LEEDing by example

Features, Hospitality Trends

As a group, ITC hotels division has forged a path with their sustained efforts to go green, a vision that has resulted in a hat-trick to celebrate – with ITC Royal Gardenia being Asia’s first hotel to receive a Leed platinum rating, ITC Maurya being the first hotel in the world to be rated as a Leed Platinum rating for an existing building, and ITC Sonar being the first hotel in the world to receive carbon credits.

Hotelier India speaks with Nakul Anand, executive director ITC, about the efforts that went into achieving these fantastic results.

While it’s a given that the hotel industry in India is booming as a business, there are few who have managed to make a mark quite like the ITC Hotels group has.

From being pioneers in blending sheer luxury with eco-consciousness, to winning accolades for their service standards, it’s hard to find fault with the gentle giant.

At the helm of this organisation is the equally gentle Nakul Anand. His three-decade-long career with ITC has seen him cross many landmarks such as being the group’s youngest manager, then GM, and now its youngest director.

In his fifties, Anand has successfully introduced Six Sigma quality standards and initiated some very innovative concepts in hoteliering. Articulate, soft spoken and modest to the core, it’s difficult to catch Anand not thinking about work.

Commenting on ITC’s green initiatives, he says, “Hotels have a comparatively lesser damaging effect on the environment than many other industries.

Nevertheless they present an excellent platform to spread the green message in terms of the number of people they employ and through whom they can spread the message.”

He mentions that it was in fact, crucial to the whole exercise that employees were educated and trained about what the hotel’s objective was; there was a need to create awareness about efforts to draw sincere cooperation from them, whether in waste management or saving water.

“A substantial amount of training had to be done so that our associates were made aware. Our concern was to continuously talk to them so that our green initiatives become a belief and not empty rituals that they have to perform,” says Anand.

Ask him about the costs involved and he replies, “I would imagine the project costs to be anywhere between 20-30% higher, but the returns are yet to be seen. My message to people is to invest now and get the returns later.”

Not content to sit on his laurels, Anand goes on to elaborate that a greener tomorrow demands regular inputs, “We must walk the talk. We must continuously identify more methods to reduce our carbon footprint, segregate and recycle more waste, reduce our emissions and remember to turn off taps and lights.”

Anand expresses pride in the fact that while many hotels in the world have applied for and received gold and silver ratings, ITC’s hotels have succeeded in getting a platinum rating, a commendable and rare achievement.

“ITC Sonar became the first hotel to get carbon credits in the world, ITC Royal Gardenia got the platinum rating – there’s only one other hotel in the world to get a platinum rating and they are only 80,000 sq ft., then you have ITC Maurya which is even larger then Royal Gardenia that gets its rating, so that’s an even greater achievement!”

Speaking about his dedication to the cause, Anand recalls how in 1993, he was judged as a global green hotelier of the world by American Express.

“For the first time there were two winners, both were from India and both were from ITC hotels. My colleague Suresh Kumar, who was the general manager of Park Sheraton and I, General Manager of ITC Maurya; both of us were guests at Amsterdam where the International Hotel and Restaurant Association and American Express held a dinner in our honour when we were awarded.

I’ve been committed to the cause personally for a long time and to bring it into the business is what I’ve learned from ITC and from what our chairman keeps talking about: the triple bottomline, our sustainability and that has only furthered my conviction on this.

Today I’m at the stage where if I don’t see green, I see red!” he laughs.
Scoring a hat trick was no mean feat, and as Anand glows with pride at the achievement, he constantly underlines the fact that it would not have been possible without the inputs of all his team members.

Niranjan Khatri, general manager-WelcomEnviron Initiatives, puts it evocatively, “ITC Hotels has been collecting green pebbles on the seashore of knowledge over the last two decades.

Robert Schuller rightly said ‘Anyone can count seeds in an apple, but only god can count the number of apples in the seed’. We do not know the outcome of our humble pioneering endeavour in the green buildings but we hope that the experience will transform all our stakeholders.

The standard for achieving platinum ratings is primarily a conspicuous conservation approach in optimising the use of water, energy and materials.

Many challenges were overcome by employing creativity in process, products and policies. In effect we have reduced energy, water consumption by 50% and 40 % respectively over existing standards, by our design intent.”

He also recalls that during the days when he embarked on the green building journey calling it exciting because “there were many unknown territories to cover each day, there were process and product barriers, but we overcame the challenges by networking and many times by applying ‘out of the box’ thinking.

Our adrenal glands were operating overtime, which helped us to achieve what you see today in ITC Royal Gardenia and ITC Maurya!”

