Vanessa Scott investigates how green businesses are

02 October 2008 by
Vanessa Scott investigates how green businesses are

Are you recycling? Do you use long-life light bulbs in your reception? In a word, are you green enough? To kick off our month of environmental coverage, Green Award Catey winner Vanessa Scott, of Strattons hotel, visits three hospitality businesses to see just how eco-friendly they have become. Tom Vaughan reports

Best Western Yew Lodge Hotel

The Yew Lodge implemented its green policy 18 months ago in response to rocketing energy costs. After advice from the Carbon Trust and Envirowise, the 100-bedroom property has put in place major changes, although, as Vanessa Scott points out, there are still a few areas that need addressing.

The fundamentals are very much in place, she says. There is well-presented and digestible environmental policy information available to the customer. From the point of entry to the hotel right through to advice on the guest's pillow on how to offset his or her carbon footprint when visiting the hotel by paying a supplementary 18p - and how the hotel came to this figure - the guest is kept informed. "It's so important you communicate with guests. It's a vital part of being green," says Scott.

The overall approach is well integrated, says Scott. "The first thing to do is appoint a green manager and a green team, which they have done," she says. "Then you have to ensure they meet regularly and have targets set - eg, monitoring gas, water and electricity consumption on a month-by-month basis."

All staff need to be trained in how to recycle and monitor waste, which happens at the Yew Lodge in a "green initiation". An idea for this, suggests Scott, would be to do as she does at Strattons and take new staff to a landfill site to show them the extent of the problem.

The hotel's organic waste handling could be improved, says Scott, with a lot of it currently going to landfill, while simple measures such as using E-cloths to clean skirting, doors, tables and anything that doesn't need hygienic cleaning would cut the amount of cleaning product the hotel bought. By switching to E-cloths, Strattons cut its annual cleaning product purchases from £1,000 to £72.50.

Toiletries were an issue, with the hotel claiming it is Best Western policy to have individual bars of soap and shampoo bottles rather then refillable ones.

However, in 18 months the hotel has come on well. It has installed infrared light sensors back of house spent £180,000 on a more efficient boiler system added flow rate restriction on its domestic water supply and introduced effective glass and cardboard recycling. Scott feels that the hotel is moving quickly in the right direction.

Scott's summary Yew Lodge has carried out a detailed audit of its energy resource. Help from the Carbon Trust was crucial in this process and provided the data to offer guests the opportunity to offset their carbon usage during their stay. The work involved in this process shouldn't be underestimated, but the benefits are enormous and, like most green actions, produce more than a just better bottom line - namely, evidence to the customer that the company is not just "green-washing" and confidence among staff that their employer is committed to a more ethical business model.

There are signs of widespread behavioural change among the staff at Yew Lodge, with Heather Thornton, director of sales and marketing, insisting that staff are now switching off energy sources in their own homes.

The areas that are being thought about but not yet tackled, in my view, offer the hotel an opportunity for significant savings on waste collection. Strattons is a 10-bedroom hotel producing 2.5 tonnes per year of organic waste - half our total waste - multiply that tenfold and you can appreciate the opportunities to slim Yew Lodge's organic waste. Composting solutions have come a long way in the last 10 years. Products such as the Biolan 550 composter, which can treat restaurant and small community waste, could hold the key for safe and effective treatment of this waste stream.

Best Western Premier Yew Lodge hotel, Packington Hill, Kegworth, Derby DE74 2DF. 01509 672518.

Café Spice Namasté

Chef-patron Cyrus Todiwala attributes his intrinsic belief in sustainability to an upbringing in India. "Not since I first came to this country have I put things in the same bin," he says. "I come from a country where we don't throw anything away." But eating in Todiwala's restaurant in the City of London would give only a few clues to his green credentials.

There's a sustainable fish menu on to celebrate British Seafood Week, and the discerning diner might notice the movement-sensor lights in the ladies toilet. However, the vast majority of the good work goes on back of house, with little to no attention drawn to it. "I don't make a song and a dance about it," says Todiwala. "I do what's right for my peace of mind and for my business."

Waste is unfailingly minimised. A poke round back of house will turn up washed and stored jam jars and plastic buckets, while Todiwala cuts and staples all used correspondence and paper to make waiter pads. As much organic matter as possible goes into the two wormeries in the back yard, although Todiwala looked into and dismissed a Rocket accelerated composter as too big an outlay.

As well as admitting to a militant approach to turning off hobs, Todiwala fitted his coolers with a humidity-control system called Humitech that uses a natural mineral compound to lower the ambient temperature of a fridge, reducing energy consumption by 12-14%.

A grease interceptor called Grease Guardian ensures that no oil escapes into the sewer system; while his determination and a live enzyme called Shur-Go destroys biological matter in his drains. His determination not to throw anything away means that all his old kitchen machines are shipped out to an orphanage in Bulgaria in a sponsored crate.

In the past Todiwala tried to ensure all requests for water were met with a bottle of tap water that had been filtered and processed on site, supplying mineral water only if it was specifically requested. Charging Å"1.50 to cover the Å"5,000 annual cost of filtration and bottle cleaning, he was informed by a restaurant guide that he was "cheating customers" so reverted to supplying either mineral water or a jug of tap water.

The restaurant's green initiatives are by no means finished. Next year Todiwala intends to buy a new set of tables that are respectable enough to cut out the need for tablecloths, while Scott's suggestion of a Biolan 550-litre composter is met with keen interest.

There's not a great deal of advice to be given to a restaurant as comprehensively eco-friendly as Caf‚ Spice Namast‚, admits Scott. "I don't think you can teach Cyrus anything he doesn't already know," she says. "If it is his upbringing in Bombay that is the root of his attitude, then that is what we need: an Indian in every hospitality business."

