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Your house in order

16 October 2008

Being green these days is not just about doing the right thing. Increasingly, customers expect it. But acting responsibly and making your business more efficient can also substantially reduce utility bills and help you reduce your financial obligations under legislation such as the Climate Change Levy (CCL).

It can also improve your rating under the Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) scheme, resulting in reduced energy taxes down the line, and enabling you to benefit from positive PR and marketing.

Getting started

A key element of any green strategy is addressing the fabric and design of your business premises to reduce your carbon footprint. It can be hard to know where to start, but good first ports of call include Envirowise (www.envirowise.gov.uk) and the Association for Energy Conscious Building (www.aecb.net), while bodies such as Hospitable Climates (www.hospitableclimates.org.uk) and the Considerate Hoteliers Association (www.consideratehoteliers.com) have a host of good advice and resources aimed squarely at the hospitality industry.

Being part of a recognised sustainability programme can provide a useful framework and valuable support. Two such programmes worth looking into are the Green Tourism Business Scheme (www.green-business.co.uk) and VisitBritain's Green Start programme (www.visitbritain.com). Businesses can also pursue BS8555 and ISO14001 accreditation and aim to get their buildings certified as carbon-neutral, or seek a BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method) rating for implementing an eco-friendly design (www.breeam.org).

Professional help

Start as you mean to go on by seeking professional help at the earliest opportunity. Employing the services of a "green" architect should ensure that green factors are factored in at all stages of the development.

If you are starting from scratch, you can incorporate green techniques such as passive solar design, whereby the heat of the sun is used to regulate the building's temperature. You can also make maximum use of natural sunlight for lighting. Incorporating items like sun pipes and employing south-facing windows will let in more heat and light and reduce energy requirements.

Retro-fitting an old building can be trickier conducting an environmental audit of the building will help identify which areas to tackle first.

Heating and power

One key area where efficiency savings can be made is heating and power. A combined heat and power (CHP) system can be a great way to improve efficiency and make savings in a big building like a hotel. CHP systems generate electricity on site, so you need to buy less energy from the National Grid. Meanwhile, the heat produced in this process is captured for uses such as heating water or even a swimming pool. CHP systems also offer an emergency standby power source and, as they are more energy-efficient, they result in fewer carbon emissions. (See www.chpa.co.uk for more information.)

CHPs are expensive, though. If you can't afford one, consider entering into an equipment supplier finance agreement.

Another option is to invest in ground-source heat pumps - as being installed at Premier Inn's new Tamworth property - which transfer heat held in the ground into a building. (See www.gshp.org.uk.) Other options include water-source and even air-source heat pumps.

Alternative energy

Alternative forms of energy such as wind or solar energy (see www.cat.org.uk) are also worth investigating. Roof-mounted wind turbines, as being trialled at some JD Wetherspoon pubs, are becoming increasingly common and are relatively easy to install. And while items like photovoltaic cells can be expensive and have slow payback times, reducing your reliance on fossil fuels and reducing your carbon emissions is a cornerstone of any green building policy. Plus, solar panels can be great for tasks such as heating water - you can even get solar-powered air-conditioning systems from suppliers such as Sanyo Air Conditioners.

Alternatively, a heat-recovery system can capture and make use of waste heat energy. Waste heat from refrigeration units, for example, can be used for tasks such as heating water. Also look at "biomass" heating systems that use sustainable fuels such as wood chip and wood pellets in place of oil or gas and look into any green energy tariffs on offer from your suppliers.

Insulation

To keep your greener heat in, invest in thermal and acoustic insulation. Greener insulation products include Thermafleece, which is made of sheep's wool and is therefore both renewable and recyclable and is ideal for loft insulations, and Warmcel, which is made from recycled waste newspaper and can be used in cavity walls and lofts.

To complete the mix, don't forget your windows. This can be an expensive part of the green jigsaw, but fitting more efficient windows such as gas-filled double- or triple-glazed units, or even thermal windows, as used by companies such as City Inn, can have a major impact on reducing heat loss. Low-emittance coatings also reduce heat loss. At the very least, have your existing window frames checked to ensure they are draught-proof.

Insulating pipes is another easy win that will quickly pay for itself in reduced energy bills. Bridging items, such as metal wall ties, also need attention to avoid heat loss.

But for any insulation to work effectively it is crucial that the building is as airtight as possible. Ensure any holes and gaps are filled effectively to reduce draughts and prevent heat loss. Use a pressure test to check the results.

Lighting and electricals

Lighting can be a major consumer - and waster - of energy for a hospitality business. Replace traditional incandescent lightbulbs with more energy-efficient and longer-lasting compact fluorescent lights (CFLs), and install LED light systems where possible. Fitting motion sensors or even just using switches with timers or dimmers can also help to reduce energy consumption.

For hotels, fitting keycard systems where the card that's used to open the door also unlocks the lighting and air-con systems - another major cause of wasted energy - is a good option, as it prevents energy being used to cool and light empty rooms. Also, investigate whether you could reduce the amount of electrical equipment you use - for example, by incorporating a coldroom into the build to reduce your reliance on energy-hungry refrigeration.

