A look at number of intiatives undertaken by IHCL that has been touching lives, people and beyond

For IHCL, sustainability straddles environment and habitat preservation, wildlife species, creation of livelihood opportunities, besides the adoption of zero-plastic, water conservation and renewable energy policies.

Water conservation, Wildlife onservation, CSR, Ihcl, The Indian Hotel Company Limited’s (IHCL), Sustainablity, Rambagh Palace Jaipur, Taj Hotels

We live in an era of transformations. Our world is changing rapidly with the rise of new technologies, growing environmental concerns and a renewed, collaborative understanding of economic and social value. We remain deeply rooted in history, with the great legacy of the 150-year old Tata Group keeping us anchored to our core values of integrity, excellence, unity, responsibility and pioneering spirit.” This is how Puneet Chhatwal, Managing Director and CEO, IHCL defines the hospitality conglomerate’s take on CSR and sustainability. Under Aspiration 2022 strategy, IHCL has reimagined its brandscape, augmented the development pipeline significantly, and ensured proactive asset management with all round efforts to improve efficiencies.

The group has also set upon itself a target to create sustainable and responsible hotels that give back to the society in a myriad different ways. Alok Vijayvergiya, Associate Vice President - Sustainability & CSR, says, “IHCL always had an active CSR policy and in 2016, we implemented a sustainability policy. We have a multi-pronged approach to CSR and sustainability, which straddles the environment, the community, wildlife and heritage. We are enablers for community development and environment preservation. We have touched several lives through our social projects.” Interestingly, IHCL has an employee volunteering programme in which the team is expected to chip in their bit in the ongoing CSR and sustainability projects; thus, creating not just bonhomie and bonds that go beyond merely the workplace, but also ensuring the projects run in the most efficient manner, due to the contributions of the team. As Chhatwal says, “We focus on skill-building programmes in the hospitality and tourism industry for underprivileged and school dropout youths; thus, catering to livelihood generation for the underprivileged sections of the society. Our initiatives are also aligned towards preserving our heritage properties and promoting the indigenous culture of our regions, including its natural, cultural & culinary heritage.”

With 149 hotels spread largely across the swathe of this country, and a few internationally and 32,670 employees, IHCL has the immense capability of creating a serious difference at the ground level. Here are some projects that help them do so. Green initiatives: renewable energy, water conservation and plastic From renewable energy to plastic elimination, from sourcing to construction of hotels, IHCL’s policies veer towards creating as sustainable an environment as is possible.

There has been considerable growth in the use of renewable energy, waste treatment and reduction in water consumption in the hotels. Vijayvergiya says, “We have partnered with EarthCheck, the world’s leading scientific benchmarking, certification and advisory group for travel and tourism, for performance monitoring and verification. Around 24% of IHCL’s energy is procured from renewable energy sources, wind and solar, offering a four-fold increase in the past four years. Our carbon footprint has reduced by 18%.”

Water conservation is another frontier on which IHCL is rather active. The group has deployed a strategy of educating the staff and encouraging them to identify best practices for water-saving. In the year 2018-19, IHCL estimates that it could recycle 27.89 lakh kl of water, which is 26.42% of the total freshwater consumption, equivalent to 1,116 Olympic-sized swimming pools. On Earth Hour 2018, IHCL pledged to phase out single-use plastics from
all its hotels. The group launched its first-ever ‘Zero Single-Use Plastic Hotel’, the Taj Exotica Resort & Spa, Andamans. Plastic straws and bottles have been banned across all properties and replaced by paper straws and glass bottles at Taj Samudra Colombo, Taj Exotica Maldives and Taj Andaman, Taj Palace Delhi, Taj Bentota Resort & Spa, Sri Lanka, Taj Yeshwantpur, Bangalore. IHCL’s mission to deal with the plastic menace now includes ending single-use plastics, promoting 100 per cent recycling of plastics, and promoting innovation to replace plastics.

The IHCL Sustainability report states, “Each hotel is given customised annual targets for reducing specific water consumption, energy consumption and emissions. These targets range between 2% and 7% improvement in efficiency and take into account variables such as the size and location of the hotel. Our sustainability efforts rely on collaboration and information-sharing. To foster these interactions, green teams comprising the heads of key operations departments have been constituted in each hotel.”


Wildlife and habitat conservation

Conservation and preservation of the wild habitat and its equally wild denizens are at the core of IHCL’s sustainability policies. From Coorg to Andamans, from Rajasthan to Madhya Pradesh, the group has worked with forest officials, local authorities and communities to ensure habitat conservation. “Our Taj Safari hotels are particularly dependent on habitat and wild species preservation, but even in other destinations, particularly those abounding in natural beauty, we work with the authorities and communities to ensure their preservation,” says Vijayvergiya.

Jaipur’s Rambagh Palace has, in fact, created an endearing video of one of their resident peacock, Sultan, recounting the history of this palace. Built in 1835 as a home for the queen’s favourite handmaiden, it became a royal guesthouse and hunting lodge, then the residence of Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II and Maharani Gayatri Devi, and is now a Taj property. Its grounds, however, have always belonged to the peacocks and the peahens, who are lovingly looked after by the hotel staff.

“When any city expands, the bird species begin to reduce as their habitat starts decreasing, which is what is happening to the peacocks in Jaipur. Rambagh Palace has championed the cause of preserving the national bird for more than a generation now,” adds Vijayvergiya.

