The hotel sector is arguably the biggest polluter within the hospitality industry as even the basic services hotels provide to their guests – hot showers, clean sheets and towels, air-conditioned and well-lit rooms – also require a greater use of gas, electricity and water than other businesses.
However, the sector is also making huge efforts to make itself more sustainable and as these examples show they don't always require huge budgets or change. Common sense and a little bit of learning and effort is often all you need. And, as many hoteliers have proved, making these changes can even save you money in the long term as well as improve your ethical and environmental credentials.
The five star hotel - Rafayel, Battersea, London
What are they doing?:Owner Ike Latif already wanted to build an ecologically sustainable hotel when he found the site for Rafayel, so it was inevitable it would be filled with the latest green technologies when it opened in Battersea last September. The hotel has LED lighting throughout, harvests rainwater for the toilets and has an energy efficient air conditioning system, which enables it to save an average of 17kg of carbon emissions per room.
To cut waste, Latif has banned plastic water bottles at Hotel Rafayel, which he says takes an estimated 250,000 of them out of the bin per year and cuts down on the carbon emissions produced by delivering them to the hotel. Instead, filtered water is supplied to guests in the hotel’s bar, restaurant and rooms in branded re-usable glass bottles.
Luxury organic toiletries aren’t supplied in the usual plastic bottles either, instead they are in refillable dispensers in each bathroom. Complimentary plastic razors in the bathrooms are also a no-no. Latif prefers to give guests a more sustainbly-produced metal one if they have forgotten their own. And another thing you won’t find in Rafayel’s bathrooms are heated towel rails. “We are criticised for that and have had complaints, especially during cold weather, but it’s a decision we had to take. They are generally on 24 hours a day and use an enormous amount of energy to keep warm, so we explain to guests that they are against our ethos and they understand" says Latif.
What's the cost? Latif is under no illusion that being sustainable costs more initially. The eco-friendly air conditioning unit installed cost £1.5m, £1m more than a normal, less energy efficient one. LED lighting costs more to buy, but its use will cut overall electricity costs by 80 per cent, saving the hotel about £130,000 per year. The hotelier's efforts to reduce plastic use means he must invest in re-usable glass bottles and a filtration system, but it cuts his waste bill dramatically. Overall, Latif isn't sure if his vision for an eco hotel will save him money, but his attention to detail means he can confidently claim he has a sustainable business and will gain credibility among the growing band of eco-conscious travellers.
The chain hotel - Premier Inn
What are they doing? Last year Whitbread's budget hotel chain opened its first 'green' hotel in Tamworth. The hotel has solar panels, ground-source heat pumps and motion sensor LED lighting which helps cut its energy consumption by 80 per cent. Waste water from bathing, also known as grey water, is recycled to provide the hotel’s toilet water, saving 20 per cent of the hotel’s entire water use. Following the success of the pilot, building is now underway on the group's second green hotel and first green Beefeater restaurant in Burgess Hill, West Sussex. The hotel group is also investing £5m in reducing its carbon emissions across its existing estate of 600 hotels and 400 restaurants, putting in improved insulation and other green technologies that "aren't expensive, but give great payback," according to Whitbread's head of construction, Alex Flach.
The new green hotel construction is part of Whitbread's 'Good Together' initiative which aims to make the company more sustainable in seven different ways, by looking at: environment, employee engagement, sourcing of products and services, standards and performance measurement, customer engagement, health and community.
"For us, sustainability is about minimising our impact on the environment, whether that's reducing waste, improving areas like apprenticeships to encourage staff to work their way through the company or us working within our local community," says Flach.
What's the cost? Flach claims it cost the company 30 per cent more to build the Tamworth hotel than it does to build a standard one. However, he estimates it will cost less to build the next one and others as the company learns more about the process and green technologies become cheaper the more widespread their use. He uses the example of £25 LED lamps installed in rooms in the Tamworth hotel that 18 months later cost just £8 each. The company will also make long term savings by installing energy saving devices, such as solar panels on hotel roofs and eco-dishwashers in their restaurant kitchens and Flach believes that starting these now will mean that the company won't get hit by government eco targets in the future.
The independent B&B - Bedknobs, Cornwall
What are they doing? Gill Jenkins' three-bedroom B&B is not situated in one of the easiest buildings to run environmentally sustainably. Built during the Victorian era, when energy efficiency was not a consideration for builders or owners and green technologies were not used as standard, it potentially could be a polluting business. However, sustainability is very much at the heart of Jenkins' business and so much so that she is the holder of a Green Tourism Business Scheme Gold Award and a Long Standing Commitment to Sustainability in Cornwall award.
When she took over the business Jenkins installed an energy-efficient condensing boiler, put seals on the windows and has decorated rooms with 100 per cent wool carpets and organic paint to ensure it was a 'green' a business as she could make it. On a daily basis she uses environmentally-friendly non-chemical cleaning products and washes bed sheets with washing balls rather than soap powder, meaning she cuts down on pollution in the water system.
On top of this, Jenkins deals, as far as possible, with local suppliers to source food and other products, cutting food miles and, more importantly for her, supports other businesses within her community and gives the local economy a boost. This, the landlady sees as a major part of running a sustainable business: "If you support your local shops, that helps keep your high street alive which in turn draws in more tourists and helps keep money in Cornwall," she says. Products that can't be sourced from Cornwall, such as tea and coffee, are Fairtrade so Jenkins can be sure her business is ethical too. Guests are also encouraged to bring their bikes and are given information about public transport in the area to help cut carbon emissions when they are there.
What's the cost? "Being sustainable costs me in time," says Jenkins. "I research all the products I use, including the supply chain. I always look behind the label to make sure things are as ethical as they claim to be, which does take longer." The condensing boiler, although intially more expensive to buy than retaining the old system, will shave up to 40 per cent off the B&B's energy bill every year. The 100 per cent sustainable wool carpet costs more too, but will last longer than a synthetic carpet and will help keep rooms warmer, signifying a long term saving. The washing balls cost £20 but will do 600 washes and use less water per wash than a load using washing powder which would also cost considerably more.
Want to see what hotels are doing? Find out what the Lancaster London hotel is doing in our exclusive video.
Tomorrow: See what some pubs are doing to make themselves more sustainable.
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