World Consumer Rights Day: How various segments are implementing green initiatives

World Consumer Rights Day: How various segments are implementing green initiatives

We, as inhabitants of the planet Earth, are in big trouble. The industrial revolution and technological advancement has made life convenient and enjoyable, but at the cost of heating up the planet, polluting the water and air and ending up with a climate crisis on our hands. We have also managed to increase causes for poverty, homelessness, and widen the divide between the haves and the have-nots. Thankfully, as a civilisation, we’re getting past the denial stage and moving towards taking action for correcting our ways. 

The theme for World Consumer Rights Day 2020 (March 15) is ‘The Sustainable Consumer’ because the demand for sustainable products is increasing as people are becoming more aware of the consequences of they spending choices. And with this, ‘sustainability’ has been the trending word across various sectors right now. 

There are a number of different ways in which large-scale manufacturing industries for food, fashion, furniture, paper, technology and so on can practise sustainable methods. The concept of going green and clean has trickled down to non-manufacturing sectors such as restaurants, hospitality and malls as well. We speak to a few in the city to find out what is their concept of sustainability and what are their goals.

It’s not just about the plastic straws or the disposable cutlery, the concept of sustainability in the F&B industry needs to be holistic. Rachel Goenka, founder and CEO, The Chocolate Spoon Company, which owns various restaurant brands, points out, “Some brands are working towards sustainability in terms of agriculture produce, whereas some are working on packaging and other brands are working on waste management. Zero waste kitchens and low food miles are the main points of focus. One-third of the food grown annually for human consumption ends up in the garbage, that too at a time when 800 million people around the globe are starving. This is where zero waste cooking or zero waste kitchens can play a vital role. The concept of the food mile is to measure the distance that ingredients travel from producer to consumer. The higher the food mileage, the higher the environmental impact due to carbon emissions from increased transportation. We need to educate ourselves on where our ingredients actually come from,” says she. 

Joining the discussion, Shantanu Mulay, owner and founder, Bungalow 424, shares that restaurateurs also have to think about water consumption, energy consumption and waste creation due to non-consumables like tissues, paper, batteries etc. “If I go a step further, heavy meats, beef for example, have a much higher carbon footprint than even chicken, never mind vegetables. So while it is our duty to serve the needs of our guests by serving them what they enjoy, is it also our prerogative to educate them. That’s something all of us need to decide for ourselves,” he says. 

Pramod Kumar, head of marketing and operations at The Loft, shares how the cafe that draws millennial customers promotes sustainability across multiple verticals. “Our key highlight is the Smoothie Cycle. A customer can pick and add ingredients to a blender and pedal to whip their own smoothie without the use of any electrical equipment. This promotes the idea of a healthy lifestyle in the mind of the consumer. We also provide customers with a limited number of tissues and straws per order so as to avoid wastage,” says he, pointing out that the concept of sustainability in the F&B industry can also extend to encouraging a healthy diet and lifestyle. 

Mulay shares that the brand’s goals have always been around improving their own operations, making it an iterative process to cut down on wastage and consumption. 

“Some partners like The Robinhood Army offer mechanisms we can leverage to drastically reduce consumables wastage. We’re also very proud of our Tapas menu which offers tasting portions that can help customers to try out different items without worrying about wasting any food,” he says. 

Kumar says that The Loft has a number of green appliances such as eco-friendly air conditioners which automatically reduce energy consumption and harmful emissions, most of the kitchen appliances like the freezers and ovens are designed to consume less electricity. 

Goenka’s restaurants have tied up with a few local suppliers such as Trikaya, who has farms two hours away in Talegaon. “To lower the food mile, we use local seasonal ingredients and design menus keeping seasonality and sustainability in mind. There is a sustained focus on reducing the amount of food waste. We ideally only stock ingredients that we will use and serve in quantities that will be consumed. Also we think about creatively using parts of vegetables and meats that we would otherwise discard.” 

While her brands are working towards selecting eco-friendly packaging material and eliminating the use of plastic, she feels that waste segregation is an important issue. 

“Earlier this year, there was a Bombay Municipal Corporation report that suggested 73 per cent of garbage in Mumbai’s dumping ground is food waste. But only 5 per cent of that waste is segregated, which means that rather than being turned into compost, it is choking the dumping grounds that have been witnessing recurring fires. When food waste is mixed with dry waste like plastic, cloth and such, the process of decomposition takes much longer. She hopes that the municipal corporation would make waste management guidelines mandatory and ensure compliance, and even use the waste to generate an alternative source of energy which can be more economical. 

Mulay adds that customers too have a very important role in all this. “Ordering in moderation is their biggest responsibility because once the food is served to them, it will invariably end up in the garbage bin if not consumed,” he says.

