The tourism ministry is in the process of finalizing sustainability criteria and indicators for the accommodation sector, which includes hotels and resorts, as part of drawing up such norms for tourism in the country as a whole.
The Indian hotel industry, which has around 130,000 classified and 2.5 million unclassified rooms, according to 2010 government data, is one of the biggest energy consumers in the country. There are currently no guidelines or criteria to guide hotels in India on reducing energy consumption and their carbon footprint.
Carbon emissions by the global accommodation sector will increase 156% to 284 tonnes carbon dioxide equivalent by 2035 from the 2005 level, according to a 2009 World Economic Forum report. The biggest growth in emissions will occur in the Asia-Pacific, where the share of emissions will rise to 40% in 2035 from 29% in 2005. India, with a hospitality market growing at 10-15% annually, is likely to be a major contributor to this increase in emissions, which is one of the reasons prompting the ministry to draw up the guidelines.
The criteria for ensuring sustainability will include measures to make hotels more energy efficient. The draft document listing the guidelines was approved by the ministry recently. “It will be a voluntary scheme, but we will be providing incentives to the establishments which will come forward to adopt it,” said a top tourism ministry official.
Industry experts said the tourism ministry’s measures may give the Indian hotel industry a much-needed push in the right direction. Though there have been some initiatives by leading hotel chains in going green, there is still a long way to go, they said.
“Major hotel chains are becoming aware that they need to do something to reduce their energy consumption,” said P.R. Srinivas, an independent hospitality analyst. “They end up having unique solutions suitable to the location and location-related issues.”
Taking the lead: ITC Hotels, with its Gardenia in Bangalore (above). has been rated LEED Platinum by the US Green Building Council. Hemant Mishra/Mint
ITC Hotels, one of the leading hospitality companies in India, which promotes responsible luxury, has been rated LEED Platinum by the US Green Building Council.
“We have been able to reduce energy costs by 16-19% in the last eight to 10 years,” said Niranjan Khatri, general manager of WelcomEnviron Initiatives at ITC Hotels. “Apart from taking to measures such as using LEDs (light emitting diodes) rather than CFLs (compact fluorescent lamps) and other energy efficient equipment, we do energy audits annually to analyse the areas where our energy consumption is more.”
Close to 29.5% of ITC Hotels’s total energy comes from renewable resources, Khatri said. “Four hotels, including ITC Maratha and ITC Grand Central in Mumbai, run on wind and solar energy,” he said. “We are going to be launching one hotel in Chennai this year, which will also run on windmills, so this proposition will change.”
Hotel Leela Palace and Resorts has also been implementing various measures at its super luxury properties. The Leela Palace New Delhi reduced energy consumption by almost 4% after changing 600 lamps to LEDs. It has also installed variable-frequency drives for motors that allow savings of 20-25% on energy consumption.
With global brands entering India, new standards are being set, analysts said. “The global hospitality chains which are entering India are bringing green practices as they have to maintain their standard and level of commitment at par with global peers,” said Srinivas.
InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), which runs the InterContinental and Holiday Inn hotels, uses an online platform tool known as Green Engage to track, measure and improve performance and energy efficiency, and reduce carbon emissions. It also helps in identifying the areas where conservation efforts can be made and suggests what measures have to be taken.
“It can help provide information on how to build a hotel in terms of design and engineering in order to save energy,” said Mahinda Gunewardena, director of engineering (Middle East and Africa) at IHG.
“In newer hotels, we have a lesser energy footprint. We share our technology with India and elsewhere, where our hotels are coming up, but it depends on the commercial viability of the technology in a given location and a project,” he said. “Environmental, geographical and economic factors also impinge on our decision to use green technologies in each of our hotels.”
Many big hotel chains have been adopting new engineering practices for their forthcoming hotels. However, the problem is most acute for existing properties where upgrade costs are typically high. “For the existing hotels, which do not have any green measures installed to save energy, the cost of reinforcement of such measures may not be economically viable,” Srinivas said.
Gunewardena said IHG installs energy saving projects in existing properties by upgrading certain technologies.
“We look at the whole spectrum of technologies, and investment requirement is different in each of these cases,” he said. “For example, it will take millions of dollars for solar energy and photovoltaic cells, hundreds of thousands of dollars for upgradation of a chiller plant and only a few hundred dollars to change lighting.”
“After implementing measures to reduce energy consumption, in the first year of its operation, the hotel will be able to save 6-15% of energy,” he said. “But once you have harnessed the outcomes, in the next few years, the conservation of energy would come down to 2-4%.”
“Once the low-hanging fruits have been picked in the first few years, for the next few years, you will have a lower return on investment. Thus you will need to keep upgrading the technologies,” Gunewardena added.
Another global hospitality chain, Accor SA, which plans to have 23 properties by end-2012 in India, has begun its Planet 21 initiative this year. This involves undertaking measures such as cutting water and energy consumption by 15% and 10%, respectively, across Accor’s owned and leased hotels in the next three years.
“Our hotels use myriad types of technology and equipment, from simple stickers on bins to help sort waste to business management systems that allow the engineering team to control all areas of air conditioning within the hotel to solar power units and sewage treatment plants, which recycle waste water to the hotels having their own vegetable gardens,” said Paul Archer, Accor’s general manager delegate for Andhra Pradesh.
While most leading hotel chains are going the extra mile to go green, small and medium hotel operators still have much to strive for.
According to the tourism ministry, 90% of hotels in India are still unaccredited and have not come forward for classification into star categories by the ministry.
Industry experts said it’s a chicken and egg problem that boils down to the local situation and whether the measures employed would be beneficial in the short to mid term.
“India is a mixed market; there are companies which are proactively employing the green measures in their operations, but the majority of hotels have been on the other side of the spectrum,” said Srinivas.