Our vision is to cut down wastages by 50% by 2030. By end of this year, all our hotels will be free from single use plastic straws. Couple of hotels in India have already implemented this programme. We want to be a responsible hotel company relevant to our local communities. We have a soap recycling program running in our hotels, by which used soaps do not go into the landfills. Our attempt is to make at least one hotel completely plastic free in the next couple of years. Sustainability for sure will be a big differentiator for Hilton in coming years,” says Jatin Khanna, VP – Operations, India, Hilton.

The InterContinental Hotels (IHG) with its expanding footprint in India, have their environmental sustainability system, IHG Green Engage™, to measure and mitigate energy consumption, water use and waste generation at our hotels, across the world. Vivek Bhalla, Regional Vice President, SWA, IHG, informs that the system demonstrates to their stakeholders, including colleagues and guests, about their commitment to address climate change, water scarcity and environmental degradation. Citing the records of having made a contribution to the sustainability track, Bhalla said that the group is achieving ongoing success with the system where they reduced 27% reduction in carbon footprint across their managed hotels, while the reduction in water use across these properties stood at 15%, during the period of 2013-17. “Underlining our continued commitment to managing our impact on the environment, we have set new global targets to reduce our carbon footprint by 6-7% from 2018-2020 and launch two water stewardship projects per year,” added Bhalla.

At AccorHotels they have their Planet 21 initiative which brings both employees and the guests to comprehensively drive sustainable growth. “We also work with partners that are a right fit. In addition to that, all our partners, guests, and employees understand the importance of the sustainability practices we follow. Our dedication and confidence towards result-oriented sustainable development help us save operational costs. Our partners are extremely supportive towards all our sustainable initiatives,” says Darashbir Singh, Director -Engineering Services, AccorHotels.

ITC Hotels in India is known for their high benchmarks when it comes to environment and sustainability. Their hotels have highest sustainability rating under the US Green Building standards in India. Ajay Nayak, Chief Engineer at ITC Gardenia, Bengaluru said that Guests staying at ITC Gardenia consume lesser carbon footprints, compared to any other hotel of its size, as it is close to achieving the status of zero water discharge and zero solid waste management, which is an attempt to educate them not only about being eco-friendly but also Eco-responsible. “ITC Gardenia has conferred the highest rating for green buildings in the world - the LEED Platinum Rating. This recognition makes it the first world’s largest platinum rated hotel and is yet another manifestation of ITC’s leadership in Sustainability Practices. ITC Gardenia has also been conferred with the distinguished ‘Sustainable Hotel Awards’ in the category of ‘Sustainable Project Design’ at the annual HICAP (Hotel Investment Conference Asia Pacific) to recognise hotels in Asia Pacific Region demonstrating exemplary sustainable best practices,” informs Nayak.

Says Sushil Pant, General Manager, Engineering and Technical Services, Keys Hotels, “We have reduced water consumption by approximately 20% by using the STP recycled water in our flush system and for gardening. We are committed to reducing this even further by adopting more intensive resource-saving practices. Meanwhile, we get about 10% saving in electricity units by usage of solar panels for heating water. We also recognise waste management as an important exercise and have implemented various techniques for the same which have helped us control CO2 emission.”

Through the detailed insights laid down by the experts, it is evident that meeting the sustainability goal is not individualistic but a linking subject across various verticals. From the tourism perspective, the speakers are trying to convey it to the globe that how visitors and other stake holders could be contributing to this integral cause, than shedding it as the hoteliers’ moral impetus.

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