Red Hotels won the Sustainable Business Award, sponsored by Nestlé Professional, at the 2011 Cateys for its commitment to environmental practices at its two hotels in Cornwall. The owners tell Janet Harmer that their greatest success has been in creating a team which enthusiastically promotes and adheres to their principles
Staff at two of the UK's most sustainable hotels - the Scarlet and Bedruthan Steps - live and breathe a philosophy that goes far beyond saving energy and recycling waste.
While it is true that the two properties - which together make up Red Hotels - adhere to an impressively long list of sustainable measures, it is the efforts which they both take in creating a sense of wellbeing for the people who work there, as well as those who come to stay, that is most impressive.
The three sisters - Emma Stratton, Debbie Wakefield and Rebecca Whittington - who two years ago opened the 37-bedroom adult-focused Scarlet alongside the long-established, family-orientated, 101-bedroom Bedruthan Steps, operate a business in which the staff, guests and local community are cherished every bit as much as the environment.
Hence the staff do not just serve their guests, they nurture them; while in turn Red Hotels look after their staff in many ways, including encouraging them to take up studying a subject dear to their heart, be it a language or scuba diving.
Such a caring environment is a key element of the luxury offering at the Scarlet, which makes it stand out from its competitors. It has also achieved an indulgent atmosphere, without the excesses - such as wasteful amounts of toiletries - found in similar rated properties.
"For us, the luxury is in the peace and calm that we offer here, alongside exceptional service from thoughtful staff," says Stratton, who looks after the hotel's sustainability policy and marketing.
"You will be professionally welcomed in many five-star hotels, but not necessarily personally welcomed and that is what we aim to provide," she adds. "Luxury hotels can be efficient and beautiful, but there is not much love. We want our interaction with staff to be tangible by really listening to what the guests want. So this could mean, for instance, a member of staff joining a guest, who wants to play a game of tennis."
With the staff producing a brand-new pair of Wellington boots for this correspondent to borrow when disappointment was voiced at not being able to take a walk on the beach because of to a lack of suitable footwear, it is clear nothing is too much bother.
Creating a team of staff who share the sisters' deep-rooted beliefs behind operating a truly sustainable business has been a challenge, but one which has been the key factor in ensuring the on-going success of Red Hotels.HOW STAFF PLAY THEIR PART IN RUNNING A SUSTAINABLE BUSINESS Once on board, the key focus of the 250 staff across the two hotels, is to take on board the company's philosophy to "cherish the world". This is achieved by: Employee induction Includes a sustainability programme covering the history and initiatives of the hotel. It encourages staff to think about why sustainability matters. Individual departments incorporate specific practices into their training. Sustainability sessions and workshops Delivered to the board of directors, the management teams and each department. Sessions with the directors focus on creating policy and targets for coming months, those with the management teams are centred on the action points identified in their departmental sustainability action plans, while the departmental sessions are designed with each departmental manager to ensure they are relevant and motivational. Additional training and education for staff Where appropriate, staff attend conferences and external programmes aimed at incorporating sustainability into the guest experience. For instance, the Cornwall Wildlife Trust provides the team with rock pool training so that they can offer weekly rock pool excursions. Some employees have undertaken the level 2 BTEC in sustainable tourism and one member of staff is taking the foundation degree in sustainable tourism management. Sustainability quiz Aimed at encouraging staff to discuss and explore new initiatives. Working with sustainable experts Staff liaise with CoaST (Cornwall Sustainable Tourism project) to identify key motivations for changing behaviours, hearts and minds towards a more positive approach to sustainable practices and activities. Getting involved in community fund-raising activities The staff have led the way in raising money for the locality, with the latest target being £3,000 for a heart defibrillator, for use in emergency situations on the beach. Money has also been provided for Cornwall Young Carers. CREATING A CARING TEAM !Red Hotels beach clean](https://cdn.filestackcontent.com/ePYOIenSwnMUem4I7xAz) During the recruitment process, sustainability is mentioned at every opportunity - from the initial advertisement, in all correspondence with potential staff and during interviews. "We are very rigorous in ensuring everyone who joins us fully understands how we operate as it is not something you can pay lip service to," says Wakefield, who as operations director looks after the care policy regarding staff and guests. "If someone doesn't show a passion for our environmental policies it will be swiftly picked up during the probationary period. Every senior manager has a sustainability plan which involves monitoring and modifying our practice, and is intended to constantly stretch and challenge them." With the aim of recruiting staff on their caring qualities, as opposed to their technical hotel skills, the selection process involves team tasks - such as beach cleans - on Mawgan Porth beach, situated at the bottom of the cliff from the two hotels. "We are more interested in taking on those people who help potential employees who may be struggling, rather than those who go all out to win and ignore those less able than themselves." RESPONSIBLE HOSPITALITY ONLINE RESOURCE This week Caterer and Hotelkeeper launches a new online channel dedicated to bringing you all the information and advice you need to run your business responsibly. We have collected our considerable archive of news, legal advice, business tips and learning along with new videos, white papers and features to offer hospitality a one-stop shop for sustainability advice. The Responsible Hospitality online channel will be a simple to navigate resource featuring areas focussing on sustainability savings, marketing and law. In addition there will be tools and articles on the subjects of waste, energy, recycling and