BigHospitality's Sustainability Week: 10 ways to run your business more sustainably

By Emma Eversham & Stefan Chomka

- Last updated on GMT

Our top 10 tips to help make your business greener, leaner and more ethical.

This week BigHospitality has been behind the scenes at eight restaurants, hotels and pubs to find out what they've been doing to make their businesses more sustainable. We've put together what we've learnt from their owners with other information to form our top 10 tips to help make your business greener, leaner and more ethical​.

1. Offer tap or filtered water as a default

Offering free tap water to customers or charging a small amount for filtered water cuts carbon emissions involved in transporting bottled water from its source and cuts waste associated with empty plastic and glass bottles. As well as tap water, JoJo's restaurant in Whitstable is offering filtered tap at its new premises, charging £1 per jug, with unlimited refills, to cover costs. At Hotel Rafayel in Battersea the only water available is filtered tap water in branded re-fillable glass bottles. If you must offer bottled, stock a brand whose profits fund clean water projects globally.

2. Reduce, sort and recycle waste

The more waste a company produces, the more it will inevitably cost them in disposal charges and makes its overall carbon footprint larger. Source suppliers who don't use excess packaging to reduce the amount of waste coming in, or cut some services out completely. Hotel Rafayel avoids sending an estimated 250,000 plastic bottles to landfill by not offering complimentary bottled mineral water, or selling it in the bar or restaurant. If you do create waste, sort it first to cut costs. At the Lancaster London they are saving £7,000 per year by separating paper and card from plastic rather than sending it off to landfill. To cut food waste, offer diners doggy bags to take their uneaten food home with them, or look at reducing portion sizes if they are regularly leaving food. If your local council won't collect your waste or charges more to take it then find out who does, there are recycling companies who may collect waste for less.

3. Screen your suppliers

If you buy in lots of products, check that they have come from sustainable and ethical sources first to ensure you aren't caught out by better-informed customers or the media. Ask your suppliers if they have a sustainable policy and find out what they are doing to reduce their carbon footprint. The Lancaster London hotel screens every potential food supplier before agreeing to use them and Gill Jenkins of Cornish B&B grills suppliers of all products she uses, even if they claim to be sustainable. Geetie Singh at the Duke of Cambridge pub in London ensures that her organic stock is not air-freighted or from cold storage or heated greenhouses. Look at stocking Fairtrade products where possible to ensure you're backing ethical initiatives. Matthew Lake, company director at The Modern in Manchester says there is no excuse not to use an ethical supplier especially given the high gross profit of tea and coffee.

4. Make a call on what are the most energy-efficient appliances

With the Carbon Trust offereing interest-free loans of up to £500,000 for energy-efficient kit and certain refrigeration equipment falling under the Enhanced Capital Allowance scheme, not to mention the potential savings on your energy bills, it makes financial sense. Having installed LED lighting throughout his hotel, Hotel Rafayel owner Ike Latif saves himself £130,000 a year. However, many observers insist that, due to the substantial embodied carbon impact of producing a new fridge or cooker. It is often 'greener' to stick with regularly serviced older equipment, or even buy secondhand. You can also see how much energy appliances are using by requesting an energy monitor from your service provider.

5. Sign up with a renewable energy provider

Don't build a wind turbine yourself (unless you really want to), but consider using an energy company that already has them. This does not give you carte blanche to use more electricity, and you should be looking at ways to reduce your consumption, but it is a quick and simple way to green up.

6. Look at your fixtures and fittings

If you're setting up a new business, or re-designing your existing one look at buying secondhand furniture and tableware which not only reduces your carbon footprint, but also saves money. Leon's restaurants are all kitted out with furniture that is either recycled or secondhand and JoJo's owners set up their restaurant for just £6,000 by trawling auction websites and secondhand shops for the majority of their fittings. When it comes to buying new, look at fittings made from materials that can be produced sustainably such as wool and wood. A wool carpet may cost more than a synthetic one, but it will also last longer and may help keep the building warmer. If re-decorating look at using non-toxic paint.

7. Get staff thinking

Appointing a member of staff as green monitor, employing staff who respect the environment as Geetie Singh does at The Duke of Cambridge, or setting up an environmental 'green team', as management have done at the Lancaster London, means that you can assess the sustainability of your business at all levels. Asking staff to come up with their own ideas of how the business can be made more sustainable and checking their own behaviour not only makes them more inclined to question what they're doing on a daily basis, but it can also make them feel valued for their opinions.

8. Work with your community

Running a sustainable business isn't all about the environment. Working with other businesses and organisations within the area you are operating in can help keep your business alive for longer and help you maintain valuable relationships. Gill Jenkins of Bedknobs B&B buys produce from her local high street where possible and gives guests recommendations of where to go in her area which helps keep money within her home county of Cornwall and the local economy buoyant. It has also won her a sustainability award. In Kent, JoJo's gives the local farmer who supplies them with pork the restaurant's retained vegetable peelings which he uses to feed his pigs.

9. Think about the small things

Sometimes, changing some of the smallest things can make a big difference. Using pot plants instead of cut flowers, for example, not only reduces wastage but costs less. At The Modern in Manchester company director Matthew Lake rents potted plants that are maintained for them. "The rental can add up, but it's nowhere near the cost of cut flowers," he says. Other small actions such as turning off lights or gas burners when not in use can save huge amounts of energy over the course of a year. Even just using correctly sized pans on the right-sized hob can result in serious savings.

10. Communicate

If you establish a sustainability policy for your restaurant ensure everyone knows about it. All staff need to know what your policies are so they can communicate them correctly to customers and explain why you run your business as you do. Be transparent about issues such as service charges too. In survey after survey, customers highlight 'hidden' service charges and confusion over distribution of tips as a bugbear. Besides, it's no use being a leader in ethical business and sustainability if no-one knows the efforts you've gone to.

Sustainable contacts:

The Carbon Trust​, Envirowise​, Sustainable Restaurant Association​, Considerate Hoteliers Association​, Fairtrade Foundation​, Rainforest Alliance​, RSPCA​, WRAP​.

For more articles in this feature, click here​.

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