In contrast to many other sectors, in UK tourism it is small businesses that have been leading the way on sustainability, but the Feed-in Tariff could soon change all that. Ann Elise Taylor reports.
When she found out her business, Cote How Guest House
, had scooped up one of the top 10, gold star spots in the recent Green Tourism Week Awards
, Caroline Langham was shocked.
Her bed and breakfast, a sixteenth century, three-bedroom stone house nestled in the mountains of the Lake District, was up against companies of all sizes for the honour, which was based on outstanding environmental innovation
, ambassadorship and cost savings. Despite some of her competitors’ prominence, the efforts Langham has made to operate her business under a green initiative since she opened the holiday getaway in 2006 were noticed.
"We’re such a small company compared to some of these multinational, large businesses," Langham says. "So I was so surprised to be in the top 10."
However, according to Jon Proctor, Technical director at the Green Tourism Business Scheme (GTBS), the body that certifies holiday accommodation and attractions in the UK, Cote How’s success in sustainability follows a trend of tourism small to medium-sized enterprises
(SMEs) leading the way in implementing green business practices, with more SMEs receiving the organisation’s highest rankings and awards than larger businesses.
"I think 60 per cent of our businesses are in the smaller business category," Proctor says of the GTBS’ members. "Certainly more of the businesses that receive gold stars are smaller […] We’ve seen some really exemplary actions in the small businesses that were awarded."Small business advantage
Proctor, who helps audit GTBS’ members every two years, says small businesses tend to have an advantage in implementing green measures.
"If you’re a small business, you only have to talk to a few other people when you want to invest in renewable
energy," Proctor says. "You can go further than perhaps a commercial business can."
Langham leverages this advantage in her favour. Though she sees the potential of some of the more expensive energy saving equipment that larger companies are incorporating into their business plans, she holds true to a philosophy that small changes can go a long way towards making a business green.
"We make the best of what we can do here," Langham says. "We do things that everyone can do […] It’s about questioning every decision you make within your business. It’s the little purchases that really make a difference."
In total, Langham says her business made a 30 per cent reduction in its energy use over its first three years and continues to decrease its footprint little by little each year. Steps Langham has taken so far include using low energy light bulbs; monitoring heating and cooling; changing the breakfast menu to include local, sustainable food
that can be cooked in energy efficient
ways; encouraging customers to ride the train to Cumbria for their stay; and ensuring the building
has proper insulation. Feed-in Tariff
Though Langham has not utilised Government subsidy measures such as the Feed-in Tariff (FiT), Proctor said that in his reviews of businesses, SMEs generally take advantage of FiTs more frequently than larger businesses.
The FiT was introduced in April 2010 and guarantees an inflation-linked income for on-site renewable electricity projects under five megawatts (MW) in size for a period of up to 25 years.
"I think we’re finding our smaller businesses are doing more with FiTs," Proctor says. "They’re very keen to learn more and they’re prepared to invest in some of these new approaches."
However, as GTBS audits every two years and the use of FiTs in large businesses has been increasing, Proctor suspects more large businesses, such as hotel chains, will be awarded gold stars next year. Additionally, more large businesses have joined the GTBS since the launch of the FiT.
"Only now are we seeing more of the large hotels embracing green practices because of the Feed-in Tariff," Proctor says. "We’re beginning to see everybody moving forward, which is great. So I don’t know who will be considered the best performers next year, but I expect to see more of the hotel chains."Large hotels
Proctor says there is an incredible amount of potential for large hotel chains to cut their carbon footprints by adopting good practices, such as keeping staff engaged and ensuring heating and cooling systems aren’t running at the same time, for example. Many times larger businesses are better able to streamline and organise their practices as well as use new technologies to do so, Proctor says.
"A smaller business is normally a little more challenged than a large business to have staff awareness and building monitoring and management systems," Proctor says. "But it’s in every business’ interest to monitor itself effectively to see what kind of return they could get. There are really good opportunities available in embracing the latest technologies."Green technologies
Some of the more effective technologies Proctor has seen implemented in tourism businesses he’s reviewed include solar panel systems, building monitoring equipment, biomass boilers, rainwater harvesting equipment and systems of heat recovery that collect from heat given off by dishwashers and refrigerators. Proctor also stresses the importance of small steps such as Langham has taken, including the use of aerator fittings to save water, natural cleaning products and LED lighting.
"These make for a healthier environment, but also lower costs," Proctor says. "There are some real win-wins there."Good for business
According to Langham, actions she’s taken, such as monitoring her energy consumption, switching to locally grown food and putting locally produced toiletries in her guests’ rooms have made her business more profitable.
Proctor says one business he reviewed, the Silver Springs Hotel, was able to make a 40 per cent reduction in its gas consumption by using a condensing boiler and temperature controls. Another was able to save 240,000 litres of water by using rainwater harvesting equipment.
Proctor says these businesses serve as something of an inspiration.
"When you look at this big challenge of cutting 80 per cent of carbon emissions by 2050 and when you start to see that some businesses are making these dramatic savings, you start to think that maybe we can really tackle this problem," Proctor says. "Maybe we can achieve those savings [...] You start to see that maybe some of these things are possible."
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