Viewpoint: When it comes to efficiency, you sometimes have to spend to save

08 December 2022
Viewpoint: When it comes to efficiency, you sometimes have to spend to save

A gentle touch is often needed when heating and insulating ancient buildings, says Giles Fuchs, owner of Devon's Burgh Island hotel

There is a growing demand among hospitality's guests for experiences that come without a damaging environmental cost. In the UK, 68% of people feel their personal actions make all the difference towards creating a sustainable future, and with hospitality responsible for an estimated 15% of greenhouse gas emissions, they are rightly voting with their feet.

However, pressure from patrons alone shouldn't drive hospitality to prioritise sustainability. Owing so much of our success to the environments that surround our establishments, the industry has a responsibility to lead the UK's net-zero efforts and preserve the natural world around us.

Making Energy Independence Day a key date in the hospitality calendar

Hospitality provides entertainment and relaxation, relieving society of the stresses of everyday life. While a necessity, this comes at a significant cost, with the hotel sector alone contributing an estimated 1% of global emissions, according to the Sustainable Hospitality Alliance.

Rather than cutting the lights, hospitality businesses must look to switch to their own supply of green energy. However, it's imperative that any action is taken with thought for how it will impact the natural and historical integrity of the establishment's surroundings.

On Burgh Island, for instance, a wind turbine could provide enough energy to sustain the hotel, the island's residents and the neighbouring village, but at what cost to its idyllic views? We would simply be replacing air pollution with visual pollution, swapping one negative for another. Rather, we generate energy from a solar array on our disused tennis courts, which do little to reduce the hotel's aesthetic appeal.

Continually exploring ways to reduce our impact further, we recently commissioned building performance expert Professor Doug King to assess the hotel's performance. With every establishment's needs and considerations different, this is a measure that all hospitality businesses should consider as they strive to reduce their emissions.

A thermal solution to the hotel industry's sustainability challenge

For establishments such as Burgh Island that are steeped in historic significance, antique standards of insulation can often limit efforts to improve energy efficiency. Coupled with the fundamental need to preserve, achieving net zero may appear problematic, but that isn't to say such landmarks should be exempt. Thankfully, there are various solutions that provide a middle ground between modernisation and preservation.

The hotel sector alone contributes an estimated 1% of global emissions

For instance, combined heat and power plants – electric generators combined with heat recovery equipment – can put heat that would otherwise go to waste to good use. Hidden beyond sight, such solutions can drastically improve efficiency without impinging on old-fashioned design features at a cost to the premise's long-established charm and character.

At Burgh Island, for instance, our Nettlefold restaurant helps to keep those in our dining area cosy and comfortable by using heat retention technology. Our calculations show this system will pay for itself within a decade, making it a most worthwhile investment for the good of our environment.

Building back better, for our guests and our planet

Of course, there will be times when the structures and interiors of yesteryear simply do not meet modern standards. However, any developments undertaken must continue to balance authenticity and sustainability.

The energy efficiency of any materials used should be prioritised during development work, employing a "fabric first" approach, where the design maximises the performance of its structural components and materials before considering the use of alternative systems. At Burgh Island, for instance, we designed our new staff accommodation to be built from timber-frame housing set behind dry stone earth shelter walls that retain heat effectively, minimising the structure's impact and allowing it to blend with its existing surroundings.

Such an approach ensures efficiency standards far above the minimum are met, future-proofing establishments for the foreseeable future as expectations intensify in pursuit of the UK's net zero goals.

Many small changes can make a big difference

Hospitality has a major role to play in helping the UK to achieve its net zero targets. However, establishments need not invest large sums in high-tech systems or build anew with eco-friendly materials to make a positive difference.

Whether switching off lighting when not in use, educating guests on sustainable practices, or sourcing produce locally to reduce travel emissions, even a small change can help to set hospitality on the path towards a carbon-free future.

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