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Hospitality goes green in Ireland

September 09, 2011

The award-winning Bush Hotel in Ireland proves that high standards needn't be costly to the environment

Tucked away in the scenic town of Carrick-on-Shannon in Ireland is the 200-year-old Bush Hotel, one of the oldest in Ireland. Initially an inn which served as a resting point between Dublin and the northwest, it was converted into a hotel in 1992 after it was acquired by the family of its present owner Joseph Dolan.

The eco-friendly hotel is an award-winning boutique hotel with rooms boasting cosy fire places, themed lounges, coffee shops and restaurants. For its efforts in promoting sustainable tourism, it received the ‘Vodafone Passion for the World Around Us' Award in 2007. The award, established in 2001, acknowledges people or institutions who demonstrate a keen commitment toimproving the world.

The Bush hotel also has the distinction of being the first in Ireland and the UK to achieve the coveted European Ecolabel Award for Tourism Accommodation (also well-known as the Flower Award) last year. The award, commissioned by the European Union and established in 1992, recognises exceptional environmental management, performanceand awareness.

"Awards such as these are motivating but are nothing spectacular," says Dolan, owner and manager of the 60-bedroom hotel.

"We felt we qualified for these awardsand applied for them. We are not drivenby conventional set standards but ratherby a commitment to offer the best servicesin hospitality in the least damaging way forthe environment.''

To receive an Ecoabel tag, the hotel will have to pass stringent tests in 86 criteria including technical resources, water conservation,waste management/reduction, energy conservation/usage, communication awareness and innovation.

Makes economic sense

Interestingly, the reason the management decided to adopt green practices in the hotel "was mainly for economic reasons. ThenI realised that no one [in Ireland] had ventured down the Ecolabel road before and I thought ‘why not?'" says Dolan, who will be attending the World Green Tourism Abu Dhabi in December this year as a guest speaker. The event is the first commercial conference and exhibition specifically for the sustainable tourism sector in the UAE.

Dolan hopes to present his hotel as a first-hand case study for the Gulf's hospitality industry. "Although we are only a small hotel, our principles and practices are applicable to even the largest global hotel chains and can be easily facilitated in the Middle East," he says. "The idea is to not invest in technology or inventory, but to invest in people."

The eco-friendly manager

Dolan, a graduate of the Galway University, majored in Earth Sciences from Queens University in Belfast.

As a student he was involved in community service and support groups for education and was a regular volunteer for such causes. "I also once volunteered for the local tourism board in Ireland as a guide when I was younger,'' he says.

All this helped when he got a job with the United Nations to work on an aid programme in Yemen in 1985. Four years later, he returned to Ireland to take over the family businessof innkeeping.

Currently he is national Vice-President of the Irish Hotels Federation and also regional Director of the Irish Tourist Board and Chairperson of his County Tourism Association.

Bare necessities

"Everything we do at the Bush Hotel isabout maximising efficiency with existing resources, and doing simple things very well," explains Dolan.

The hotel's operatives are based on minimising waste output, energy use, potential pollution and the impact of all other hotel activities and maximising its reusable and recyclable waste. It recycles or reuses around92 per cent of the waste it generates.

According to Dolan, there are three prime criteria that have to be taken into consideration when creating an eco-friendly hotel.

The first is the building, which includes the physical structure, plumbing, heat installation and so on. "We don't employ cutting-edge technology like solar panels or wind turbines," says Dolan. "It is more about getting the best out of what you have got. We use the optimum efficient bulbs, water-saving devices and so on, which are really very basic steps." The hotel has installed of hundreds of low energy bulbs which provide 97 per cent of the hotel's lighting.

The second step is education of the employees. All employees get training in environmental management and they have to come up with plans to curtail wastage. The facility management is tested routinely and Preventive Maintenance and Health and Safety measures are also undertaken.

"We have roped in our suppliers to jointhe act as well," says Dolan. "We don'tnegotiate on quality at the cost of environmental performance.

