EARLIER THIS YEAR Hotel Doolin, our small hotel based in Co. Clare, became Ireland’s first-ever carbon neutral hotel.
We think this should be a significant wake-up-call for, not just the hospitality industry, but all SMEs.
Our new status shows that if we, as a small team can make a difference, there is scope for even more effort country-wide, across all sectors.
While we made a substantial investment in changing our heating system from oil-based to an air-to-water ambient heating system, the innovative solutions and ideas that the entire team brought, and continue to bring to the table, are where we have made the most tangible impact for our customers.
We think that some of the actions we’ve taken on our journey thus far are transferable in all businesses.
Put your customer’s journey first
There is little point implementing changes that won’t actually deliver, so knowing how your customers use your services or products is key.
We made immediate impact by tapping into the customer journey, from check-in to check-out, and working outward from there.
We pinpointed things like plastic consumption right away – and this led to the banning of all single-use items across the hotel like paper napkins and sauce packs.
It also allowed us to replace items like our ‘Do Not Disturb’ signs and toilet paper with eco-friendly options – our now wooden door hangers are one of the things guests positively comment on most.
We are really waste-conscious too and cook all breakfasts to order rather than preparing a sprawling buffet every single morning.
Outside of the hospitality industry, I imagine similar changes can be made across other sectors immediately.
For instance, even when it comes to non-customer-facing areas like staff canteens and washrooms, single-use can be banned and eco-friendly brought in.
Invest in local
Early on we realised that by using as many local suppliers as possible we could further reduce the carbon footprint of our business.
Now, more than over 70% of our food and drink supplies come from producers located within a 50km drive – literally within an hour’s drive.
This has not only made our kitchen team happier but also has led to an even better food experience for our guests.
There is something really special about coming to our restaurant, Glas, and knowing that in doing so you’re supporting a local farmer just up the road who too cares about the environment.
Of course, sourcing these suppliers is a mammoth task and requires a lot of research, trialing and negotiation.
When you think of a business like ours, you’re talking hundreds and hundreds of products but if you have a smaller inventory, getting to even 50% will be more manageable than you think.
Embrace the buzzwords
Our ethical beliefs as a brand connect with what we’re doing and that’s half the battle, but I can empathise when brands feel quite disenchanted – there is so much focus on sustainability at the minute that businesses can feel overwhelmed rather than motivated.
My advice is to embrace the buzzwords – once you’re fully up-to-date with all the terms and what they truly mean, implementing a full-scale plan becomes much easier.
Burying your head in the sand will mean you’ll have more work to do in years to come or risk being left behind altogether.
To gauge where your team is really at, bring it to the table. It’s worthwhile asking them to define some terms – sustainable, carbon neutral, offsetting, etc in your next weekly meeting.
If you find your team is less knowledgeable than you thought – there is likely scope to improve and ultimately come up with even simpler initiatives than what you have in place. If you’re aware that you’re not doing enough yet – even better – starting small is the only way to start.
Know why you’re doing it
Good PR isn’t a reason to start on this journey – the likelihood is your efforts will be short-lived.
For us, our location along the beautiful Wild Atlantic Way and our responsibility to it was our primary motivation so even if our changes weren’t reflected in revenue, we were still proud of our programme.
However, since investing in sustainability our sales have increased by 30% across both domestic and international custom, proving to us that people are choosing brands that connect with and reflect their own personal ethics.
Another change we’ve seen is in recruitment and retention of staff. We have a very low turnover, the historic problems within the hospitality industry just don’t affect us here and we believe this is down to our culture trickling throughout the team.
When it comes to recruitment, we are getting more and more applications with several detailing in some fashion how our commitment to green is a reason for applying.
It’s a great opportunity for anyone in any industry to experience sustainability measures and programmes in practice as this knowledge is transferable and something employers are becoming more acutely concerned with as a skill.
Once you’ve committed, you have to be prepared to stick to it.
We put targets in place – be it measuring tangible changes or finding a solution to a single-use problem.
We scheduled weekly meetings to track progress and communicated all progress to every member of the team on an on-going basis. We trained our staff to be able to thoroughly answer guest queries on all initiatives and we created the role of ‘green manager’ to oversee all of this.
By getting a plan in place, you can easily segregate your business into sections – customer-facing and staff-facing – from there you can brainstorm the creative changes you can make straight away and the changes that require a long-term plan or large investment. Be it shop floor lighting, packaging, supplier location, staff canteen policies or maybe even installing e-car chargers on-site.
If we as a small business make a difference, we think that all businesses can.
Donal Minihane is a general manager at Hotel Doolin