In Coorg, an ecologically fragile habitat, IHCL has ensured no destruction of the forested surroundings while building Taj Madikeri Coorg. Shrouded by a huge 180-acre rainforest, the hotel is ensconced in the heart of this forested area. The various spaces and components were inserted into the natural clearings that the jungle offered, resulting in a picturesque and charming getaway in virgin surroundings. The same policy of cutting no trees or destruction of habitat for the construction of the 72 beach villas (that pay homage to the style of the indigenous Jarawa tribe’s pitch-roof stilted huts) was also adopted at Taj Exotica Resort and Spa, at Radhanagar Beach at Havelock Island. 

And in Maldives, Taj Exotica Resort & Spa and the Ocean Dive Centre are working to increase the coral coverage and encourage healthy coral growth on the local reefs. The Coral Garden is located just off the shore of Taj Exotica Resort & Spa in the second largest lagoon.


The community

Much like the founding fathers and the men who shaped the Tata Group’s policies, Jamshetji Tata and JRD Tata, who placed the community at the core of all their initiatives, IHCL ensures constant engagement with people in the regions they work in, helping them hone their skills, even employing them in their hotels. An integral part of one of the oldest living cities in the world, Varanasi’s rich historical and cultural heritage is the Banarasi weaved saree. In this spiritual destination, IHCL spearheaded a Livelihood Support Programme in 2008, and at present, this programme works across three villages— Sarai Mohana, with 21 weaver families, Milki Bangla, with three weaver families and Kazi Sarai with two families. Taj commissions them to create gorgeous silk sarees that are worn by the front office and housekeeping staff at all its luxury and palace hotels.


IHCL collaborates with the weaving community of Varanasi to create gorgeous Banarasi silk sarees for  the front office and housekeeping staff  of the luxury and palace properties.

But in a game-changing move, Taj is helping the women from the weaving community to break through the glass ceiling and enter the weaving profession through a Female Weavers’ Training programme. Equally fascinating is IHCL’s work with the Pardhi tribes, once reviled as one of India’s ‘hunting tribes’. Taj Safaris supports the training of Pardhis, to leverage their natural tracking talent to offer an immersive and interactive wilderness experience to the travellers. While strict anti-poaching laws have led to a significant increase in tiger numbers, it has left the Pardhis to look for alternate sources of income. Taj Safaris, the Last Wilderness Foundation, and the Panna Forest Department formed an alliance to introduce a sustainable tourism initiative. Since its inception, two batches of Pardhi youth including 16 men and 4 women are engaged with Taj Safaris and several others.

Thanks to Jaipur’s Rambagh Palace, the national bird still has a home in the city.

Nagendra Singh Hada, Area Director, Taj Safaris says, “We have harnessed the three Ts—tigers, tribes and tourism to create a successful sustainable initiative. Travellers can now gain a deeper understanding of the forest life accompanied by a member of the Pardhi tribe, whose knowledge of the land is as ancient as time.” Conservation of heritage precincts While there are several continuing projects under 'heritage', the one we would like to mention are two. IHCL has an unusual partnership with the National Railway Museum in Delhi that documents and exhibits the fascinating history of the railways in India. Vijayvergiya says, “Our teams have beautified the mural walls, enabled better landscaping, regular cleanliness and maintenance, horticulture projects like a greenhouse and herb-garden for visual enhancements, through our CSR support.”

IHCL has helped with traffic management, restoration of heritage lamp posts and upkeep of the Gateway of India.

The next phase of the programme involves creating audio-visual and digital experiences and improving the quality and skills of museum guides and personnel in association with Sahapedia—a Not for Profit organization and open encyclopedia of Indian heritage. The other heritage project that IHCL is often credited for is the creation of tourism squares at The Gateway of India in Mumbai. The group’s flagship hotel The Taj Mahal Palace overlooks this important landmark. “Post the creation, the quantum of footfalls and crowds has significantly increased. IHCL has collaborated with municipal authorities, local police and coast guard teams to ensure traffic management, maintenance and cleanliness of this heritage precinct,” adds Vijayvergiya. IHCL has also led the refurbishment of the heritage light poles on the street, aesthetic replacement of old barricades and bollards and regular lighting at the monument. The next phase involves incentivising local vendors for better waste management, street art and beautification initiatives in the neighbourhood, as well as higher stakeholder engagement for quality tourist experience. Here, we must also mention IHCL’s Coorg Culture Conservatory programme, where they, along with leading Coorgis and historians, document the culture and heritage of the region deep within the Western Ghats, known as much for its warrior clans as it is for the pristine rainforest, coffee plantations, pepper and elephants. 

Some Interesting Facts 

THE ACHIEVEMENTS

  • 2 million plastic straws eliminated across all their properties.
  • Renewable energy proportion has taken a leap of 23% from 7% in the past three years.
  • A CSR policy anchored in adding value to the livelihoods and cultures of regions they operate in, especially reaching out to communities on society’s fringes. The misunderstood and discriminated against Pardhi tribes in Madhya Pradesh are their knowledgeable tour guides at the Taj Safaris, while the Varanasi weavers are part of their artisan programme.
  • IHCL estimates that it could recycle 27.89 lakh kl of water, which is 26.42% of the total freshwater consumption, equivalent to 1,116 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

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