The hospitality industry is also noticing a change in consumer behaviour: Gopalakrishnan Padmanabhan

BW HOTELIER conversed with Gopalakrishnan Padmanabhan, Managing Director - APAC & Middle East, GBCI, to understand how Green Business Certificate Institute (GBCI) is leading change with the adoption of sustainable practices in the Indian hospitality sector.

Tell us briefly about the activities of Green Business Certificate Institute in India.

Green Business Certificate Institute (GBCI) is the global certification body for the LEED green building program. Through rigorous certification and credentialing standards, they are driving adoption of green building practices that foster global competitiveness and enhance environmental performance and human health benefits. LEED is the most widely used rating system in the world with nearly 106,000 registered and certified commercial projects and nearly 2 million registered and certified residential units across 181 countries and territories. The first LEED project achieved certification in in 2003 and to support the more than a decade of strong leadership in the country and to facilitate the continued global expansion of GBCI and LEED, GBCI India was incorporated in 2016 to provide on-the-ground support to our customers in India.

In addition to advancing LEED, GBCI India also offers our customers performance tools and a suite of nearly 15 professional credentials and 10 certification programs. Each of these products and programs are designed to bring the most value to our customers and help them meet their unique sustainability goals. This includes Arc, a global performance platform that allows professionals overseeing the sustainability of buildings and places to collect data, manage and benchmark progress, measure impact and improve performance. Projects across India are currently leveraging the Arc performance platform users to understand and enhance the sustainability performance of their buildings, improve occupant experience and indoor environmental air quality, report on environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance and pursue LEED certification. In addition to LEED, we also exclusively administer some of the following certification programs and professional credentials: PEER standard for power systems, the WELL Building Standard, the Sustainable SITES Initiative (SITES), TRUE certification for zero waste, Investor Confidence Project (ICP) for energy efficiency retrofits, RELi for resilient design, the Sustainability Excellence credentials, City Climate Planner. 

In response to COVID-19, GBCI is working towards a long-term vision: Healthy people in healthy places is the fastest way to build a healthy economy. They will accomplish this through an economic recovery strategy that features a series of credits, programs and tools that will support this work from multiple angles. This strategy includes the new LEED Safety First Pilot Credits, which outline sustainable best practices that align with leading public health and industry guidelines related to cleaning and disinfecting, workplace re-occupancy, managing indoor air quality, HVAC and plumbing, building water system recommissioning and more. So far, nearly 10 out of the 280 projects implementing these credits around the world are located in India. They have also introduced Arc Re-Entry which provides tools to benchmark infection-control policies and procedures, collect occupant experiences and track indoor air quality within a workplace. It can be used for free as a standalone resource, or as a stepping-stone for the LEED Safety First Pilot Credits. Arc Re-Entry is already being leveraged by projects in India including Ela Green School, Sierra ODC and K. Raheja Corp.

Can you tell us about some of your major achievements in India?

Today, India remains the fourth largest market in the world for LEED and they are seeing projects touching every sector in the country implement the rating system. This includes establishments in the hospitality space. LEED is a very holistic rating system and projects pursuing LEED earn points across 9 credit categories including: integrative process, location and transportation, sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality, innovation and regional priority. LEED certification is an internationally-recognized symbol of sustainability excellence and hospitality spaces that choose to implement it can demonstrate the implementation of eco-friendly and sustainable methods in running their business, as well as their commitment to the health and safety of their customers and employees.

GBCI has certified several hotels in India to LEED. For instance, ITC Hotels has certified its entire chain to LEED Platinum, the highest level of certification, proving that green building and hospitality can indeed go hand in hand. The ITC Chola in Chennai is the largest LEED Platinum hotel in the world, while the ITC Maurya in Delhi has installed the world’s largest solar concentrators in the hospitality sector. 55% of ITC’s total energy demand across all properties is met through renewable energy sources. In addition to ITC, WelcomeHotels has certified many of the hotels in their portfolio to LEED, the Park Hyderabad and the Ashoka Hotel have both achieved LEED Gold and the Hyatt Regency in New Delhi certified to LEED Platinum, among many others. 

Even though Green building movement has been gaining momentum, what according to you are the challenges in the Indian hospitality sector?

One of the biggest challenges they have faced across sectors in India is with greening their existing buildings – and this is not unique to India either. While it might seem difficult for a hotel structure that is 60 years old or more to be replaced with advanced technologies like chillers or smart metering, many of the hotels that have certified to LEED are, in fact, heritage spaces. At GBCI, they like to say the greenest building is the one that already exists. It can take up to 80 years to make up for the impacts of demolishing an existing building and construction a new one, even if the resulting building is extremely energy efficient. And although many older buildings around the world are inefficient and resource-intensive, with keen attention to building operations that can be turned around by using the LEED O+M rating system for existing buildings. 

Another key challenge is actually changing mindsets. A recent research report by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) reveals that while Indians are aware of green buildings and their benefits, there exist misconceptions about accessibility and cost, making them the biggest obstacles in the adoption of these transformative practices.  The report also shed light on barriers to adopting green buildings in India. 

