Chennai’s sustainable hotels

City hotels, particularly along the IT expressway, are doing their bit to reduce the carbon footprint of the hospitality industry

What do you look for when you book a hotel room: Comfort, location, entertainment? How about pushing for more environment friendly luxury?

As people get more concious about how their choices affect the planet, the hospitality industry is responding, attempting to provide a cleaner and greener experience. At the top of the to-do list is water conservation, so hotels across Chennai have put plans in motion to preserve this precious resource in the parched city. Kuldeep Bhartee, area manager of ITC Hotels and general manager of ITC Grand Chola, says, “ Our water consumption has steadily decreased due to the efficient use of recycled water from the sewage treatment plant (STP). In the last three months, we have closed all fountains and water bodies temporarily (saving five kilolitres per day); 380 kilolitres per day are conserved by reusing STP water; and changing our laundry programme saves 35 kilolitres per day.”

At Citadines, OMR Chennai, maintaining a water positive equation is crucial for its extended-stay suites, where guests typically spend three days on a short stay and up to 45 days for a long stay. General manager Ashwin Vijayasekar states, “By installing low flow urinals, kitchen faucets and efficient flush systems, we have reduced our water use by more than 62.9%. In more recent times, we have controlled the water pressure and introduced eco-friendly chemicals in our in-house laundry room.”

John Paul and Samuel David, directors of engineering at Novotel IBIS Chennai OMR and Novotel Chennai SIPCOT respectively, see a steady stream of foreign visitors who demand conscious luxury. In response, they have implemented simple solutions. John says, “We save 25,000 liters of water per month by using paper napkins instead of fabric ones. The paper napkins score over fabric since they are made from recycled material, and are free of dyes and bleach. In addition, 2,40,000 litres are saved using aerators and atomisers in taps and showers.” Venkat Subramaniam Chief Engineer, Holiday Inn, OMR IT Expressway, adds, “Sewage treatment plant water is utilised for the garden, cooling tower and guest rooms. It helps reutilise 70,000 litres of water a day, on average.”

“In India, we have the custom of athithi devo bhava: our guests are like God,” says Monica Khanna Gulati, founder of the citizen action and awareness group NCR Waste Matters. “But we have to re-engineer our idea of hospitality, and check if we are hospitable towards our land and our resources. It is imperative that we have sacrosanct respect for Nature. The hospitality industry and Municipal Corporations have to interact. If there is clean potable water available, one does not need mineral water bottles. On the other hand, if there is less waste generated by hotels, it helps the city immensely. Everything has to work in tandem.”

Down with plastic

Unfortunately, 250 and 500 ml water bottles are still the norm at most conference rooms. Water served in plastic pouches is currently banned in Tamil Nadu, but use-and-throw plastic bottles have managed to escape the rule, for now. Phasing them out completely is still a far cry, but some Chennai hotels have already affected a change. Bhartee, general manager of ITC Grand Chola, says, “SunyaAqua is served in glass bottles in our hotel using RO technology. It reduces plastic pollution, since we serve 400-600 bottles a day.” At Citadines, OMR, 20-litre bubble-top dispensers have replaced the plastic bottles customarily placed in rooms. “Although cost of investment was high, the returns to the planet are much higher. We are able to save almost 6,000 small plastic bottles each month from ending up in our landfills. It’s a win- win for the planet and guests. We have also placed water dispensers in our lobby areas,” states Vijayasekar.

Single-use plastic tableware, straws and bags have been banned in Tamil Nadu, but little bottles of lotion and shampoo still litter the landscape in many hotel bathrooms. These single-use toiletries are a pet peeve with frequent travellers like Vivek Menezes, CEO, Hamon Research Cottrell India “Those tiny bottles are such a travesty. Millions end up in landfills every year, and half-used ones are discarded.” The Novotel chain on OMR offers shampoo and shower gel dispensers, while the Ascott Group has adopted a specially designed dispenser alternative for its guests at Citadines OMR. Other hotel chains in the city are yet to hop on board with the idea, but maintain alternatives will be rolled out shortly.

Food is another massive form of waste at hotels. How do hospitality chains optimally use their edible resources? Venkat Subramaniam Chief Engineer Holiday Inn, OMR IT Expressway explains, “We have a zero waste policy when it comes to food. Excess from the restaurant is served to staff at the cafeteria.”

Composting also helps transform food waste. “Approximately 90% of the food waste generated is converted into manure, with our in-house organic waste convertor machine. The balance, which cannot be composted, is sent to pig farms on the outskirts of the city,” adds Bhartee from the ITC Grand Chola. Citadines processes 15 kilograms of food waste per batch, which is used in landscaping and garden areas.

As a consumer, however, the most effective way to help the planet is by demanding change. Luxury can be responsible, you just have to ask.

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