Taj Hotels is a global hospitality brand, epitomising all that is sophisticated and ultra elegant in life, but there is another facet to this brand which is not so well known: its strong commitment to the environment and its deep bonds with a society that lives far from the pages of glossy magazines.
Through vastly different initiatives, the Taj contributes to make life better for people, whether they be riot victims in Ahmedabad or cancer patients in London; tribal children in Nandurbar or the homeless in New York City. The thread tying all Taj sustainability initiatives has been the element of concern for the community, the under-privileged and the environment. Here are some interesting stories from Taj initiatives across the globe.
Give us this day our daily protein: It’s a little unexpected to find Taj chefs planning for and creating delicious meals for tribal children. That too with strict limitations — only local ingredients to be used; must meet minimum protein and calorie standards; should include a variety of recipes; and, the toughest challenge of all, cost should be less than Rs2 a day.
Impossible, you would think. Yet the chefs at the Taj in Nasik, Maharashtra, not only welcomed the challenge but put heart and soul into it to come up with 40 different recipes that would provide muchneeded nutrition at minimum cost to tribal children. The child nutrition programme is a part of the Bhavishya Alliance, which is a working collaboration between the Indian government’s Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS), several partners from the corporate world (Tata, HDFC Bank, Hindustan Unilever, ICICI Bank, etc) and the not-for-profit world (UNICEF, self-help groups, NGOs).
Nandurbar in Maharashtra was chosen as a pilot location due to the high incidence of malnutrition in its migratory tribal population. The Taj group was invited to make a difference to the quality, taste and hygiene of the meals prepared for the target group — children less than six years of age, lactating mothers and pregnant women.
The child nutrition project has been highly successful — the variety in food served has gone up from two to six dishes per week and there is a 13 per cent increase in the children attending government schools. And most telling — hardly any food is left on the plates!
Gifting the joy of reading: Taj Campton Place in San Francisco, US, has joined hands with Tata Sons and First Book, an NGO that provides new books to children from low-income families across North America, to host some interesting events.
At a reading party for 25 third-grade students at the Marshall Elementary School in San Francisco, several senior Tata executives and Taj Campton Place employees participated in a lively reading session, followed by a tour of the school. Each student went home with two brand new books. A total of 1,000 books was donated to the school. This was part of a donation of 10,000 books to children throughout California.
Opening new doors: India has a fairly lively employment market, yet for a large part of Indian youth, the gates to this market are, more often than not, firmly shut; the reasons are distressingly simple — less privileged and therefore less educated, no exposure to employment portals or exchanges, or differently abled. Taj Hotels is trying to open as many gateways as possible to offer better livelihood options for these youth.
Taj has partnered Pratham, a pan-India NGO dedicated to the cause of education of the underprivileged, to open the Pratham Skill Training Centre, a state-of-the-art facility in Khaultabad near Aurangabad, Maharashtra. The centre trains school dropouts and less-privileged youth from rural areas in hotel processes like food production, housekeeping and food and beverage services.
Pratham mobilised youth from more than 40 villages. The Taj group brought its domain knowledge to the partnership in terms of teachers, curriculum, teachers’ training programmes, training infrastructure and so on. Several Taj associates enthusiastically volunteered to go to villages to talk to people about working in the hospitality business. Today, close to 70 youngsters of the region have been trained and placed in jobs and many more are being trained.
In another initiative, Taj is working with the Industrial Training Institutes (ITI) in India to help less-privileged youth in developing marketable skills and in upgrading existing infrastructure and the standard of programmes offered at several locations all over India.
Another example of Taj’s innovative community projects is the laundry service at the spas of two Taj North Goa hotels. Swift Wash, a laundry service managed by an NGO that works for the economic rehabilitation of victims of commercial sexual exploitation, has been contracted to handle Taj requirements. To help these women acquire the acumen to run a business, a team of Taj community service volunteers put in long hours of support and training. As a result, this group is able to offer high-quality laundry services at market rates not only to Taj Hotels but also to a host of other clients.
