‘Hospitality firms sit at centre of sustainability challenge’

By Nikkie Thatcher

- Last updated on GMT

Green thinking: a number of operators outline how implementing sustainability practices within the business can benefit a variety of areas (image: Getty/Fahroni)
Green thinking: a number of operators outline how implementing sustainability practices within the business can benefit a variety of areas (image: Getty/Fahroni)

Related tags Sustainability Social responsibility Pubco + head office

A number of voices from the sector have come together to share the benefits of aiming to reduce their carbon emissions as part of a recent report.
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The Race To Net Zero – Top 10 barriers and solutions to Net Zero within the hospitality industry​ included issues such as a lack of Government regulation and policy as well as a lack of customer demand and engagement around net zero.

Peach Pubs founder Hamish Stoddart set up the Race to Net Zero collaborative group, using his experience in the pub group to highlight the importance of cutting carbon emissions.

"Why would you over portion? Why would you not stop single-use plastic? You’re wasting money."

He told The Morning Advertiser​: “We set it up to join up pubs with business enablers, to have an open off the record chat about where they are with net zero and try and help everyone to move faster.

“I have been doing net zero orientated stuff for 20 years and managed to persuade teams, suppliers and guests we were the right place to be.”

With the sector facing many challenges currently, implementing net zero practices can help reduce cost and waste.

“The main reason is there is a real business imperative to keep great people in your team and persuade your guests that you are the right place to be spending their had earned money. The combination of the two is unbeatable, you outstrip the competition as a result,” Stoddart said.

“A lot of net zero talks are about good practice. Why would you over portion? Why would you not stop single-use plastic? You’re wasting money.

“Everyone gets lost in the short-term decision making. I come from a different school where you can’t have a long-term business if the planet is on fire. A lot of the initiatives save money and keep people longer now.”

The reasoning behind the report was to encourage more in the sector to get involved in becoming net zero, sharing ideas and initiatives from across the industry. However, Stoddart also called for the Government to provide an initiative that all businesses could utilise.

“Hospitality businesses do sit at the centre of the sustainability challenge."

This was also something Lee Cash of The Cat & Wickets Pub Company and founder of Peach Pubs Lee Cash echoed.

He urged the Government to “level the playing field” to help incentivise businesses looking to become more financially sustainable.

Cash added: “[Having] credit against your rates for getting your building into an EPC C energy rating or any one measure for all, where everyone could benefit and was motivational. That would make a difference.

“We really need a big move that covers everybody so no one can say that’s not fair for me.”

Net Zero Now executive director Simon Heppner reiterated Stoddart’s comments about how taking sustainability into consideration can help ease current challenges.

“There are terrible headwinds businesses are facing, particularly around the cost of food and energy, finding the right employees and getting customers in,” he said.

“It’s entirely understandable they might think I’ll get to sustainability later but the irony is, dealing with this addresses it all.”

While Heppner echoed Stoddart’s benefits of implementing green objectives within a business can help ease a plethora of areas.

“It helps reduce energy consumption, food waste, is one of the best ways of recruiting the best staff and it’s what every survey out there tells us is what the customer wants – to support the businesses that are going the extra mile in terms of addressing the climate crisis," he said.

“Hospitality businesses do sit at the centre of the sustainability challenge, if they can start to change things, they are starting the conversation.”

Immense challenge

Heppner warned what the future could look like should warnings about climate change be ignored.

“If no action was taken globally to mitigate the impact of climate change and we stayed on course for a 4° or 5° warming, that makes the world look fundamentally different,” he said.

Moreover, Cat & Wickets Pub Company’s Cash said it was “imperative” for businesses to engage with sustainability practices particularly as the sector has such a large impact on the environment.

“Buildings and cooking are two of the biggest culprits of human activity and that’s what hospitality does – largely occupies buildings and uses gas and oil to cook and heat buildings,” he added.

“It’s an immense challenge but I am taking the view that you can’t just close your eyes and bury your head in the sand.”

Cash referenced the Tap & Run – the group’s site which was ravaged by fire last year and reopened last month​ (June) – as a chance for the business to rethink how they operated and the impact it had on the environment.

“Tragically it burned down a year ago but it gave us a really good opportunity to look at how it was designed,” he said.

