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Elephants in the Masai Mara

Wordly Wisdom

Caterer & Hotelkeeper, July 2001 By Corinne Hitching

As more becomes known about the environmental damage being done to our planet, and with the Climate Change Levy looming, more and more hotels are taking steps to reduce the impact of their business on the environment.

Staying ahead of regulations is just one reason why managers are making these changes, but they are also saving significant sums of money and attracting more guests into the bargain.

In 1999, the Marriott Worsley Park Hotel & Country Club, in Manchester, was one of the first hotels in Europe to gain environmental certification – and it has been counting the benefits ever since.

Even before the four-star hotel was built, general manager Peter Bech decided that the hotel would be as environmentally friendly as possible. This was particularly important, as the hotel was being built on a 200-acre Greenfield site and therefore had attracted heated local opposition.

By working with English Heritage and Green Globe, the environmental certification programme for the travel and tourism industry, Bech ensured that the hotel blended into the surrounding countryside, creating a wildlife haven in the process, while striving to minimize the impact on neighbors.

“Having a sound environmental management approach to running a business is absolutely necessary,” Bech says. “There are also good economic reasons why every business should take this approach.” For instance, the Marriott saved about £60,000 in its first full year of operation simply by cutting down on consumption of water, gas and electricity.

How did the hotel manage this? One way was to involve every member of staff in the scheme, nominating a champion for each department and holding regular meetings to ensure that all parts of the plan were monitored and tested.

“It’s just a question of getting everyone into the right frame of mind,” Bech says. “Chefs traditionally turn everything on as soon as they enter the kitchen, whether they need the equipment or not. With a little education on the damage being done to the environment, let alone the savings to be made, this practice can be stopped.”

Small sites

Environmental action is not limited to larger hotels – small sites can be equally successful at cutting costs. Strattons, a small, seven-bedroom, family-owned hotel in Swaffham, Norfolk, has rigorously pursued a policy of environmental awareness and managed to win several high-profile awards for its efforts – including the coveted British Airways Tourism for Tomorrow Award and the Queen’s Award for outstanding environmental achievement.

Owned by Les and Vanessa Scott, Strattons has a mission statement to “reduce, reuse, recycle, rethink, rework and recover”. With their two children, three cats, two dogs, 20 chickens, two rabbits – and a staff of nine – the Scotts manage to recycle, reuse or compost virtually all of the hotel’s waste – so much so that it produces only half a wheelie-bin fill of rubbish each week.

Many hotels pay lip service to environmental preservation by asking their guests to reuse towels to save washing, but this is just the tip of a very big iceberg. With a little thought and organization, far more action can happen behind the scenes.

Replacing standard light bulbs with energy-efficient ones, for example, makes significant savings that greatly outweigh the initial outlay. Monitoring of energy consumers such as boilers, chillers and cooling towers ensures that they remain at their most efficient. The installation of a combined heat and power system may be costly but it will significantly reduce harmful emissions, while making use of the heat produced to generate more heat and electricity. Savings from the installation of such a device can be in the region of £50,000 a year.

To be considered truly environmentally aware, companies must also work with local communities and contribute to the local economy. The Marriott Worsley Park, for example, works with nearby schools, providing math lessons during which pupils cook a meal in the hotel’s kitchen and then cost it out. London’s Mayfair Inter-Continental supports a local homeless centre by donating old furniture and used soaps. Hotels in the Caribbean organize beach clean-up days, while Eco-resorts in Kenya sponsors safaris for a local orphanage.

Many businesses that have improved their environmental credentials have also found that they receive much higher exposure in the marketplace. “Customers are pleasantly surprised when they first learn about what we are doing,” says Bech. “They then become interested and, before long, you have a committed clientele who reward you with their custom.”

Blue-chip companies

This contention is being borne out by the number of blue-chip companies actively seeking hotels with environmental practices – Volvo and the Co-op Bank are just two.

Of course, all hotels have to balance environmental measures with customer service and the requirements of their shareholders. The Marriott Worsley Park is acutely aware of this dilemma. Despite its array of environmental measures, staff still change bedding every day, and don’t use tiny bottles of shampoo in the rooms as that may seem stingy. Likewise, lights in public areas are not set on timers, as the hotel believes that this practice would not be appropriate for the image of a four-star, full-service hotel.

Hotels that have been integrated environmental responsibility into their core business practices are likely to be in favor with their shareholders, anyway. As Bech says: “Every pound you save converts directly to profit” – which is a reason as good as any to latch on to the environmental trend.

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