Scott's summary Our visit was not a slick, stage-managed affair; we had freedom to trail around the large premises, with all the evidence pointing to someone in charge who is green right to the core.

Cyrus knows that his policies, albeit in his head and heart rather than the more formally documented corporate approach, make a difference to his business performance. His approach has been shaped by his childhood in Bombay, where the things we take for granted in this country are precious.

My husband, Les, and myself come from a background where our parents, who were children in the latter years of the Second World War, were taught not to waste. My indoctrination was very much that when you leave a room you turn the power off, or when you take some food you take only what you can eat. I felt anger that a sensible solution to bottled water, with all the problems it brings environmentally, had been treated so ignorantly by a guidebook that should know better.

All these environmental issues are a careful balancing act between perceived quality, education and being a sustainable business commercially. The only comment I have for Cyrus is: tell your customers just what you do - you have my utmost respect, and I know you'll have theirs.

Café Spice Namasté, 16 Prescot Street, London E1 8AZ. 020 7488

Crowne Plaza London - The City

Implementing a thorough green policy at a 203-bedroom city centre hotel is always going to be akin to turning round a large oil freighter compared with the dinghy-like manoeuvrability of a 10-bedroom site. But since general manager Paul Brackley took over at the Crowne Plaza, the establishment has put in place a worthy green policy that is slowly moving forward.

In fact, with corporate responsibility now a buzz word, Brackley has found that having a thoroughly documented green policy and educating staff in it has helped the Crowne Plaza win business from the kind of big blue-chip companies that would consider using the hotel.

As well as installing a green team to continually brainstorm ideas, Brackley wrote to his suppliers to challenge them to help the hotel's green drive. "Asking suppliers to help is vital," says Scott, "and a way of making sure every member of the supply chain is informed about your intentions."

Suppliers have now reduced their drop numbers and take back packaging and pallets, in a gesture that Brackley says would have been "impossible to request" three or four years ago.

Brackley is in discussions with the City of London Corporation to pioneer a wet waste scheme; carbon offsetting will begin when the hotel has lowered its footprint sufficiently to calculate a figure per room; and staff are encouraged to meet green targets with monthly awards.

Scott's major quibble is where green intentions meet the wall of corporate expectation. "A lot of hotels think that not having individual toiletries will put guests off. But it's like the old smoking ban issue: it isn't until you've actually tried that you realise it is a lot less hassle than you anticipated."

When Strattons phased out individual toiletries it overcame customer negativity by involving them in the decision, explaining that they had helped prevent 95% of the previous total of plastic bottles going to landfill. And based on its occupancy last year it would have sent more than 164kg of little-used bar soaps to a hole in the ground and would have been charged for the privilege.

"You have to take a stand on these things," says Scott. "After we had given out our last bar of soap we would have the occasional guest ask for one. We decided not to order them in for this rare occasion but to try and educate the guest - because if you don't, you are not moving forward."

Scott's summary I have met general manager Paul Brackley before in his previous role at 51 Buckingham Gate, where, in 2004 and 2005, the hotel won the Considerate Hotelier of the Year award and the Environmentally Friendly Hotel of the Year award from the Considerate Hoteliers Association.

Paul has a big ship to steer, with over 200 rooms and located in central London. He has plainly made a big impact since taking over as general manager and getting a green team and green policy up and running. Looking across the board at waste to even the simplest of things, such as negotiating a better price with the cleaning contractor responsible for staff uniforms by agreeing to return packaging such as hangers makes utter common sense, slimming your waste and improving your bottom line.

The one thing I feel uncomfortable about is the issue of small luxury miniature toiletries. You cannot, on one hand, say that your corporate customer is demanding to see your CSR statement before they do business with you and, on the other, that there will be opposition to anything but small bottles of toiletry product. I believe the emphasis should be on sourcing a really excellent product with a good environmental pedigree.

For instance, we use Simply Soaps, locally based in Norwich, which can offer us an organic product at excellent rates because we buy in 25-litre containers and refill our captive bottles. I can honestly say, hand on heart, that since we informed our customers of our reasons for using captive refillable soaps we have had no opposition whatsoever.

Crowne Plaza London - The City Hotel, 19 New Bridge Street, London EC4V 6D8. 0870 400 9190

Strattons Hotel

Since opening in 1991 Strattons has gone on to become a pioneer in sustainable hospitality, winning owners Lee and Vanessa Scott a host of awards, including the inaugural Green Catey in 2008, the 2005 Considerate Hoteliers Association's Environmentally Friendly Hotel of the Year Award, and the 2000 Department of Trade & Industry's Queen's Award for Industry for Outstanding Environmental Achievement.

The hotel has its own environmental policy, rewritten every year. All members of staff are made aware of, and trained in, the policy, while being encouraged to come up with their own ideas. The policy is far-reaching and includes such measures as weighing and recording all types of waste, including grey water, which enables reduction targets to be set (currently, landfill waste is about 2%) replacing luxury bathroom miniatures with refillable pump dispensers, helping to reduce plastic bottles sent to landfill by 95% fitting all rooms with thermometers - supplied by the Carbon Trust - so staff can adjust heating levels and equipping all radiators with thermostatic valves, enabling customers to control their room temperature.

All toilet cisterns are fitted with "hippos" made from recycled plastic bottles, saving 20% of the water in every flush and, wherever possible, the en suite bathrooms have been fitted with showers to reduce water consumption.

Not only has the commitment to sustainability aided the surrounding environment and the hotel's costs but, with occupancy running at 90%, Vanessa Scott says that the hotel's popularity is "proof that the care and commitment nurtured by environmental consideration achieves bookings".

âž" Strattons Hotel, Ash Close, Swaffham, Norfolk PE37 7NH. 01760 723845.

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