This is the first of our regular features on sustainability and how Scottish hoteliers are rising to the challenge. This month we focus on Apex Hotels.
Apex Hotels have always been at the forefront of change and it is not surprising that it is embracing sustainability.
This independently-owned Scottish hotel group is leading the way on all things green, and leading the challenge at the group is Head of Procurement Marie Clare Watson who took on the role three years ago.
Apex has always endeavoured to be a sustainable company but during the pandemic it decided to raise its game even further and with Marie Clare not only having a passion for sustainability, but having the role as company gatekeeper of everything coming into the hotel, it was, she says, natural for the sustainability remit to fall under procurement. Marie Clare says, “Coming out of the pandemic my first role was to have a look at what we were doing in all our nine hotels, and see where we could make improvements. At Apex we are trying to make sustainability just what we do rather than trying to make it a new big thing.”
The company used its newest hotel in Bath to lead its green agenda and a Green Team was set up there. It subsequently became the first hotel in the group to get its Silver Green Tourism Award, Dundee followed and in February this year all of its hotels achieved that status. Says Marie Clare, “Our hotels went straight to Silver bypassing Bronze, and I am very proud of that.”
But when I asked her what were the key changes that she made she said, “It seems to me that it was a collection of small things that really made the biggest difference.”
The company now has Green Teams in all hotels, a newsletter which it shares with employees which charts the progress the company has made, and new initiatives it has implemented.
Marie Clare and the Apex Team also keep the company app updated with recycling statistics and news about employee participation such as the recent London litter pick.
She is quick to point out it is ‘a team effort.’ “We encourage our employees to think green and we encourage suggestions for improvements from staff, and have a feedback process to embrace new ideas in the customer feedback process too.”
“We do take on the viewpoints of our customers as well. For example ,we had decided to stick with individual bottles of toiletries in our bedrooms and we use Antipodes – which uses ocean bound waste to create the packaging. However, in a couple of hotels, Glasgow and Edinburgh’s Grassmarket, the feedback from customers was that they wanted room amenities that were refillable (bulk supply) – so that is what we did.
“With most things there is a path that you go down, but with sustainability there are paths that you could take which may not be right for the business. The main issue is that these are, generally speaking, new paths for us, that’s why we are keen to collaborate with companies.”
One such collaboration is with Belu a UK Beverage company which gives 100% of its profits to Wateraid. Marie Clare explains, “We give out 525,000 bottles of water every year in our bedrooms, and we sell 75,000 bottles in our bars and restaurants. That is a lot of plastic and glass!
So we decided to bottle our own water in refillable bottles and £1 of every bottle sold goes back to Belu. Not only have we cut down on delivery of 600,000 bottles which massively reduces our carbon footprint, but the money that goes to Belu for Wateraid means we are giving back. The price difference is marginal, although there is the added cost of staff time, when it comes to refilling the bottles. However, our motivation wasn’t about saving money, it was more about reducing our carbon footprint. We would like to get to Net Zero by 2040. That is our over arching target.”
The water project has also had some challenges, one of which was to put out water machines throughout the estate that would allow guests to help themselves. A stand for the unit was sourced which was made from 70% recycled material and 30% recycled coffee grains .. so even the unit is green.
But, like so many projects, they will now not be on site until June having missed the original February deadline. As far as saving water ,the hotel is also investing in new shower heads, which reduces the amount of water used by 40% but doesn’t diminish the customer experience.
These are being installed as rooms are being refurbished, and the hotel also has dual flush toilets and self closing taps in public areas. Says Marie Clare, “There is a fine balance when it comes to meeting sustainability needs and customer needs. Nobody likes a shower where the water trickles out.”
Another key area is energy and the hotel now uses 100% Scottish wind energy for its electricity needs.
Apex area also trialling an IOT/Smart building initiative with the introduction of smart room and public area sensors to help reduce energy use. Having Energy Saving Keycards in bedrooms means rooms don’t use energy when unoccupied and it also uses LED lighting in all its hotels.(target to get to 100% LED by 2024.)
