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WHITTLEBURY HALL - A SUSTAINABLE, INDEPENDENT HOTEL
24-02-2014
Betty Low

Sustainability is an integral part of Whittlebury Hall, an independently owned hotel and spa. Sustain.travel visited director Michael Stott to find out about how small changes can make a big difference.


Stott and business partner Bernhard Zechner assumed the management of Whittlebury Hall, a traditional English hotel near Silverstone in rural Northamptonshire, in 2011. From the beginning their vision has been to make what had been a traditional English hotel into a sustainable business. He is passionate that sustainability is about both the business and the environment.


"This property is about sustainability for all those involved -" employees, suppliers, guests," says Michael.


He is an ardent advocate that sustainability -" future viability, in other words -" is about far more than environmental policies and should be an innate part of the character of any business.


Michael continues, "Sustainability is about the long term rather than donating a few trees which might make you feel better but you will help the environment more by changing what you do.


"It's about a lot of small steps which can help your business financially and the whole environment. We want to inspire other small hospitality businesses to do what they can to help their business and the environment without hurting the customer experience."

Such awareness of the customer comes from Michael's 25 years' experience in the travel industry (hotels, tour operators and airlines) before taking the reins at Whittlebury Hall. As you would expect from someone with a pedigree in the industry, he is keen to ensure that reducing the use of environmentally harmful materials and practices in no way affects the hotel's guests' enjoyment of the property.


Michael is messianic about how important it is not to lose sight of people's expectations of the hospitality industry. "Not washing the sheets or towels is not the way to go because big, fluffy towels are part of the customer experience," he says.

Whittlebury Hall does not cut back on the customer experience but aims to show guests that there are alternative ways of achieving the same ends.


Michael says, "We have to give a combined message that we're giving them something without taking anything away. Remember that people come to a hotel for a special experience."


The Whittlebury Hall experience attracts many people. With 54 meeting rooms and more than 200 guest rooms and suites, this property may be independent but it is also substantial. It has also collected a clutch of awards including being a finalist two years in a row for the National Business Awards and winning the British Chamber of Commerce Award for Sustainability for the East Midlands region.


The awards come in recognition of the way in which sustainability has been integrated into the property's whole business strategy.


"When we reduce our usage of raw materials, we also reduce our costs so this is a good thing and in line with the corporate agenda," says Michael.


"Sustainability initiatives are good for the economy -" you're investing in the business, employing more people and making more money -" but it's also good for the environment as you're limiting your damage to the landscape. We want to inspire colleagues in the rest of the industry to do the same."


Michael acknowledges that a CSR policy is necessary in today's business environment -" "People ask you what is your CSR policy. They expect their supply chain to be responsible -" as do we! "If we didn't comply, we'd lose up to £2 million in lost business from companies then choosing not to use us."


A hallmark of Michael's sustainability strategy is making sure that any new environmental initiative is feasible. Staff are encouraged to suggest ideas.


Michael says, "We engage all team members at Whittlebury Hall to come up with new initiatives. For example, there is currently a project to trial using light treatment rather than chlorine to clean the swimming pool.


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"Each project must have a business case. We look for efficiencies. It sits in the budget and within what we do -" we set objectives and targets."


Every new idea for a sustainability initiative must demonstrate that there will be a return on investment. It is then tested in a limited fashion before being more widely introduced.

"We take an idea, try it, prove it and then make it sustainable within the business," says Michael.


"They're not massive ideas but each saves money and the staff celebrate."

Michael's approach to managing food waste is an example of the "Whittlebury way". Whittlebury Hall, like the wider hospitality industry, produces a substantial amount of food waste and Michael set out to limit the effect of this on both the environment and the hotel's bottom line.


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He explains, "We produce 240 tonnes of food waste. It gets dried out in an industrial dryer. 70% of this goes into water which is used for watering the garden and washing windows. The food left looks like tobacco. It's mixed with wood pellets that are made out of sawdust -" i.e. stuff that would otherwise be thrown away -" and fed into a biomass boiler to produce heat for our 3,000 square metre spa and leisure centre. This is a pilot project."


Using the food waste to heat the spa is an example of Stott's approach to sustainability. It has reduced the hotel's need for propane gas which had been used to heat the swimming pool, spa, saunas and steam rooms so it has cut business costs as well as the environmental impact.


"We turn waste into energy into profit," he says.


"In the UK the hospitality industry produced 600,000 tonnes of food waste. We want to inspire people to engage within the industry, invite hoteliers to see what we can do."

"You would have to pay £54 million for the energy that that 600,000 tonnes could produce."


Whittlebury Hall invests to save money and use of raw materials: "We spent £100,000 on LED lighting but it reduces our electricity consumption."


Michael and the rest of the team at Whittlebury can only test and implement sustainability measures in a small part of Northamptonshire -" "we can only affect the world of our 25,000 square metres", he quips -" but they can inspire the whole hospitality industry.


As Michael says, "Sustainability is not just about planting trees. It's a business process -" you use fewer raw materials, reduce your costs, measure effectiveness and still deliver great service. You make your business one of choice for customers and employees."

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