“Because it was burned down so comprehensively, we were basically left with four walls but, it gave us the opportunity to design a new kitchen and include double glazing.”

“We’ve designed a much more sustainable pub and are hoping we can use that as a big of an example. I’m also hoping what we have done can prove huge energy savings.”

However, Cash’s biggest advice for those looking to reduce their carbon footprint was to change dishes on the menu, offering more vegetable options.

“The most low tech thing humanity can do is make the decision to eat less meat and dairy for so many good reasons – nature, environment, health, cruelty to animals,” he said.

“[I know the] world isn’t going to go vegan overnight but going 50% [vegan] is so easy. “

"Use it as a way of keeping staff."

Fellow operator, Tom McManus from McManus Pub Company has recently started making changes with the business to reduce carbon emissions.

He outlined the benefits of conducting an audit on the business and what the learnings were for the 19-strong company.

“It’s a pretty good exercise and had some good takeaways. We use [the first site audited] as a benchmark to get an idea on where the easy wins are and what we can be doing.,” McManus said.

“For us, we are very much of the beginning of this journey. I wouldn’t profess to be leading the charge. The fact it comes into our decision making at all is a first step, it’s starting to raise awareness, get chefs thinking about it in dish creation.

“But just by thinking about it like that, we have had some decent wins such as reducing beef and renewable energy switches.”

While it can be a time-consuming exercise, McManus reiterated others’ comments that it can also be a good tool for recruitment.

He added: “All it was costing was my time understanding what our emissions looked like but having the information is a good start to understanding it.

“If you want to go down the route of trying to do something about it and be on the journey, make it work for your business. Use it as a way of keeping staff, Gen Z is all over this sort of thing.”

Operator advice

McManus also highlighted ways in which operators could cut waste on menus by making small changes.

“Similarly with the cost of food. If you’re spending lots of money on steaks, you can reduce your steak to one or two rather than three or four or reduce the size. Small things like that help emissions and costs,” he said.

While he wasn’t hearing a large proportion of guests or team members calling for more sustainability practices in pubs currently, McManus anticipated this could change in years to come.

He said: “I don’t think its necessarily something our customers are crying out for right now but I do believe in the future (five to 10 years), it will be the case. Similarly with staff but none of them are saying its bad that we do his.

“The more we can bring staff into it, you can then find out how many people locally are interested into it.”

“It’s not just about people and ultimately cost but about the planet and doing the right thing.”

Putting sustainability as part of the business strategy is something Punch Pubs & Co prides itself on and earlier this year (May), it launched Punch Promise​ – a report that aims to highlight its ongoing commitment to sustainability and responsible business practices as part of the its ‘Doing Well, By Doing Good’ programme, which is underpinned by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The pub company, which has 1,300 pubs across the nation including more than 300 management partnership sites, is currently calculating its company carbon emissions and corporate affairs and ESG lead Jon Dale outlined why doing so is important to the business.

“We have a strapline at Punch - Doing Well by Doing Good and the business has shifted a focus towards [concentrating on] environmental, social and governance (ESG) over the past 18 months,” he said.

“Not only is it the right thing to do but we also want to try and achieve net zero 10 years earlier than the Government.

“We launched our first ever ESG report recently and feel we have a responsibility to manage our impacts on the economy, society and environment and help our publicans to understand improve and innovate in that space.

“It’s not just about people and ultimately cost but about the planet and doing the right thing.”

Similarly to McManus, Dale advised the first step towards net zero is calculating carbon emissions, to help understand what is being produced.

He said: “By conducting an audit, we reduced energy by about 15%. We did simple things such as not putting all the lights on first thing in the morning.”

Furthermore, he suggested putting a team member in charge sustainable practices, to share insight and information further.

“You need to have an ESG or sustainability champion within the business that can impart their knowledge within their teams,” Dale said.

When it came to the impact on employees, Dale said having an ESG policy helped team members engage further with the business.

He added: “If you have a strategic ESG programme in place that employees can contribute to they feel a deeper sense of purpose. It helps to attract and retain staff at head office level but also on a pub level.

“We don’t confess at Punch to knowing everything and are still at the start of our journey but there’s no better time to start putting sustainability initiatives in place than now.”

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