For bigger properties, a building energy management system (BEMS) can help reduce power usage and can interface with other green systems, such as a CHP.

Water

Water is another common area of waste in hospitality businesses (see feature, page 56). The good news is that reducing water usage is relatively easy.

Dual-flush, low-flow toilets are far more water-efficient than standard models, while models based on systems such as Evac vacuum drainage use about 80% less water than standard systems - about a litre of water for each flush. Also, look at installing a system which uses previously used "grey" water or harvested rainwater to help flush the WCs. Better still, install waterless urinals from suppliers such as Airflush.

Replacing shower heads with low-flow models, fitting push taps and water flow regulators and fitting sensors on urinals can all help slash water consumption.

Not offering baths is another option, with the added benefit that the footprint of the bathroom is smaller. Dealing with any leaks and dripping taps quickly and effectively is also key.

Building and interior materials

Where possible, use products from sustainable sources. Natural materials, such as wood tiles and thatch, can be used for roofs, or you could even incorporate a "living" roof into your project. Such roofs improve insulation and help to regulate internal temperatures (www.livingroofs.org).

On walls, switch to natural non-toxic or low-toxicity paint, and consider using traditional alternatives, such as lime for pointing and rendering instead of cement.

For car parks, using gravel instead of concrete means the area can absorb rainwater, thus minimising the effect on groundwater levels.

Many builders' merchants now specialise in green materials - for example, Eco Merchant (www.ecomerchant.co.uk) and the Green Building Store (www.greenbuildingstore.co.uk). You can also consider using reclaimed materials like stone, bricks and wood, as well as recycled fittings, such as furniture and old kitchen equipment.

When sourcing building materials, think locally to reduce transportation. And think about how any waste materials will be disposed of, identifying items that can be reused or recycled.

Also consider incorporating green techniques such as rammed-earth construction in place of steel and concrete.

Be seen to be green

But, of course, becoming a responsible business doesn't stop at reducing the environmental impact of your building. Follow Caterer's Green Month features for more details on the benefits of employing a green strategy right across your business.

Going green at World Travel Market

One of the highlights at this year's WTM looks set to be the Business Case for Responsible Tourism Conference. The programme - running from 11am-4pm on Thursday 13 November at ExCel London in the South Gallery, rooms 21 and 22 - promises "a unique opportunity for businesses to develop in the field of responsible tourism and gain a competitive advantage" while also increasing profits. The pre-registration fee is £195 and on-site registration is £235. Lunch and refreshments are included.

www.wtmlondon.com

Funding and grants

One major obstacle to making buildings greener, especially for small operators, is the cost involved. However, financial support is available to businesses.

For example, if you invest in a combined heat and power (CHP) system, you won't have to pay the Climate Change Levy on the gas you use to run it, or pay business rates on the plant containing the CHP and your capital costs should be subject to relief under the Enhanced Capital Allowances scheme (see www.eca.gov.uk).

For more information on grants and financial support for green building projects go to:

Also check with your local council.

Regional spotlight: Scotland

According to property agent Christie & Co, the licensed property market in Scotland is "challenging" at present. One casualty has been guesthouses, which, it says, have felt the effect of the downturn in trading much more than hotels.

However, it comments that the need for vendors to ensure their property is competitively priced means there are some good opportunities for buyers. "The long-term future of the market continues to be favourable, and it is a good time to buy in Scotland," says Stuart Ferguson, of the company's Edinburgh office.

Current hot spots for Christie & Co include Aberdeen and surrounding areas, which are still seeing substantial growth and have much higher average room rates than other parts of the country. Edinburgh and East Lothian, together with Perth, also continue to do well, although there is a shortage of opportunities in these areas.

Away from the cities, Christie & Co singles out the West Coast of Scotland, along with Royal Deeside and the A9 corridor from Perth to Inverness, as worthy of special consideration for buyers.

As for average prices, the company says buyers in Scotland should expect to part with £75,000 and £350,000 respectively for a leasehold and freehold pub. Freehold guesthouses and hotels go for £450,000 and £600,000, while restaurants go for about £50,000 leasehold or £750,000 freehold.

Property agent Colliers Robert Barry is also seeing plenty of interest in the country's stock of licensed property from well funded potential purchasers.

Alex McGrehan, a director in the company's Edinburgh office, says: "It certainly is business as usual in the Edinburgh office, with sales being negotiated across all price ranges, types of property and areas of the country."

McGrehan says city centres like Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Inverness are always popular across most sectors, while the more tourist-orientated areas, such as the Borders and certain parts of the Highlands, continue to attract interest from those seeking a lifestyle business. Meanwhile, the West Coast remains a perennial favourite for those who are relaxed about a more seasonal element of trade. Areas where the emphasis is on sporting and outdoor activities are also becoming increasingly popular, as the demand for activity-based holidays and short breaks increases.

Over at the company's Glasgow office, director Adam Lansdown has this to say about the market: "Overpriced properties will not sell only those priced at their worth will. And for buyers, the Scottish hospitality market offers considerable rewards for a well managed business in both the lifestyle and commercial sectors."

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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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