water. [www.catererandholkeeper.com/responsiblehospitality](http://www.catererandholkeeper.com/responsiblehospitality) RED HOTELS' KEY SUSTAINABLE SUCCESSES ![Red Hotels directors](https://cdn.filestackcontent.com/UFZQ0aSZQRa8lvif6osn) Creating a team who share the same environmental ethos of the three owners."Our staff are now so inspired that we find they are constantly pushing us forward and coming up with new ideas, such as the Vintage Fun Day, which involved bringing together our three local villages for fund-raising activities," says Stratton. "The result is a very happy team." â- The introduction of a grey water recycling system at the Scarlet successfully uses waste water from baths and sinks to flush the hotel's toilets, while rainwater is collected and used to top up the natural swimming poll, irrigate the sea thrift rook, wash cars and provide rinsing of salty wetsuits and muddy outdoor kits. â- Building up connections with small, independent suppliers has resulted in visits to farms and businesses by staff and improved their product knowledge. â- High levels of insulation at the Scarlet, combined with a natural ventilation system rather than air conditioning in the bedrooms, is efficient and has a low carbon footprint. THE KITCHEN Scarlet head chef Jeremy Medley outlines the key sustainable aspects of the Scarlet's kitchen and approach to food and beverage: â- Menus are changed daily to make the best use of high-quality seasonal and local ingredients. â- A minimal packaging policy ensures ingredients are transferred directly into the hotel's containers on arrival. â- All recyclable waste is divided in the kitchen between paper, plastic and glass, to reduce the refuse burden at point of storage. â- Abio composter is used to recycle all food waste, with compost used to nourish the grounds of both hotels. â- Induction hobs provides heat on demand, powered by a renewable energy source. CONVINCING THE CUSTOMER ![Red Hotels pool](https://cdn.filestackcontent.com/67Bx1NwpT0KbYG3TVbX8) There are few outwardly visible signs that the Scarlet and Bedruthan Steps are among the two greenest hotels in the country. While the natural chlorine-free pool at the Scarlet is certainly unusual for a hotel, the log-fired hot tubs are a quirky feature and the decision to not put fridges into the bedrooms may be unexpected, the overall feel is of two eclectically designed properties - in a spectacular location - which offer supreme comfort and relaxation. However, for a few sceptical guests, the green ethos can be challenging. Some presume that the sustainable measures exist as a means of cost saving. "Little do they know that, while of course we make savings in some area, it costs us significantly more in a myriad of ways, but we regard it as money worth spending," says Stratton. It is vital, therefore, that staff are able to explain the reasons behind the hotels' environmental policies. Two new initiatives have required the team to be fully briefed to deal with any questions from guests. The first relates to the charge imposed on extra swimming pool towels after the first one is provided free. "We were finding that some guests would take three towels," says Stratton. "By charging, we just want guests to be a little more thoughtful about the potential waste." The second initiative involves the decision to offer apple juice produced by Cornish Orchards, near Liskeard, in place of less sustainable freshly squeezed orange juice. "As well as being a more environmentally product, we believe it is nice to be able to offer a high-quality apple juice that is produced locally," says Stratton. THE CHALLENGES OF RUNNING A SUSTAINABLE BUSINESS â- Getting chefs to change old unsustainable habits such as defrosting frozen products under running water. â- Running two busy hotels creates time pressure which makes it difficult sometimes to ensure sustainability procedures are consistently adhered to. For example, at peak times, the Bedruthan Steps can get frantic, with more than 100 children resident. At such times, it is easier for staff just to dispose of plastic bottles into the general waste. â- Sorting waste can be a yucky business which staff may try to avoid. â- Some sustainable methods are not cost effective. For instance, Stratton says she would love to use sustainable candles which are hand-made from beeswax, but they are just too expensive. â- Sourcing fabrics which are completely sustainable, serviceable and do not fade has been tricky. "Organic cotton would be our first choice but it loses colour in the sun and the high transportation costs means that it is a high-carbon product," says Stratton. â- The biomass boiler, fired up by recycled wood chips, initially caused problems by releasing smoke as the chips had a higher moisture content than specified. Wood with a lower moisture content has now been sourced. â- Informing all businesses in the supply chain of the hotels' sustainable policy to ensure everyone sings from the same song sheet. â- The sisters had hoped to introduce wind turbines to generate electricity, but the cost of the cabling to the national grid at £500,000 was too prohibitive to make it cost-effective. Cateys sponsor comment Nestle Professional Despite the recession's far-reaching impact, sustainability remains a key challenge for hospitality. That's why Nestlé Professional continues to drive awareness of the issues and demonstrate how every organisation can "make a real difference". Right now, the bottom line is a priority for businesses, in line with the economic challenge. The big question is how can we work together to maintain and grow our commitments to sustainability? It's about long-term dedication and not simply looking at "quick hits" or "green wash" across the business to deliver marketing wins. It's about adopting an approach that is interwoven into the heart of an organisation through its employees, its business partners and the entire supply chain. At Nestlé Professional corporate social responsibility and sustainability have long been the drivers behind our products and operations. As part of our own comprehensive programme we continue to invest in a number of sustainable initiatives in the UK and beyond. The secret is focusing on working with suppliers and customers to create shared value and ensuring corporate social responsibility is built into the foundations of the core business principles - corporate social responsibility isn't a destination, it's a journey! - E-mail your comments to [Janet Harmer](mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org) here. 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