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Energy Roundtable: Getting the message across

19 October 2006

Energy, water and waste management programmes can improve the performance of the industry but the message is not always getting across to operators. Caterer and Considerate Hoteliers invited some experts to debate the issues. Rosalind Mullen reports

It was clear as they gathered round the table at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, London, that everyone was going to agree on at least one thing: the need for the hospitality industry to minimise waste and manage energy and water. Those present were either experts in environment issues or operators striving to run an environmentally sound business.

As Caterer‘s Green Month series is showing, the reasons why everyone should be going green are compelling. Energy consumption savings of 10-40% and water savings of 30% can be made through effective management of resources. The volume of waste sent to landfill can be reduced to 2% of total waste. Not least, recent statistics reveal that some 80% of consumers claim ethical considerations play a role in their purchasing decisions.

John Firrell, secretary at the Considerate Hoteliers Association, said: "Reputation is of growing importance and businesses will automatically improve their CSR reputation by embracing environmental concerns."

It was pertinent, then, that one of the first questions was what should motivate a business to "go green" - cost or consumer demand? Our panellists were generally intolerant of operators that shied away from investing in green programmes - although they did accept the need to balance cost versus quality.

"We've found that although some of our SMEs [small and medium-sized enterprises] don't want to pay for expensive practices, in the end cost is not a big factor. The staff like it and the customers like it," said Liz Morrish, SME recycling programme manager for WRAP (the Waste & Resources Action Programme).

Certainly, consumers were agreed to be a driving force. Not only are they becoming increasingly greener in their domestic habits, but on the whole they tend to visit a hotel because of the quality of the destination - and that needs to be safeguarded.

For this reason, Rebecca Hawkins, director CESHI (Centre for Environmental Studies in the Hospitality Industry), research and consultancy fellow, Oxford Brookes University, called for a shift in thinking. She said the main motivator had to be the effect of the industry on the environment rather than cost. "Any business worth its salt will reduce waste. To drive this to the next stage, we need to look at creating consumer demand," she said. "No matter how much a hotel manager concentrates on the greenness of the hotel, it will be undermined if the surrounding area is run-down, polluted, exploited and unsafe."

Cost issue

Her thoughts were echoed by Liam Lambert, European director, Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group and chairman of the Considerate Hoteliers Association. "The industry needs to put the cost issue aside, do the right thing and make money elsewhere," he said.

The panel's main concern was that although there are lots of government-funded programmes, there's a lack of any single initiative to help operators kick-start a green policy. "There's a need to empower decision-makers and make it easier for them," said Paul Jeffries, senior development manager, Tourism South East.

The idea of having a one-stop shop as an information source was debated, bearing in mind that advice needs to be tailored for large or SME businesses.

Karl Mueller, technical services director at Accor Hotels, liked the idea, but Morrish pointed out that organisations such as WRAP are specialists and service and advice would be compromised if staff had to give out information on all topics. They would also have to be retrained. She suggested that operators should approach trade associations, which could direct them to specialists.

Markus Herz, regional manager at government-funded agency Envirowise, agreed that partnerships worked well. "We don't have a single body for a single sector in the UK so at Envirowise we work with local authorities and through them with businesses as an additional resource," he said. The agency offered free, independent, confidential advice and support on practical ways to increase profits, minimise waste and reduce environmental impact, she added.

Indeed, the good news to come out of the discussions was that although there's no one-stop shop, there's plenty of advice out there.

Jeffries recommended the Green Tourism Business Scheme, a marketing and advisory tool for best practice in sustainability. Businesses are accredited according to how they address issues such as business efficiency, environmental management, waste, transport, social responsibility and biodiversity (www.green-business.co.uk). He added that Tourism South East offered guidance, including a pamphlet on the low-cost initiatives hotels could adopt to improve water waste.

Practical tips

The quality of information is improving all the time. Considerate Hoteliers has a utilities purchasing guide (www.consideratehoteliers.co.uk) and Morrish said WRAP was looking to help simplify information for businesses. It has guides on its website and practical tips on products with recyclable content (www.wrap.org.uk).

Recycling was flagged up as an area that businesses often struggled to find help with. Morrish confirmed that there wasn't one national database of recycling companies and services, and that while local authorities had a target to collect domestic recycling, they were obliged to pick up only disposables from commercial consumers. "The Government is looking at it," she said. "Maybe early next year there will be targets and people will develop services to help businesses meet targets."