"All suppliers have to sign a statement of our requisitions. For instance, they have to switch off their vehicle engines while loading or unloading. All deliveries come in returnable and reusable plastic crates, with suppliers removing all excess packaging. Thus wastage is pushed back into the supply chain.

"Our food and beverages are served with minimal packing. The coffee shop fridge is turned on only eight minutes before opening and turned off ten minutes before closing time. This is the only refrigeration needed for food to be preserved [if it is kept closed]."

The hotel also implements some long-forgotten ideas like using rainwater for gardening. Guests will notice that individually packaged toiletries in bathrooms have been eliminated. There are no foiled mini pads of butter or individually portioned cereals, preservatives, sauces, sugars and so on.

The hotel recovers 82 per cent of cooking oil for recycling. All recyclables are hand-sorted for collection by specialist contractors which ensures that only the bare minimum waste goes to landfill. In the case of glass, 100 per cent of it is recycled.

As for transport, stage coaches (fromthe Bianconi route between Dublin andthe Northwest) have been restored to conveyguests around the quaint town of Carrickfor sightseeing.

The third step - the most important aspect of the hotel's plan - is getting guests involved in each and every step of conservation.

"We encourage employees and customers to recycle their waste,'' says Dolan. The guests are welcomed in a very hospitable manner but there is huge signage all over the hotel saying ‘reduce waste' or ‘turn off the lights' which ensures that the message sinks in.

Guests are also encouraged to witness for themselves live presentations on waste management, recycling, minimum packaging and much more. Most of these presentations are conducted by Dolan himself.

"We offer guests information on bicycle hire and public transport options, the availability of healthy, local and organic food products available though Hotel and on the local biodiversity of our area."

"It's the little touches that makea difference," wrote Gemma Tipton, a guest at the hotel, in the guest book. "There is the old-world charm and the great hospitality, but you also know that you are protecting the planet by the hotel's initiatives. At the end of the day, you feel good double-fold."


All these steps are facilitated by a workforce of 60 people trained personally by Dolan. The hotel has a very high rate of retention of staff. As for absenteeism it's almost nil.

"It is not because I give them the best wages,'' says Dolan. "It is more about appreciation and empowerment. My people define and master their own performance. They feel good about doing their job."

Micromanagement and discipline are the factors that Dolan attributes to this innovative scheme. "Being involved in every step of the way, changing things for the better; be ita paper napkin or an entire plumbing system, the key is to think and improvise."

Dolan admits there have been major challenges to get this operation up and running, but they have been good challenges. "Getting the suppliers on my track was the most tiresome task. They would negotiateon price and took a long time to adjust toour requirements.

"The general recession in Europe and rising prices have all been deterring factors. The onus to increase profits have shoved environmentality out of the window," says Dolan. "But we have managed to survive and stand out with a competitive edge because we sell sincerity and good morale. Running this business is just like any other, you cannot take your foot off the pedal.

"From a business perspective, our environmental management approach has delivered significant cost reductions which we have been able to pass on to our loyal customers" says Dolan.

A green future

‘Sustaining Tourism', a Canadian based consulting firm that has conducted several studies on sustainable tourism, has found that tourists are becoming increasingly awareof responsible tourism practices and demanding that destinations don't harm or degrade, but enhance the environments in which they operate.

A study commissioned last year by the company revealed that 44 per cent of US and European travellers would prefer a sustainable holiday experience if given the option. The same percentage also said they have a better image of companies that actively invest in environmental and social initiatives.

Dolan enjoys travelling and has frequently visited the Middle East. His favourite placeis Aden in Greece.

He finds the city of Dubai to be amazingly progressive and the Jumeirah Beach Resort fascinating. When asked if there are chances of a Bush Hotel springing up in the UAE, "You never know" is the only answer he'll give.

Who: Joseph Dolan
What: Owner and manager of theBush Hotel who is set to speak at the World Green Tourism Abu Dhabi event in December
Where: Ireland
Why: For promoting sustainable tourism
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