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Barrier-free environments and eco-design – a chat with Mr. Niranjan Khatri, General Manager of WelcomEnviron Initiatives, sheds more light onto one more pioneering activity by the hotel chain.

ITC hotels has been at the forefront of not only employing people with disabilities, but also taking concrete steps to create barrier-free spaces for them to function.  The chain believes that just employing people with disabilities is not enough. In order to enable them to work efficiently, the infrastructure also needs to be user friendly, so that they are able to access any infrastructure without, or with minimal assistance. Just as workplace solutions (such as assistive software) are used to make life easier for disabled employees, a barrier-free work environment is also an essential component for the same.

About 6 years ago, ITC hotels conducted an access audit across all it’s properties. Mr Khatri says “At the time we realized that old hotels could only become barrier-free to the extent of 85%. What of the other 15%? This made us realize that we need to incorporate the notion of barrier-free from the design stage itself.” Since that time, the group decided that all future hotels would be barrier-free and adhere to the principles of eco-design.  Mr. Khatri explained to me the concept of eco-design, which according to him is the art of integrating environmental sustainability in any product or building.

The hotel chain seeks to spread the good word around and to this end they prepared an excellent booklet on universal design, in partnership with AccessAbility. I was surprised to know that the size of the disability tourism market is $75 billion per annum in the West.  India is unable to tap into this segment due to poor infrastructure. Universal design buildings need to be the order of the day, and not exceptions to the rule.

The company has also put the principle of eco-design into practice, through the ITC Green Center in Gurgaon, which is the world’s largest 0% water discharge building with a floor space of 170,000 square feet. The building has been planned to allow optimum usage of natural light and air. For example, the central atrium allows a lot of natural light to enter the building so one is not subjected to glaring white light which are a standard feature of all corporate offices even during the daytime. Similarly, ITC has taken enormous steps to conserve and recycle water throughout the building – be it through recycling 100% of their water, installing waterless urinals, planting local plants which require very little water or by comprehensive rainwater harvesting.

Integrating all systems and creating a holistic environment to make scarce resources go as far as they possibly can – other corporates have a lot to learn from ITC.