Sustainability: Can you teach an old dog new tricks?

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Ben Davis of Saxbury looks at the opportunity for aparthotels and serviced apartments to make a bold statement on sustainable development and operations.

Sustainability is something that we at Saxbury believe will be a long-term driver for the hospitality industry. Over the last few years, we have seen a significant number of suppliers and investors come through our doors looking at ways to be a part of something bigger, something sustainable. We genuinely believe in the betterment of the planet through implementing sustainability measures and we are adamant that it is the only way forward. As Darwin predicted, the theory of evolution is prevalent in everything and our industry is no different. The Generation Z “give a damn about everything and everyone” mentality has really upped the pressure on governments, policymakers and corporations alike to do more for the survival of our planet. It is also beginning to trickle through to Generation Y and Generation X, adding more pressure on industry to be accountable and a part of the solution not the problem.

The old money, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), is giving way to Environmental, Social, and corporate Governance (ESG). What started as a term for sustainable investments through companies like BlackRock and BNP Paribas, is now being used to communicate what businesses are doing to mitigate the damage they are inflicting on the environment. Whilst these investment behemoths have a lot to do by way of making ESG property investing more attractive to investors, the real focus should be on operations as it accounts for about 85% of the carbon footprint of a building over the course of its life.

Societal change often begins with an idea that resonates and like a ripple in a pond, builds momentum until it has disrupted the whole pond. Independent operators in the co-living/co-working/aparthotel space are beginning to be a voice for change - they have gone beyond talking and started doing. Companies such as room2 and Base Nyon are pioneering revolutionary business practices which will have a profound impact on the way operators will do business in the future. This year will be the year of the most visible changes re sustainability in the hospitality industry.

Robert Godwin is the founder of room2 Hometels, backed by Lamington Group, a 50 year old real estate business. Moving forward, Robert is putting sustainability at the core of what room2 stands for – leading by example in carbon neutral space. “There is no greater threat to our world than the impact of global warming, and neither businesses or government are getting anywhere near to the measures we need to limit temperature rises. We are growing a hotel brand, but I want to do it whilst protecting the world we live in. Our new room2 Chiswick project will be a beacon for what is achievable and should be pursued in the hospitality sector. Having just completed the ground works, we have installed a fully thermal heating system which means the site significantly reduces its energy dependence for heating and cooling from the grid. The remaining electric needs will come from a renewable source, meaning the building’s energy will be zero carbon and zero emissions i.e. producing no carbon monoxide or carbon dioxide from the gas boilers, which are some of the most notorious contributors to greenhouse gasses. Removing them from the equation seemed like the sensible choice.”

“We have duty to protect our environment and there are no shortcuts, so we will be assessing and minimising our carbon impact across our entire operation, from supply chain to waste, and even guests traveling to us. For the carbon that is independently deemed to emitted as a consequence of our operations, we will invest in carbon offsetting projects through credible specialists to become operationally net zero carbon. We believe room2 Chiswick could be the first operationally net zero carbon hotel in the UK.”

Sustainability is a sliding scale and by using broad brush strokes it is easy to underplay the work you are doing, or in some cases, over sell what has actually been done. room2 for example is targeting a very niche area of the market, however there is a whole tick list of options available to operators along the sustainability scale. Another such company fighting the good fight is Base Nyon.

James Fry is the original founder of Switzerland based Base Nyon. His soon to be launched new venture, Beyond Aparthotels, will challenge all preconceptions of what sustainability really is. “The hospitality industry is very backwards in coming forwards. As is always the case when trying to create a societal change, it is a select one to two per cent of the industry battling to create a change for good. I truly believe that if the big operators employed me for 24 hours, I could make them 50 per cent more sustainable overnight.”

“There are two very separate sustainability elements at play - there is sustainable operations and sustainable health. The operations side is easy - change to a renewable source energy provider, remove all single use plastics, only clean towels once a week etc… These are quick and easy wins that all hotels should implement as common practice. It is part of what we did at Base and although there may have been some hesitation from guests initially, the overall experience was incredibly positive.”

“What really excites me however, is the sustainable health benefit, which again, was a big part of the Base offering. Hotels use a lot of heavy chemicals in their cleaning products which can not only have a negative impact on your health, but is dangerous to the people handling the products – accidents happen. Have you ever woken up in a hotel with a bit of a blocked nose? Chances are it is due to the cleaning chemicals not because someone 15 rows behind you sneezed on the plane. We used a product called Aquama which uses tap water and sea salt then passes an electric current through it to create an anti-bacterial product which kills 99.9 per cent of all bacteria and you can also drink. It uses zero chemicals and is just as efficient.

“Buffet breakfasts area harmful in two ways. Firstly, they produce a huge amount of food wastage. Secondly, they usually result in individuals to overeat. We developed Base Breakfast Bag which allows the guests to order all the things they normally would at a buffet but at a fraction of the cost and they can be eaten in the comfort of your own room. We are creatures of habit so naturally people initially find the concept of no buffet breakfast confusing but I am yet to meet someone who hasn’t been converted. Granted aparthotels have an advantage as they have their own kitchenette but it helped us massively reduce wastage and improve health.

“How do we mitigate any negative impact on the customer experience yet be as sustainable as possible? The answer is innovation. Utilising new technologies, building methods etc... we can build a sustainable future with the same levels of service. That is where Beyond Aparthotels comes in.”

So, what is the real point we are trying to make? Why are the established hotel brands not the most evolved ‘sustainable species’ in our industry? I am sure their argument will be that it is easier to implement these changes in new builds as opposed to retrofit older sites and that smaller operators can be nimbler, and granted, that is the case. But there is a plethora of options that can be easy to implement which will bring them into the 21st century and make the whole industry more aligned on matters of sustainability and environmentalism. By implementing these, they are not only operating a more sustainable business model, but one that has a positive impact on their guests’ health. Smaller changes like removing single use plastics in the rooms, reducing the number of towel changes, stopping the ability to leave lights and air conditioning units on when the guests aren’t in the room etc, are all things that the bigger operators can do today.

Both businesses and consumers now have a choice. The former has the choice to make more sustainable and environmentally sound business practices, and the latter has the choice to choose a sustainable operator. We have seen a shift in the decision-making process from predominantly price led to sustainability led. We have experienced it as consumers in the F&B space, retail space, even automotive industry. Sustainability is becoming the dominant factor in the decision-making process.

Saxbury is involved with full life-cycle development projects in most major UK cities, we work on initial feasibility studies, scheme design, operator search and investor search and selection. We also advise our clients on making sustainable changes to their existing brands and operations. If you are an operator, investor or developer interested in the serviced apartment or aparthotel space or have a project which may be of interest that has a sustainable angle, we would love to hear from you. We are committed to bettering our industry by working with innovative sustainable brand partners.

 

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