Earlier this year Belmond, owner of Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons and the soon-to-re-open Cadogan Hotel became the first global group to be rated by the SRA.
The company, which operates 45 hotels, rail and river cruises across three continents, felt that while it put sustainability and social responsibility at the heart of its business, it was time to put those credentials under scrutiny.
“Our products are located in some of the most culturally and environmentally significant locations in the world, and sustainability and social responsibility have always been at the heart of what we do,” says Belmond president and CEO John Scott.
“We undertook this assessment with the Sustainable Restaurant Association because we wanted to find out where we are today, how to improve and how to communicate what we are doing to our guests.”
“Interest in sustainability is gathering around the world – the typical Belmond guest is intelligent, well-travelled and well-informed,” adds the company’s chief sales and marketing officer Ralph Aruzza.
“While Belmond has always sought to bring local flavours to life in our diverse properties, there are certain standards, well-travelled guests would expect to see in any of our hotels or travel experiences, wherever they are.”
With sites in far-flung locations including the Thai Island of Koh Samui and St Martin in the West Indies, plus experiences taking place in diverse areas such as Peru’s Machu Picchu, the question is how do you start gathering all the relevant information in the first place?
The company used its General Managers’ Conference at the Belmond Charleston Place hotel in South Carolina to tell managers about the plans and distribute questionnaires (adapted from the SRA’s usual ratings system and translated into 10 languages) covering 14 topics such as employees, community engagement, suppliers and energy efficiency.
SRA managing director Mark Linehan and president Raymond Blanc also attended the conference to guide managers through the process and ensure they answered all questions correctly to enable an accurate assessment.
Each manager filled questionnaires out and returned them before they were each assessed by the SRA who ensured the overall rating adhered to the SRA’s principle of encouraging good practice and improvement.
Considering the breadth of locations, as a whole the business scored a Two Star rating (businesses receive a One to Three star rating accordingly).
Restaurants in nine Belmond properties received the SRA’s highest rating of Three Stars meaning they have demonstrated ‘an exceptional level of sustainability with some outstanding examples of good practice’.
Perhaps, unsurprisingly, given its chef-owner’s involvement with the SRA, Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons achieved the highest overall rating of the group.
The Oxfordshire-based hotel and restaurant pays careful attention to seasonality, sources produce from its own kitchen garden and is a big supporter of local and national charities such as Oxford Children’s Hospital and Hospitality Action.
Other good practices include paying staff the Living Wage, offering them subsidised healthcare and a profit share scheme.
Blanc says: “As chefs, restaurateurs and hoteliers, we have a duty to give our guests food which adheres to a strong set of ethics, by demonstrating that we care about seasonality and local values, operate strong sustainable practices and work closely with one’s community.”
Over in Santa Barbara, California at Belmond El Encanto, the SRA found outstanding examples of sourcing and environmental responsibility where ‘fantastic produce’ is sourced from the state it sits in.
Executive chef Leo Andres Ayala said completing the SRA rating had helped the hotel restaurant broaden the knowledge and awareness of staff, supplier and guests.
He adds: “Going through the SRA rating process helped re-evaluate our sustainability policies to uphold our vendors to a higher standard of sustainability with regarding to their environmental impacts, humane practices and community engagement.
“The SRA’s rating has provided us with an opportunity for greater awareness towards educating all our team members to translate our sustainability practices to our guests. Here at the Belmond El Encanto, we have instituted strict water conservation efforts to do our part to support the need in the current California drought conditions.”
For many of the businesses within the group, the assessment process made each manager question their whole way of running.
Because of the set-up for some of their hotels or experiences – such as train experience Belmond Royal Scotsman – the assessment process was more challenging than others.
General manager Michael Andrews said that working within the close confines of the train presented the biggest challenges to operating sustainably, but he has already taken much from the experience.
“Undertaking the SRA audit challenged current practice and thoughts, made us take a look at what we currently do, and have changed for the better in lots of areas. It not only made us think internally, but also to the wider environment, our suppliers and the impact that an operation like ours can have - both positively and negatively," he says.
“Where we thought our practices were robust, this has proven to not be the case. The undertaking of the SRA audit has forced us to re-evaluate our operation, and bring this to the fore in all our current and future dealings.”
Andrews said he’d used the ratings as a benchmark to progress from.
“We have changed the way that we water the train, monitor our use of generator fuel and oil, our impact on the surrounding environment for waste products such as grey water and toilet waste. Suppliers have been tasked with reducing packaging and transportation waste, which they are complying with. We have looked at the carbon footprint of supplies and changed to more local deliveries, from local companies reducing this further,” he says.
Although it has received its rating the rest of Belmond, like its Royal Scotsman business, is not resting on its laurels.
Scott says: “All of our restaurants will complete a second rating with the SRA where progress can be assessed. At the point we can look at extending through to the broader operations of the hotel. The assessment we have developed with the SRA is very comprehensive and is already relevant to the properties more widely – in terms of energy saving, staff treatment and engagement with the local community.”
The company has committed to an ambitious programme to ensure group-wide improvement, including training, the introduction of a procurement policy and measurable improvements in the rating, which will be completed again, later this year.
And the breadth of locations does not put them off.
“International travellers pack their principles, ethics and expectations, so we have to meet those, regardless of the location,” says Aruzza.
For more information about the SRA’s Global Sustainability Rating contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 020 7479 4224.