Waste recycling is also key to reaching the group’s objectives. Marie Clare comments, “We started with a focus on segregating our waste and recycling. I initially set a target of 50% recycled at source but we hit that quite quickly, now we have a target of 60%.
“We have improved our stats by 10% in the last year by simply helping staff to change behaviour making it easier for them to make the right decisions. That was as simple as investing in the right bins, which were clearly marked.
“Housekeeping staff have also switched from paper to the use of an app for shared room information for arrivals, stays, and departures, and our in-room information to QR codes to reduce our use of paper.
Adds Marie Clare, “None of our waste goes to landfill. Our general waste is collected and turned into RDF (refuse derived fuel) and we even recycle our Nespresso coffee capsules – in fact we had a display bike made of reused coffee capsules in our Bath Hotel.
“Although packaging of any sort is a challenge. Some goods need it for protection, but manufacturers are becoming more intuitive about the size of packaging and already our fish and meat come in packaging that is returnable.”
Apex also use a company in Edinburgh to recycle their uniforms into fashion items which are then sold on, and they have their own laundry. They also, a few times a year, give their lost property to Charities such as Marie Curie to be sold.
Explains Marie Clare, “We always keep lost property for a period of time before handing it over. Our view is ‘one man’s waste is another man’s treasure.’”
There are a lot of things that the company does that she believes most hoteliers are already doing – such as ensuring waste oil is being collected and is into renewable energy, and working towards eliminating all plastic. She says, “We are all beyond boasting about not using plastic straws.”
Apex tries to buy locally when it can. “It’s certainly a challenge when you are a national business to buy locally and still get the economies of scale. For instance, we put Scottish Borders biscuits in our bedrooms, and use Arran Dairies, which are great Scottish suppliers but obviously they are not local for our English-based hotels, but then we use London-based Tiptree preserves. We have a target of buying 25% locally sourced items and all our fresh fruit and meat is locally sourced where possible. We buy very little from abroad.”
They also encourage suppliers to help them with their sustainability journey. Says Marie Clare, “We developed an incentive for Brakes to reduce delivery days. They also have a Scottish range which makes it easier to buy from smaller producers because they come on the same truck. We also appreciate when suppliers come to us with greener newer products.” However, there are some things which Apex still shy away from.
She explains, “We have not gone down the wine on tap route. The timing has to be right and I think at the moment the theatre of opening a bottle of wine is still what the customer wants. We have also not taken meat off the menu. You don’t start pushing things on customers but we do try and reduce the consumption of meat by having a meat free Monday for our staff meals.”
Bio-diversity is also a challenge because the groups hotels are city-based. Marie Clare smiles, “Our hotels may be easy to get to on public transport, but when it comes to growing our own produce we don’t have very much outdoor space, but we do try and grow herbs, and in Bath we have bees on the roof.”
The company is also looking at putting in car charging points in hotels with carparks, such as Dundee and the Grassmarket .
Says Marie Clare, “I think charging points will be like wi-fi, in years to come everyone will expect them to be there. The challenge is the cost of putting them in. We are not a SME, nor a huge company, we are in the middle, and there is not as much funding help for businesses like ours.”
It is certainly a learning curve and Marie Clare has just been awarded a HIT Scholarship for Sustainability to allow her to help her with her own understanding of the topic, and she is looking forward to learning more.
She says, “I wish that when I started out on this journey I had people who I could have gone to for more advice. But now more hotels have a dedicated person to lead their sustainability journey and we have started to exchange ideas.
Marie Clare adds, “The Silver Green Tourism Award awards are a great motivational tool. We now have the confidence that we are doing something right. Now we are looking at things we can do to get to get to Gold which will mean investing in infrastructure. There is only so much you can do with recycling and adapting products. We are always looking at what we can we do next. But we know the biggest thing we can do is change behaviours and that’s what we are trying to do.
However, one thing which is staying put is Apex’s signature Rubber Ducks… which are a gift to guests. Marie Clare concludes, “With all things green you also have to look at the credit and debit – our customers love our ducks, and we have not managed to come up with an alternative…yet.”