  1. Indian consumers adopt green practices downstream, but do not see green buildings as an upstream solution to protect their health: Indians are acutely aware of the impact of clean water and clean air on their health. However, consumers feel that the onus is on them to purchase products at the very end state — downstream — to address these problems, rather than seeking out or advocating for LEED buildings, which inherently benefit their health by design upstream. 
  2. Misconceptions about accessibility and cost are the biggest obstacles to broader adoption: People in India associate green buildings with luxury hotels, office parks and industrial zones. Interestingly, they do not see important structures like a school, temple or residential building as potentially being a green building. One of the reasons for this can be attributed to misconceptions around accessibility of green buildings. Most respondents did not know who green buildings are for or how much they cost, and many believed that green buildings are physically far away urban environments. 
  3. The top ways to motivate engagement among consumers around green buildings are health, productivity and pride: The research also revealed that the top ways to motivate consumers to embrace and demand green buildings is by highlighting their benefits on health. Health is the number one motivator for greener buildings. The second highest motivating point is showing employees how they will be more productive. Green buildings have proven to increase the productivity of employees as they have access to clean, high-quality indoor air that contributes to their overall workplace happiness. And the third, which is unique to Indians, is a real sense of pride in living or working in a certified green building. This pride of place stems from the respondents’ belief that the building owners or organizations have invested in ensuring their health and wellbeing. 
  4. COVID-19 creates urgency around public health and the economy — green buildings must be part of the solution: Most of the respondents felt that green buildings can drive a change in the way the economy functions. The research showed that by prioritizing people’s health and wellbeing, organizations as well as property developers could contribute toward enabling a healthy economy by ensuring occupants have a healthy indoor environment.

How does GBCI work with builders and other professionals in the hospitality industry, to promote sustainability and energy efficiency steps?

Hotels and other hospitality venues have a significant opportunity to reduce negative environmental impacts associated with guest rooms, event space and general facility use through measures such as energy and water efficiency, waste reduction and management, sustainable and local purchasing and use of alternative transportation.

The hospitality industry is also noticing a change in consumer behaviour. Consumers are requesting sustainable resources, evaluating the indoor environment for health concerns and placing a preference on sustainable buildings. As this trend continues, consistent metrics and standards to support the quality of product the hospitality industry delivers will become even more important for a variety of stakeholders, including owners, investors and operators. Integrating green building strategies into the design, construction and daily operations of hotels makes business sense and can be an important part of a company's commitment to sustainability.

Tell us briefly about the Safety-First Credits and how they are helping hospitality sector during a pandemic like Covid-19.

As part of its Healthy Economy strategy, USGBC has seven LEED pilot credits to help building teams provide healthy spaces and to assist with re-entry. The pilot credits outline sustainable best practices that align with public health and industry guidelines related to cleaning and disinfecting, workplace re-occupancy, HVAC and plumbing operations. The credits can be used by LEED projects that are certified or are undergoing certification. The Safety-First Credits such as Cleaning and Disinfecting Your Space credit, Re-enter Your Workspace credit and Managing Indoor Air Quality During COVID-19 credit can help the properties in implementing procedures that follow green cleaning best practices, identifying sustainable requirements in building operations and ensure in maintaining indoor air quality to restrict the spread of COVID-19. 

Elaborate on ArcRe-Entry and it’s unique features from the hospitality industry perspective.

Created in response to COVID-19, Arc Re-Entry prepares spaces for safe re-entry and its currently being leveraged by a variety of building types around the world, including hotels, offices, schools, factories and sporting venues. The hospitality sector remains one of the most severely hit sectors during the pandemic. While the sector is re-opening gradually, there is a need to adhere to a standard protocol to ensure safety standards are being followed and to ensure guests can enjoy a safe environment and confidence in their stay.

Arc Re-Entry is available for free for any project, anywhere in the world. All Arc users will be able to access the new re-entry feature, add data and generate a Re-Entry Comprehensiveness Score. The score provides a comparable measure of the breadth and documentation of facility management policies, occupant experience and measured indoor air quality, including factors such as relative humidity, carbon dioxide concentration and particulate matter. The three strategies within the score help projects share and compare information on policies used to manage the spread of infectious disease, engage with occupants to understand their experience, measure conditions to help management target action to improve this experience and, ultimately, build confidence in re-entering their spaces.

Arc Re-Entry’s set of management tools collect and manage disease control-related information. And because the indoor environment in buildings continually changes, Arc Re-Entry uses an iterative process where projects re-evaluate their score either on a weekly, monthly or quarterly basis to ensure projects continue to perform and improve overtime. Arc Re-Entry will, thus, allow properties to evaluate the relationship between expectations for policies and procedures with occupant experience.

Which hospitality organizations have shown interest in adapting these credits?

K.Raheja Corp has already started using Arc Re-entry for their commercial spaces and are also looking to incorporate the LEED Safety First Pilot Credits in two upcoming hotel properties. ITC is also looking to incorporate the credits into an upcoming project. 


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