When you want to meet your friends, chill out by yourself, or spend a day together with the family, where do you go? To the mall. Catering to so many shops, employees and visitors, malls are places that use a lot of energy and resources. Arun Arora, centre director, Phoenix MarketCity, Pune, tells us that the concept of sustainability in the mall sector now revolves around the conservation of resources, reducing carbon footprint, and moving to greener alternatives. Mahesh M, CEO, Creaticity mall, adds, “Sustainability is about efficient deployment of resources to protect our environment and thereby us as people.”

As Arora talks about the green initiatives already implemented at the mall, he mentions, “We have converted the lighting to energy-efficient LED across the mall, installed VFDs, timers and automated valves to run the air conditioning plant efficiently. We also have STP for recycling of water and a garbage treatment plant to convert wet garbage into manure. There are aerators at every consumption point and we have implemented the usage of bio-degradable garbage bags. We are also exploring roof top solar installation of automatic ball tube cleaning technology for air conditioning plant, automatic water taps, EV charging stations to reach our sustainability goals.”

At Creaticity, the layout is such that it provides significant outdoor spaces with plenty of greenery, which makes Mahesh M feel like two objectives are achieved. “Firstly, reduced air-conditioning and hence energy conservation and secondly, availability of open areas leads to better ambience and fresh air for all of us,” says he, adding, “Recycling is part of our standard process, be it waste water or solid waste, achieved through equipments such as STP and organic waste converter etc. We believe that the authorities are constantly monitoring the environment and advising us of various norms so that we can all make our cities and surroundings more healthy and livable.”

While mall managements are taking efforts to narrow the intent-action gap, they point out that visitors should also take some responsibility to make the system more sustainable. “Patrons are becoming increasingly aware and conscious of the need to reduce waste, save energy and avoid plastic. So, it is a collaborative effort that will help us all in the long run and for generations to come,” says Mahesh M.

Sustainable hospitality is not about one company trying to do its very best in a given market, but rather, it is an entire industry that stands up to face the environmental and societal challenges by exploring ideas, solutions and strategies of how to develop future hotels and how to manage operations in a sustainable way,” Abhay Singh, director of operations, The Westin Pune, Koregaon Park. 

Mokshta Chauhan, rooms division manager and head of wellness, and Kamal Deep Sharma, director of sales and marketing at Hyatt Pune Kalyani Nagar believe that the hospitality industry is gradually becoming one of the great examples of why running a sustainable business will be crucial for long-term success. 

“When we say ‘sustainable measures’, we think of sourcing natural (fresh and sustainable food products), energy utilisation and conserving the same through STPs (Sewage Treatment Plants), recycled water, eliminating use of non-biodegradable products and plastic, and so on,” says Chauhan. 

Belonging to Marriott International, The Westin too follows a set of rules that encourage green initiatives. “It is a must that water conservation behaviour and practices be integrated into operations while not negatively impacting the guest experience. For example, food and beverage associates can implement predictive planning methodologies to save water, like utilise forecasting to reduce last-minute food thawing; engineering team can contribute to reducing a property’s water consumption by installing low-flow fixtures and submeters and focusing on preventive maintenance and building system efficiencies. Even our guests join our water conservation efforts by participating in our linen and terry reuse programme or by forgoing housekeeping with our Make a Green Choice initiative,” says Singh, adding, “By 2025, Marriott International will reduce water intensity by 15 per cent (from a 2016 baseline).”

He shares that the hospitality industry is always coming up with innovative methods to improve their energy profile. “For example, over the last two decades, guestroom lighting technology has progressed from incandescent to compact florescent to LED, which uses 90 per cent less energy while delivering the same lumens,” informs Singh. 

Sharma believes that people are more aware of their eco-friendly footprint than ever before. “We have initiated Sustainable Tuesday wherein we dedicate one day towards this cause through carpool, reducing wastage at our restaurants, on-demand linen change, and effective utilisation of electricity. Last year, our engineering and housekeeping team made a 10 ft Christmas tree completely with recycled material collected at the hotel. We also have art installation made with recycled metal scrap, 500 used plastic bottles reborn as planters and so on,” he shares. 

Singh talks about how the government is supporting the idea of sustainability by enacting various economic incentives to encourage the development of environmental retrofits. But Chauhan believes that the government can do more. “The government should help source products at affordable prices that are biodegradable such as bin bags. They can announce more awards to recognise hospitality players who initiate sustainable efforts, incentivise sustainable efforts like solar energy set ups, rain water harvesting, water recycling, announce tax sops for sustainable efforts,” she says.

Guests can request for a change of linens only when required to save water

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