Many Taj hotels also source their daily requirements of peeled raw onion, garlic, pickles and staff cafeteria snacks from local women or the SHG workers. Items like candles, jute bags, room amenities and stationery are sourced from voluntary organisations. For instance, the Taj group gives more than Rs10 million worth of business every year to the Cancer Patients Aid Association in India.
Support for the community
The Pierre New York is a strong advocate of community service and participates in a programme called Grand Central Neighborhood, under which Pierre employees volunteer their time at a soup kitchen to feed the homeless in Grand Central Station. The hotel also donates to many charities, including City Harvest, an organisation that collects food to distribute to homeless shelters across New York City, and Toys for Tots which distributes toys to children.
In a similar initiative in the US, Taj Campton Place works with Walden House, a local shelter whose mission is to give hope and change lives for people affected by substance abuse and mental health conditions. The hotel offers in-kind donations as well as professional support which will help them in securing jobs. Plans are in process for organising teams who will cook for inmates of Walden House and read to the children. Taj Boston in the US has also been supporting under-privileged women through its work with the Women’s Lunch Place, an initiative that takes care of homeless women.
Taj Campton Place holds an annual drive during the holiday season where all associates participate by donating non-perishable food items. All proceeds from the food drive are donated to The Salvation Army, which serves the less fortunate in the San Francisco area.
One with nature
Project Earth is being implemented across the world, for instance, The Pierre, New York, is making committed efforts to reduce the impact of its daily operations on the environment, improve operational efficiencies and conserve resources. It has a 100-per cent recycling policy for paper, plastic, glass and cardboard; eco-friendly products in its bathrooms; and organic mattresses in the guestrooms. The hotel is also building a power plant fuelled by renewable natural gas that will reduce its carbon dioxide emissions. On the anvil are plans for mulching wet garbage, using biodegradable chemicals and sourcing local raw materials as much as possible.
Taj Safaris, the group’s safari and ecotourism brand, has taken environment consciousness to a whole new level. The Taj Safari lodges, with 9 to 12 suites per camp, have a cadre of highly trained naturalists who accompany the guests on unique and interpretive wildlife safaris. The look and feel of the lodges reflects local crafts and workmanship; more than half the staff is local and most of the food is bought locally. A reforestation programme has led to 5,000 trees being planted every year. Garbage is segregated for reuse and recycling. Organic waste is composted for the kitchen garden and ash from the incinerator is used as fertiliser.
Procuring is done in bulk to reduce packaging waste. The hotels also consciously work towards using less of reusable packing materials; for instance the packed meals provided by the hotel use bamboo baskets and non-disposable utensils.
Apart from these, Taj Safaris has several community welfare activities designed for local villages. The LPG Project is a unique initiative to provide subsidised LPG gas connections for the villages of Manji Tola in the Kanha National Park and Patour in the Bandhavgarh National Park, Madhya Pradesh, India, which helps in eliminating the need for firewood. This benefits both, the villagers as well as the forest.
An eco-friendly honey harvesting initiative teaches locals from six villages near the Kanha National Park how to extract honey without damaging the hives. In the dry Panna region, naturalists are being trained in the technique of hydroponics.
Another fascinating and unusual Taj initiative is the Elephant Parade organised by 51 Buckingham Gate. In 2010, elephants similar to the ones guarding the hotel’s entrance were placed all over central London. Designed by local and international artists, these elephants were auctioned after being displayed, with all the proceeds going to the Elephant Family, a small but hugely ambitious charity working to save the Asian elephant from extinction in the wild.
Summing up Taj Hotels’ vision and approach to corporate sustainability and social responsibility, Raymond Bickson, managing director and chief executive officer of Indian Hotels, says: “We encourage our business heads, managers and associates to integrate community and environmental concerns more seamlessly with functions like procurement, human resources, marketing and sales, and communications.” This approach to planet and community has percolated through the company and finds expression in diverse and innovative initiatives. The Taj is, in effect, playing the role of rainmaker in many different communities across the world.