Making small changes
Linda Jee, owner of Horseshoe Cottage Farm in Leicestershire, describes how minor changes in the day-to-day running of her business have had big results.
This presentation was originally delivered at our Hospitality and Tourism Masterclass in Leicester, November 2015.
RED Hotels in Cornwall offers some practical advice for creating your own action plan and engaging your customers with your green activities.
Strattons Hotel in Swaffham, Norfolk is a small, family-run hotel and the first in the UK to win the Queen’s Award for ‘Outstanding Environmental Performance’. Les and Vanessa Scott started the business in 1990 and began their environmentally friendly policies straight away. But it wasn’t until they joined the Waste Minimisation Project at the University of Hertfordshire in 1997 that they realised how much more they could do. With the help of the waste and energy experts at the university, they looked into every aspect of the business and wrote a comprehensive green policy, which is revised every year.
One of the first changes was to switch off the espresso machine after breakfast instead of leaving it on all day, saving £250 a quarter. They also replaced the miniature soap bars and bottles of bath products with liquid soap in pump dispensers.
“People are taken in by the packaging of the ‘luxury’ soaps”, says Vanessa, “but the liquid soap is much better quality. It’s organic, from the UK, and not tested on animals. Some guests didn’t like it at first, but when we explained that the annual soap waste from the miniature bars was 164kg, and that this way we also reduce the number of waste plastic bottles by 97%, they were very happy to be doing their bit. And no-one’s asked for a bar of soap since.”
All members of staff are trained to follow the green policy and encouraged to come up with their own ideas. Strattons’ restaurant serves organic and locally sourced produce in a modern English style. 82% of all food is procured within a 25-mile radius of the hotel. “We’ve done lots of education on food, and taken staff out to visit our food producers,” says Vanessa. “All our staff can talk knowledgeably and enthusiastically about the food. Guests really enjoy that.”
The hotel also came up with an innovative way to dispose of used coffee grounds, by naturally drying them, bagging them in the packaging they arrived in and using them as horticultural compost. Guests, allotments, and local businesses have all benefited from the hand-out.
Vanessa admits it’s hard to say whether guests choose Strattons solely because of its sustainable policies. “We were known as a quality hotel first,” she says. “And there’s a lot of ignorance. One visitor came in and said we don’t look like an environmental hotel.” But she feels it does make a difference to guests. “Two guests this morning said they came here because of our green policies.”
She feels the benefits of sustainability far outweigh the effort involved, and quality doesn't have to be compromised. “Quite the opposite”, she asserts. “It really makes a difference to the bottom line. We spend an average 70% less on energy compared to the market sector ‘norm’. But that’s not why we do it. We want to offer the guests the best of everything during their stay, from food to bath products. And most guests are really pleased to be involved.”
Focus on local suppliers
The Venus Company boasts a variety of sustainable business practices, including the innovative way it demonstrates its local supply chain to customers.
Developing the natural environment
Canute Cottages in West Sussex are owned and run by the Beales, who have a long-term commitment to good environmental practice and conserving the beauty of this unspoilt area. For many years the family has worked with Chichester Harbour Conservancy, restoring hedgerows and planting over 1,000 trees at Cobnor, as well as creating and maintaining footpaths, sea-defences and facilities for wheelchair users. With some of the farmland in the Countryside Stewardship scheme, they've turned arable areas back into coastal grazing fields and marsh, which are now home to the family’s Jacob sheep. The family has also restored wooded areas in partnership with the Forestry Commission, resulting in a profusion of wildflowers, birds and butterflies. Birds are encouraged to visit with feeders and nest boxes.
Canute Cottages has a Green Tourism Business award, and Diana Beale admits that preparing for it was very useful. “It got us focused and gave us the push we needed to do everything we’d been meaning to do”, she says.
On top of recycling and energy-saving measures like solar tubes for water heating, the Beales provide guests with books, maps and guides on bird watching, walks and wildlife. They try to discourage car use by providing information on footpaths, cycle paths and bike hire. As well as timetables and leaflets for the Chichester Harbour bus, boat trips and ferries.
Although most guests drive, many walk and cycle for the majority of their stay. Guests are encouraged to eat and buy food locally and are given a ‘good eating’ file with details of local restaurants, pubs, shops and market stalls. “People phone or email to book and say, 'we saw your sustainable policy on the website', that’s great”, says Diana. “Our guests are really interested in green issues. For a lot of people, there’s a ‘feelgood factor’ – this is a place where we care about what we’re doing, and guests value that. Over 50% of our visitors have stayed before and some have been coming here for many years.”
Building a sustainable property
The operators of The Hytte, a self-catering property in Northumberland, have put sustainability at the heart of their business.
A holistic approach
As the first accommodation provider in Exmoor to gain a Green Tourism Gold Award, Exmoor House shares some tips on being sustainable.
“We’ve always had a personal commitment to being environmentally friendly. It should be common sense after all”, says Rosi Davis, owner of Exmoor House. “When we decided to buy a guesthouse, one of our business aims was to be as green as possible. Joining the Green Tourism Business Scheme (GTBS) was a way to demonstrate this to our guests, as well as gain more knowledge and continue to improve. We already had the VisitEngland Walkers Welcome and Cyclists Welcome awards and found most of the requirements overlap with the GTBS framework.”
Although Exmoor House left the GTBS in 2012, the property is now part of the pilot group for Exmoor National Park green scheme.
“We’ve always used local food and drink and we make more or less everything ourselves from scratch, which is a major part of our appeal”, says Rosi. “Something else that makes us different is that we don’t have TVs in any of the guest rooms. Most people love this and enjoy reading, chatting and playing games in the sitting room.”
Rosi and her husband Frank Velander set goals for the business. Including minimising waste, maximising the efficient use of resources, reducing energy and water usage, supporting the local economy and minimising pollution. Some more of their commitments include:
- Reusing and recycling as much as possible
- Returning boxes to suppliers for reuse
- Composting green kitchen and garden waste
- Using refillable bottles for toiletries in guest rooms, rather than individual soaps
- Not using portion packs
- Using environmentally friendly cleaning products
- Recording energy and water usage and investigating any anomalies
- Using timers and switching off appliances when not in use
- Switching off unnecessary heating in rooms
- Adjusting thermostats to the lowest practicable temperature
- Using low-energy lightbulbs
- Using rainwater for watering plants and washing guests' boots and bikes
- Buying from local producers and suppliers and promoting the use of local food and drink
- Using a ‘just-in-time’ stock ordering system and getting orders for dinner in advance
- Supporting local and national environmental organisations
- Providing information for guests about local transport, walks, cycle rides and attractions
“Personal satisfaction in gaining the awards is a big factor. We were delighted to be awarded a Best Performer Award in 2008 by Green Business, in addition to our Silver grading”, says Rosi. “The assessment process and the advice we received throughout helped us save more and gave us some very useful ideas. We’ve had guests saying that our green credentials were a factor in choosing us. Our achievements are helping us promote the business and have attracted some media interest, which is great.”
“While the majority are broadly supportive, there does seem to be resistance from a minority of people," Rosi says. "There needs to be a culture shift so people are aware that less wastage means more value for money, even aside from any environmental considerations. Some may also be concerned that being environmentally friendly means reducing standards. This is where businesses like ours can help educate and inform. But it’s important to strike the right tone. There’s a danger of green fatigue for people who are sceptical about the environmental agenda.”