Sue Williams is the General Manager of Whatley Manor Hotel & Spa located in a beautifully appointed, privately owned gem of a hotel, tucked away on the southerly edge of the Cotswold’s.
Inspired by the natural beauty of the hotel’s surroundings and their true love for luxury hospitality, Sue and the hotel owner felt compelled to take their property on the journey of reducing its carbon emissions and becoming responsible operators in a fully measured way.
With focus and creativity, Whatley Manor Hotel & Spa joined the NOW Force for Good Alliance, implemented the EarthCheck Evaluate sustainability programme and received their Earth Rating certification in the spring of 2019.
One Word that describes you?
What project are you most proud of when it comes to sustainability?
Taking our long-established hotel, which we operate within a 150-year-old building, and turning it into a low carbon, sustainable operation. Offering our guests, a quality, responsible travel option. I am especially proud of our team who has so readily come on the journey with us.
Which is your favorite part of the job?
Building our sustainability community. It is a subject that when you start talking to people you find it is dear to their hearts and they want to connect, share, contribute and generally be supportive of us on our journey. We have created a whole new group of friends who have become loyal supporters of the house. Equally I have enjoyed coming to understand what a creative process it is and throwing myself into it.
Which is the part you enjoy the least?
Being disappointed when you come up against ignorance. For instance, when some of your suppliers just close you down on the topic and decline to even engage on how we could work together in a more sustainable way.
Who is your greatest influence?
My hotel owner, he only says a few words, but they are well chosen and sincere.
Best advice you’ve been given?
Knowledge is power. You have a responsibility to read up and grow your understanding around the subject. Also, to make small steps daily and not to feel daunted at the scale of the job in hand.
How is Whatley aiming to provide a truly sustainable travel experience for its guests?
We need to do the thinking for the guests as they just want to step inside and relax. It is for us to create slow paced activities that enable them to unwind and enjoy the feeling of wellbeing whilst they are receiving the very best of service and food. For example, we include local produce on our menus, biodynamic wines from the UK & Spa products that are also make in the UK with sustainable packaging. Making the whole experience fully integrated with sustainability, rather than a big shout out about “look what we have done”.
What are you and your company doing to reduce and offset your carbon footprint and inspire others to do the same?
By looking at every process and every single activity at the hotel and making as many small changes as we can. Introducing energy saving measures where we can. When mechanical items need replacing then energy efficient items are found and put in. Same with our kitchen refurbishment we removed gas and now have induction equipment. We switched to renewable energy sources. We offset some of our activities such as waste removal and where possible meetings take place via Skype. For those meetings that must be attended that require air travel, we offset via the NOW Offset Carbon tool.
We mention to our guests the opportunity to offset their journey to us. We do this in our reservation confirmation emails and attach the interactive NOW Offset Carbon tool to make it easy for them. We get very positive comments from our guests about our sustainability actions which is very encouraging.
We use only carbon zero taxi companies and ask the occasional helicopter landing to offset their flight before they can come on property.
We are committed to getting an accurate carbon footprint measurement for the hotel and will annually commit to an independent audit with EarthCheck. This way we can truly monitor our impact and our progress in reducing harmful emissions.
I was asked to participate in a couple of sustainability panel discussions at industry events recently which gave me the opportunity to share what we are doing with the audience. Letting them know what an interesting and enjoyable process it has been for us. As a GM, NOW Sustainability is a wonderful tool by which to engage a young team and to have a shared purpose to work on together. Why wouldn’t you?
The October 2018 UN Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change warned that we only have until 2030 for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5C, beyond which even half a degree will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people. By late 2019, we have only 8 years left in our carbon budgets before we reach 1.5C. Will we make it? Will we make it before 2030? What is your Plan B at work and in your personal life?
Like so many I fear not, but I intend to use my determination and profile in industry to do my utmost to stir up others in our sector. I feel so focused on taking action at the moment and just know if others would make the same steps there could be a slim chance of not needing a Plan B, it is too frightening to think about. The luxury landscape would change so much, at work it would be taking whatever remaining steps to achieve a Carbon Neutral operation. I would continue to build our sustainable community to ensure as near neighbors we could help each other with whatever challenges came along. The same in my personal life, I would school myself to manage on so much less and commune with what nature remained.
How would you suggest we get people and companies to ‘do more’ to help this situation?
Keep painting the picture for people at every opportunity. For example, remind them about the rate of deforestation that is taking place, and how biodiversity is a reality and pressing the message home that without nature we do not have a future.
More hard-hitting documentaries which clearly illustrate the science behind the damage we are doing to our planet. TV remains all powerful and will reach people more rapidly.
I think generally the hotel industry must stop talking about growth and seeking more profit. They need to commit to investing in energy efficiencies and reduced emissions. I suspect legislation & taxes will need to be applied to get the attention of the majority.
Which is your personal favourite place to stay who are trying hard when it comes to sustainability?
The Grove Hotel in Narbeth, they are to be commended for all that they do with regards to mitigating their impact on the environment. It is stylish, comfortable & offers the best of food and Service. They don’t shout about it but simply lead the way with operating responsibly. www.grovenarberth.co.uk
What other steps do you take to make your daily life more committed to sustainability?
We have made the move to renewable energy at home & I have encouraged many members of the team to do the same. It was so easy to do and we each got a £50 introductory credit which was a happy bonus for all.
Managing our waste responsibly is a very important step. The primary step was to reduce the amount of goods that we buy, asking ourselves if we need the items at all. If we do need to make a purchase, we ask suppliers to not deliver in plastic and if they do, we ask them to take the cardboard & plastic away with them. Ensuring 100% not to send waste to landfill and offsetting the lorry journeys too. Following the mantra of reduce, reuse, recycle. Owning the lifecycle of your waste is an important part of this process.
Climate change activism is also fuelling the flight-shame movement by highlighting the role of aviation and travel in global warming. Should people fly less or choose less carbonised modes of travel? How can people travel more responsibly? Are you walking the talk?
Both is most certainly the answer. Business travel should be restricted by law, however when Carbon Tax is applied which it surely will be, companies may not be able to afford to travel as much & there could be an even greater reliance on technology for virtual meetings. Leisure travelers certainly need to think before taking that trip. They travel on a whim, or for romance but rarely to “do right” by the environment, nor considering the delicate ecosystems of the beauty spot they are going to visit.
I love to experience other countries and it saddens me to think I might see less of the world, but I would gladly reduce my personal airmiles to keep my personal footprint low. I have paid to offset the couple of short haul flights I have done this year. I hear electric planes are being invented, let’s hope they come into existence soon. I have a very short commute to work and I am grateful for the gift of time this brings and the knowledge that my emissions are low. When I do go to London, I always travel on trains which operate on electric lines. I like to believe I am walking the talk.
If you could have one hour with a world leader, who would it be and what would you say?
First, I would make David Attenborough World leader and just ask him what he needed me to do!
The world leader would need to be Donald Trump as his lack of comprehension of the scale of the problem is terrifying. I would say that power in the future will lie with the nation that comes up with means of manufacturing vast quantities of low carbon energy. The Chinese are working very hard on this and stealing the march on the rest of the world. Only then might a power-hungry man listen as I fear the biodiversity facts would fall on deaf ears.
Any regrets so far?
Only that I didn’t open my ears to the scale of this problem and take action years ago.