Benchmarking with EarthCheck: Taj Hotels Group

Taj Lake Palace Udaipur

In 2014 nine hotel properties in the Taj Hotels Group achieved Gold Certification in EarthCheck. We recently spoke with Corporate Sustainability Manager and Director Foram Nagori and Vasant Ayyappan about how this fits into their overall sustainability strategy.

Under the aegis of its EARTH (Environmental Awareness & Renewal at Taj Hotels) vision and Tata values, Taj Hotels, Resorts and Palaces Group has been benchmarking and certifying their properties through EarthCheck since 2009. This provides a 'quantitative evaluation of environmental and social performance against a property’s peers in their sector, region and climate zone.'

There are 76 EarthCheck accredited hotels across the Taj portfolio and whilst only nine of those have achieved Gold, multiple properties are on track to reach that target by 2016.

When did Taj Hotels, Resorts and Palaces Group start implementing green initiatives?

Conscious initiatives aimed at making a difference to the neighbourhoods in which we operate, including community initiatives, have been a part of the Taj culture since 1903 (inception of the company), under the vision and leadership of Jamsetji Tata. This culturally inclusive and humane approach underlines all our stakeholder interactions.

Direct operationally-related green initiatives have been a part of Taj processes since early 1990s under the Eco Taj policy. In 2006, with an aim to provide greater depth and create bigger impact, that policy was enhanced to be an internal campaign and commitment ‘EARTH’. This EARTH policy has been the cornerstone of all our strategic and operational initiatives towards creating a better environment.

Over the last 5 years, the 9 EarthCheck Gold certified hotels have:

  • saved enough energy to power over 53,940 households over 12 months
  • conserved enough water to fill 338 Olympic sized swimming pools
  • reduced CO2 emissions enough to take 6,675 cars off the road, and
  • reduced waste enough to fill 186 shipping containers.

While each of our 9 hotels has made great headway in implementing efficient energy, water and waste management solutions, they also contribute towards the social development of their local communities by:

  • Training and certifying marginalized youth and differently abled young adults in key hospitality traits
  • Hiring 60% of operational manpower locally
  • Responsible purchasing of hotel products and services from partner NGO's, women self help groups and local vendors
  • Promotion of local art and craft forms

Why did the group start going down the sustainable route and what effect has it had?

In 2012, tourism received its one billionth visitor! By the end of 2014, the Asia Pacific region alone will see its 500 millionth visitor. By 2030 the world will welcome 1.8 billion international visitors. Tourism is important for growing economies, but it also has a significant environmental footprint which needs to be sustainably managed on the ground.

The travel and tourism industry contributes to approximately 5% of the world’s carbon emissions. Taj Group recognises this and endeavours not only to lessen its emissions consciously and voluntarily; but also support neighbourhoods and communities around our hotels through local sourcing of materials and manpower, other value creation programmes that benefit local communities and help to cultivate ways of living which are beneficial to all in the long run. Such efforts while helping us action our Tata values of corporate citizenship, also help improve operational efficiency and resource optimization at our hotels.

Taj – as a part of the Tata Group – has a long standing commitment to sustainability programs, and the EarthCheck benchmarking and certification accreditation perfectly complements the Taj EARTH internal process and campaign.

Be it our Vivanta motifs for promoting the unique elements of destinations in which we operate or promotion of regional cuisines through our Gateway Active Foods concept or preservation and restoration of palaces undertaken through our luxury brand – it all manifests the same belief – a belief in continuing to make a difference everyday not only for our betterment but for the preservation and betterment of our ecosystems.

Further, embedding aspects of sustainability in our day-to-day business processes helped us to withhold our commitment to the 10 principles of the UN Global Compact ever since we became a signatory in 2001. Another key milestone in this sustainability journey was Taj Hotels being a part of India’s Carbon Disclosure Leadership Index under the Carbon Disclosure Project.

Who are the key influencers or motivators?

Taj’s success comes down to the fact that the hotel group has a rich tradition in caring for the environment and in empowering staff to make changes to their immediate environment.

Tata companies work on projects that include repairing green cover, reducing effluents and emissions, maintaining local ecologies and improving long term corporate sustainability. The leaders – including management committee members, MD and CEO: Mr. Bickson himself and the General Managers of the hotels drive this Tata commitment and DNA of ‘Giving back to society’ and contributing to bettering neighbourhoods in which we operate. Taj also seeks support of external project managers and experts, where required.

How does a sustainability strategy impact stakeholders?

Taj has been popular in hospitality schools’ campuses for being a humane and responsible organization and all our stakeholders including some key vendors have been associated with us over decades on the basis of this trust, transparency and concern for larger good.

United Nations Global Compact Reporting, EarthCheck Certifications and participation in Carbon Disclosure Project over the last few years have made our commitment and efforts internationally relevant, visible and comparable with other good practices in the industry.

Here are some examples of the latest sustainable initiatives that have been implemented:

Rambagh Palace supports the local tribal artisans of Jaipur and provides them a platform to showcase their indigenous art forms and works with schools to provide education on health and pollution issues. In Goa, the team at Taj Exotica provides guidance and mentorship to over 600 students from the local villages. Similarly, the Taj West End Bangalore has an in-house skill certification centre that mobilizes rural youth from the local villages of Karnataka and neighbouring states and provides skill training to over 100 local underprivileged youth including differently abled young adults yearly.

The team at Rambagh Palace has installed solar panels and a wind generator that caters to 60% of the power requirement of the hotel. In Bangalore the Taj West End manages freshwater resources through an on site Waste water treatment called Sewerage Treatment Plant (STP) for the treatment of 100% effluent and 100% treated water is being used internally (for Gardening). In the Maldives, Taj Exotica Resort and Spa have installed a Crystal Tropical Bottling system that produces both sparkling and still water and saves over hundred thousand plastic bottles annually. BLUE Sydney has impressively managed to reduce energy use by 3,769,813MJ – enough to power 158 four person households for 12 months.

What have been the main benefits of implementing these green initiatives?

By implementing environmental and social initiatives, Taj has been able to:

  • Be transparent and build trust with key stakeholders
  • Develop a reputation among corporate clientele, international investors, joint ventures in environmentally conscious countries
  • Optimise resources and improve operational efficiencies
  • Enhance the Taj Group brand and develop a conversation with environmentally and socially conscious consumers

Do you have plans to expand on green initiatives in the future?

The Taj Group is constantly expanding on environmental and social initiatives. In the future, we plan to:

  • Focus on water use optimization through rain water harvesting, reuse and recycling of water and reduction of per room night water consumption across brands. Over the last 3 years, 44 of our hotels have become “zero water discharge” hotels – this means that not a drop of water is discharged into the municipal sewers
  • Increase use of renewable and cleaner sources of energy (tapping of Solar, Bio gas geo thermal energy)
  • Energize and reinforce our endeavour to promote individual consciousness on environmental issues and driving awareness and sensitization programmes – not just with our own associates, but also with our partners (customers, vendors and target communities in society)

What would be your top 3 bits of advice to hotels looking to do the same?

  1. As a starting point drive culture creation through senior leadership’s personal involvement, messages, monitoring and review
  2. Start with small but meaningful goals and genuine initiatives which create shared value and enthusiasm amongst all stakeholders
  3. Drive internal sensitisation and awareness campaigns to ensure employee engagement in driving environment agenda

For more information go to EARTH, Taj Hotels and Resorts or read our article on Taj Hotel's EarthCheck achievements or our interview with Taj CEO, Raymond N. Bickson.

Leave a Reply