In the second of our series of advice articles for new and existing holiday let business owners, Diane Howarth from Cottage in the Dales shares her experiences around sustainability.
Sustainability is no longer a niche issue and is a growing concern for holiday-makers and for the industry itself. Every decision has to support Diane’s business objectives and bottom line, and she is confident that sustainability has helped to save costs while helping to deliver an outstanding quality experience in the three 5-star gold luxury cottages.
Cottage in the Dales joined the Green Tourism Business Scheme (GTBS) 10 years ago and has been a Gold member since 2008, and a finalist in their GTBS Goldstar Awards 2013, one of the top 5 ‘green’ tourism businesses in the UK.
Diane explains: “They provide a very detailed spreadsheet covering 150 sets of criteria across ten areas of concern, including waste, recycling, water, electricity, ethical buying and reducing food miles. The accreditation programme ranks businesses as Bronze, Silver and Gold depending on the level of reduced environmental impact by their business. I think most businesses should be able to achieve Bronze level award as they are probably already doing many of the items listed, without realising it counts towards the accreditation.”
“We introduced recycling bins, installed LED bulbs and also looked at reducing the water pressure, which can have a huge impact on water consumption rates. We can’t change any of our windows at Grade II listed Inglenook Cottage as it’s the original thin hand-blown glass, so we have to use other methods, like heavy-lined curtains, to improve the insulation. As the windows had to be replaced at the other cottages, we bought the ‘Slimlite’ double glazed windows which are argon-filled between the levels of glazing, keeping the cold out and warmth in so much better than standard double glazing.”
Other simple actions have included putting a sticker on the washing machine suggesting using the 30 degree cycle.
“We provide liquid soaps in 300ml refillable containers, topped up from large 5 litre containers, so there is much less plastic packaging. We’ve also put together a document that’s available in the cottages, called ‘30 Ways to Have a Greener Holiday’. It includes many simple examples like encouraging people to leave the car at the cottage and walking and cycling instead, to see, hear and experience much more. Guests are encouraged to leave their own ‘green mark’ on an area they know and love for other visitors to enjoy now and future generations to be able to enjoy too.
Diane has found that some visitors don’t want to be bothered with things like recycling on holiday, which is further complicated by different council recycling policies around the UK, so things are not necessarily done the way they might be at home.
“We keep the recycling bins adjacent to the household bin in the cottages with clear labels about what goes in each bin. There is a polite sign requesting to use the recycling bins as ‘Every Little Helps’ to reduce landfill. At each changeover, we check the bin bags that have been put into the household bin. So, if all else fails we have to sort their rubbish bags out and put the items into the correct recycling bin.”
Visitors to the Yorkshire Dales National Park love the natural beauty of the area and Diane finds that usually, sustainability matters to them too.
“We use sustainability as a marketing tool, for example we’re a corporate sponsor of the Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust tree planting scheme. We pay £10 and the charity plants a native species tree. At Christmas we sent 10 tree planting gifts to selected customers for different reasons including bereavement and illness, and invited them to dedicate a tree as our gift to them. It was a little cost to us and has enormous value for our customers.”
The business doesn’t offer discounts, but Diane finds that providing extra value for customers is much more appreciated.
“We can provide lifts in our hybrid car, there and back to a local restaurant where they can enjoy a drink and we can add more ‘green’ value for our guests.”
An important aspect of sustainability is working with local business partners, charities, tradespeople and suppliers. Cottage in the Dales includes local produce on its welcome trays and provides a grocery order list for pre-ordering local Yorkshire Dales produce from the local family-run grocery store, Campbells of Leyburn.
"We also recommend visitors shop there for local quality and everyday groceries to support the local economy. By encouraging our guests to shop local, for local produce and have it delivered by us, it reduces the number of miles that food has travelled. It helps us fulfil our sustainability objectives but is also just the right thing to do.”
Diane is certain that being sustainable saves money.
“We track all of our costs, all of the time. For every pound that comes in we know exactly how much to allocate for different costs. Initially the biggest out-lay was installing LED lights 10 years ago, as they were really expensive then, but now they are much cheaper.”
She also recognises that not everyone embraces all aspects of ‘going green’ and it’s important to cater for all tastes.
“Some of our older guests don’t like using eco-friendly washing up liquid or multi-surface cleaner. They prefer the well-known household brands they’re used to. So, we have two of everything under the sink – one big name brand and one eco-friendly version.”
Diane and Andrew have installed an Electric Vehicle Charging Point (EVCP) at each cottage. They have registered the EVCPs with Zap Map, one of a number of apps that help users locate the right sort of charging point and received five bookings in the first year from people using Zap Map to plan their holiday.
“This is now a new, unexpected and free route to finding new guests,” Diane says, “It’s an added bonus, proving what a good investment the EVCPs have been for us as well as for the environment.”
• Look at all aspects of what you do already and make whatever changes you can – it’s amazing how many small changes at a small cost can make a big difference. You don’t need to go all out with expensive hi-tech solutions to achieve sustainability goals.
• Measure your success, do your costings and track the benefits as going green saves money. By doing this then you already have the information ready to be able to apply for green grants, as we did when we were developing The Byre and The Dairy.
• Incorporate sustainability into your marketing – one simple way is to join the nationally-recognised GTBS scheme, where most busi-nesses should be able to achieve at least a Bronze level. It demonstrates your commitment to sustainability, shows your cus-tomers that you care, while offering a fantastic resource to help you.