An avid fan of coining words, Nakul Anand refers to the term ‘responsible luxury’ that was coined by the group to best explain their stance on hoteliering with a green message.

“Luxury and sustainability were once mutually exclusive until we managed to blend the two and pioneered the term ‘responsible luxury’.”

Anand acknowledged right at the outset that there is no point being an environment friendly hotel if the guest is to suffer as the guest is at the centre of the hotel’s universe.

“The challenge here was really that a hotel should not only be a sustainable hotel but should also be ‘eco-easy’.

Just because a customer happens to be conscious of the environment and aware of its degradation that is taking place, doesn’t mean that he must bathe in water with less pressure or avoid changing his bath towels or sheets every day unless he volunteers to do so.

The core concept is ensuring his comfort as we take care of the backend of sustainability measures,” explains Anand.

Greenception/How ITC went green
ITC Maurya is flush with environmentally sound items and practices, from using Low VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) paints to installing sensor operated waterless urinals and dual flush water closets that reduce water consumption by 30% against USGBC standards.

The salient features of ITC Maurya to meet the coveted Platinum certification were innovative practices in energy efficiency, water efficiency, sustainable site development, indoor environment quality and the use of sustainable materials and purchasing.

Designed by Delhi based architect Rajinder Kumar, the ITC Royal Gardenia’s exteriors use beige Indian sandstone from Gwalior and Malaysian red bricks interspersed with panels of specially treated smoked oak and strips of matt copper.

The latter material was used on the roof, while the floor is clad in blonde Italian marble. The hotel’s interiors have been created by the UK-based designer Francesca Basu, with constant references to nature, the city of Bengaluru and the Gardenia flower.

Green features within the hotel include natural ventilation, vertical gardens installed on a steel structure, drip irrigated with recycled water, rainwater harvesting, energy efficient lighting and a waste recycling programme.

Tanmay Tathagat, director at Environmental Design Solutions (EDS), Delhi, the energy and sustainability consultants for the project says, “The project wasn’t conceived for the LEED rating when EDS got involved in 2007. The hotel simply aimed to be amongst the most energy efficient hotels in the world.”

The idea for LEED certification was conceived during the design and construction process as ITC realized that the project was breaking new grounds in environmental design practices for a project of this type and scale worldwide.

To optimise energy consumption, ITC Royal Gardenia required the most efficient chiller system that would meet the demands of the local climate and the challenging energy needs of a hotel.

The product selected was Carrier’s world-leading non-ozone depleting Evergreen® 23XRV screw chiller that achieves 40% more energy savings than the US industry standard. Carrier’s experts partnered with the in-house technical team from the inception of the Royal Gardenia project.

“We had an ambitious aim and strict operating benchmark. Carrier delivered technological superiority, expert execution and together we offer responsible luxury to our guests,” said Alwyn Noronha, executive vice president – projects, ITC, Hotels Division.

Krishan Sachdev, director marketing and strategy, Carrier Airconditioning and Refrigeration, goes on to explain how they customised their product to meet the energy efficiency needs of ITC by designing it to be power saving, low maintenance and completely reliable.

“When it came to choosing this product, we selected this one because it is unique and perfectly designed to handle large variations in loads.”

Benefits galore
Market share: Quoting statistics to support his stance, Anand mentions that ITC’s target is the global customer, “According to a recent survey, more than 60-65% of guests said that they would prefer to stay in a hotel that shows concern for the environment.

Therefore the awareness is certainly increasing, and as youngsters are coming of age, more and more people are increasingly aware these days.

We’ve also seen circulars of organisations that choose green hotels over regular ones. Hillary Clinton’s choice to come to the ITC Green centre which she called ‘a monument of the future’ was in recognition of the fact that it was practicing green initiatives in a very substantial manner.

Our response has been most encouraging, and at no point have we compromised our standards of luxury that are expected of our hotel, and this is just a bonus.”

Lowered costs: The initial investment that goes into a green building and all its green technology is made with a view to a very handsome return in the long term.

For instance the Royal Gardenia’s built-up space consumes approximately 35% less energy than a similar luxury hotel which is not green. The amount of non-air-conditioned space in the hotel translates to a direct saving of electricity every day.

Now the energy standard in India, for a large luxury hotel that practices energy conservation is about 750 kilocalories per square foot. The hotel achieved a 550 kilocalorie saving per month during its initial stages of operation.

While the world applauds the efforts of ITC, one can only hope that more and more hoteliers take a leaf out of their book and strive to follow their example. Three cheers to their philosophy of ‘Back to Nature, Forward to Green!’

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