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Less Means Too Much: the Sustainability Paradox and India’s Eco Hotel Sector

Neil Armstrong will be remembered for his small step, Theresa May for her Brexit stumbles and Boris Johnson for his …well, we’ll have to wait and see about that. But we already know how William Stanley Jevons will be remembered, because we can see the impact of the Jevons Paradox every day, in almost everything we do. With its roots in careful observations drawn from early nineteenth century coal markets (bear with me, I’m not making this up), Jevons discovered that the truism that as technologies become more efficient, they will inevitably consume more resources. So, efficient steam engines will not reduce the demand for coal, they will more and more coal up…and that’s the Jevons Paradox.

So what’s all this got to do with Eco Hotels in India? Well, let’s fast forward from the age of steam, leave ringworm epidemics behind and look more closely at our contemporary climate change policies.

With the exception of the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and a motley collection of loose jawed climate change deniers, we are all concerned about reducing global carbon emissions and improving energy consumption, and at least superficially one way to do this to make our energy production technologies more efficient. Switching to wind powered technologies rather than burning coal is surely a step in the right direction. Unlike coal, the wind is free at the point of delivery: coal on the other hand has to be dug out of the ground, shipped from there to here and expensively burned up before it can belch carbon deposits into the atmosphere.

But in fact the reverse is the case: by switching to more wind powered technology we are more likely in the long term to increase global energy consumption and diminish sustainability levels.

That’s because the Jevons Paradox tells us that the more wind powered energy we produce (that is, more cheaper energy), the more we will inevitably increase global energy demands. Simply making the output cheaper than conventional production methods means more and more energy outputs will be required in the long term. We cannot hope to promote sustainability simply by focusing on output costs and operational efficiencies.

All of which brings us (at last you might think) to Eco Tourism in India, where consumer demand levels are running at an all time high and business and recreational travellers alike rating environmental sustainability at the top of their criteria for choosing a hotel.

That’s why the Hilton Hotel Group has announced a sustainability vision for 2030 based on locally sourcing less energy hungry products and services, such as soap and laundry supplies. The rationale for the new policy is that cheaper soap, towels and bedding will lead inevitably to more efficient operations and better environmental ratings. But just think about that for a moment: think about it in particular from the perspective of your average cost conscious hotel manager in Mumbai (which means pretty much all of them). Suppose he (or she) has been used to spending Rs 5000 a day on soap for their guests, shipped in by Unilever; but now, under the new Hilton policy, they will spend only Rs 1000 a day buying their soap locally. Ask yourself, under the new regime, are they likely to care more or less about how much soap their guests use? Will she (or he) worry as much about the number of towels being sent to the laundry if the laundry bill is now a quarter of what it used to be.

Exactly. That’s the Jevons Paradox: the very act intended to make operations more efficient has caused the hotel to become more energy hungry and less sustainable.

But there’s a positive flip side. Take a look now at the much more successful Eco Hotel brands on the subcontinent, brands such as Lemon Tree Hotels and Eco Hotels which are responding to the same burgeoning consumer demand by doing more than just toy with their supply costs, soap and towels. Unlike the Hilton’s model, these groups have had “green credentials” built into their corporate DNA from the very beginning of the construction process. Water saving devices are added at the outset to inhibit excess usage (not just make water cheaper to supply); solar devices are installed that will reflect light across the entire hotel environment irrespective of an individual guest’s decision to turn the lights off when they go out; and communal kitchens are built to make shared usage an inescapable fact of occupancy rather than just a lifestyle choice. These are precisely the kind of structural, systemic changes that are likely to entrench environmental efficiencies into India’s hospitality sector and we are seeing the change happen first, in the mid range eco market. Where Lemon Tree and Eco Hotels lead, others are likely to follow.

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Eco Hotels, the world’s first carbon neutral hotel brand of its kind offers green hospitality as an essential component of its progressive roll out across India, designed specifically to take advantage of current market opportunities on the subcontinent. The brand meets all key sustainability criteria without compromising on quality or standards and is designed to cater for commercial and recreational travellers alike.

Executive Overview

India’s boom in tourism levels is playing a significant part in driving the subcontinent’s hotel and hospitality sector to unprecedented levels of growth and, as the article says eco credentials are playing a bigger and bigger part in determining where this tide of travellers are deciding to stay. Key surveys have confirm that so called “green credentials” are high up on the scale of priorities they will take into consideration when making their choice.

And as the article also says, tinkering with purely superficial aspects of eco compliance, counting the soap and laundering hotel bedding more cheaply, not only does little to meet these exacting consumer demands, but actually makes it more likely that the business itself will be less sustainable in the future. That’s why at Red Ribbon, when we founded the Eco Hotel project, it was important to us to build sustainability into the initial construction process and to hard wire it into the operation of our hotels.

I’m proud that Eco Hotels has done just that and proud too of the part Red Ribbon has played in developing the brand and its ambitions in the years since, spearheading an innovate and environmentally friendly response to India’ resurgent tourism demands.

Suchit Punnose

Suchit Punnose / About Author

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