There are local lists, however - the mayor of London's Green Procurement Code, for example (www.london.gov.uk/mayor/environment/waste/green_procurement_code.jsp).

There was also concern at the lack of showcases to demonstrate the cost-effectiveness of eco-friendly technology or the help available - such as the Enhanced Capital Allowance scheme. Hawkins said Hospitality Climates provided helpful fact files, but couldn't recommend anything that hadn't been tried and tested. "What's missing is information on what you can do with tried-and-tested policies and equipment," she said.

Jeffries reckoned this would change. "We're talking to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport about integrating sustainable issues into quality assurance schemes, providing a toolkit using case studies, and launching a fully accredited scheme," he said.

Procurement

The panel moved on to discuss the importance of wise procurement and the problems operators have in assessing whether an environmentally sound policy impacts negatively down the line. Again, it was agreed that there isn't easily accessible guidance on conundrums such as whether it's best to buy an energy-saving light bulb if you can only source the one you need from abroad, thus increasing transport pollution.

The consensus was that operators have to learn to make judgements about what's more environmentally important and stand up to local governments. Lambert used Mandarin Oriental as an example. At the company's new hotels in Asia it faces a dichotomy because to be environmentally friendly and avoid using hardwoods it has to import softwoods - thus contributing to transport pollution and annoying the local forest workers. "There are definite no-nos, such as using hardwoods that cause deforestation," agreed Mike LeRoy, environmental policy manager at Westminster City Council.

Moving on to tourism, the panel reiterated that hotel companies must take local responsibility. LeRoy suggested some aspects of sustainability were fundamental to a hotel's activities, such as employing local people and working with local communities to control noise from late-night events.

Best practice

Another proven area of success they felt was for operators to work with local authorities to improve unsafe areas by discouraging prostitution, to improve the streets by keeping frontages clean and replacing pavings.

The importance of passing on best practice between companies was stressed, too. "Industry-to-industry mentoring helps," said Hawkins. "People are interested in other
technologies."

The message loud and clear was that businesses will increasingly be judged on their sustainability and need to anticipate the gathering pace of climate change. Using renewable energy was flagged up as being important, though not always easy to adopt. Geothermal plant, for instance, usually needs to be installed before a building is constructed. Local authorities and agencies such as Envirowise can advise.

Certainly, new-build hotels are at an advantage, but plenty is already being done in older buildings - for instance, combined heat and power plant are energy-efficient. And - with consent - ground-source heat pumps (www .est.org.uk) can be installed in listed buildings with systems such as passive ventilation.

"Climate change will affect the way we do business and green buildings will benefit," LeRoy warned

Attendees

  • Helen Adkins Caterer features editor.
  • Liam Lambert European director, Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group and chairman, Considerate Hoteliers Association.
  • Ann Corrigan deputy chief executive, HCIMA.
  • Markus Herz regional manager, Envirowise.
  • Mike Le Roy environmental policy manager, Westminster City Council.
  • Liz Morrish SME recycling programme manager, WRAP.
  • Karl Mueller technical services director, Accor Hotels.
  • Rebecca Hawkins director, CESHI, research and consultancy fellow, Oxford Brookes University.
  • Paul Jeffries senior development manager, Tourism South East.
  • John Firrell secretary, Considerate Hoteliers Association.

Considerate Hotel of the Year Awards 2006

Applications for the Considerate Hotel of the Year Awards 2006 are now being invited, and are open to any UK hotel or guesthouse with six or more guest bedrooms. Hosted by the Considerate Hoteliers Association, the 2006 awards are supported by the British Hospitality Association and the HCIMA.

This year four challenges for UK hotels - to reduce water and effluent bills, reduce waste, use local produce and reduce energy consumption - have been set by the leading organisations in their fields: WRAP (the Waste & Resources Action Programme) for waste minimisation and recycling; Envirowise for water management; Oxford Brookes University and Sustain for sustainable food; and Hospitable Climates for energy efficiency.

For full details of the competition and how to apply, go to www.consideratehoteliers.com.

Entries must be received by 5pm on Friday 24 November 2006.

For more go to Caterer‘s Green Zone

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Jacobs Media Group is honoured to be the recipient of the 2020 Queen's Award for Enterprise.

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