Twenty years ago I worked for one of the top airlines in the world, and at the time, we had one person, one single person, in the team, who was the face of ‘sustainability’.
And she wore a green uniform, in contrast to everybody else’s red. And she was pilloried for it!
It was such an unknown, unexpected thing – even amongst her colleagues. It wasn’t personal; she was great. It was just that, back then, anything labelled environmentally-friendly had overtones of loony left, tree hugging, ‘Swampy’. Greenpeace was seen as too rebellious to be taken seriously by the mainstream.
And in a business the size of this, with a multi-billion dollar turnover, ferrying millions around the world every year, it was seen by some as a step too far. Don’t forget the bottom line!
What a contrast now, then, when the headlines across Europe turn – occasionally at least – away from Brexit, the upheaval in Westminster, and away from the forthcoming EU elections; and focus instead on climate change, on teenagers showing us up by eschewing flights in favour of sails. The movement across the world, especially among the young, towards turning back the effects of industrialisation, over-tourism, and excessive transportation.
And it occurs to me, yet again, that hospitality and tourism ought to be at the forefront of this movement. And our own serviced apartment sector, by virtue of our relatively recent arrival and our forward-looking, nimble, modern approach, can be even more active than most.
I experience daily how much cheaper and easier it is to hop on a flight to somewhere like Edinburgh or Paris than to drive or take a train. This very week I took an intercity to London from Swindon, that took less than an hour, and cost almost £140 return. I also took a flight to Dublin and back recently which took about the same time – and cost less than £20.
So getting that message about acting sustainably has to be pitched very carefully.
Because, just like whatever deal might be achieved between the EU and the UK – if any – this is all about the next generation. And how we square it with ourselves. We have enjoyed flying every year, every month, every week anywhere in the world, pretty much, for the last forty years or so. Meanwhile, the planet we leave behind can’t even offer the same locations we were able to visit. I know a number of lucky people who have enjoyed honeymoons and anniversaries on the Maldives, for instance. Unless things change dramatically, and fast, they reckon within 80 years they won’t even exist.
Emerging nations can’t be blamed for wanting to devour the glories of the world. And as the new travelling classes from China, India and central America, among others, find their travelling feet, it’s pretty hard to stop them experiencing the joys we’ve been enjoying for decades.
But we also report every week now about cities across Europe turning against the sharing economy for restricting local housing stock, and bringing party central to quiet residential areas, and others banning cruise ships and blocking planning, to counter overtourism. So how can we manage all this, so we all benefit?
I have been talking recently to a number of people within the serviced apartment and the wider hospitality sector, about how we can take a small stand, at least, and lead a movement to make sure every decision made within our sector places sustainability as a priority. Make decisions based on what’s best for the planet for the benefit of us all.
Already, we offer accommodation with the opportunity for guests to control and manage their own environmental footprint. It seems a small thing; but the thousands of towels, bedlinens and tablecloths being transported in bulk between hotels and industrial laundry businesses, and bleached to hell, and then transported back, need not be ‘a thing’. It’s taken a couple of decades for hotels to put notes out to guests that they can play a part in sustainability by not having their linens washed until they really need to. But it’s not enough.
I’m pretty sure that most people in their own homes don’t have their bedlinen laundered daily (except, perhaps, the super-rich – I did hear that David Beckham has new socks every day rather than having to have them washed. But that isn’t the norm, of course).
And I’m sure if we cook a meal, and over-estimate our own appetites, we keep what’s left for another time, or at least make decisions about buying less in future. And we control the lights in our houses, the energy we buy, the heat we use, the overheads we face.
So I call on the serviced apartment sector. Let’s make a stand and show that among the many, many advantages of booking accommodation with our Members is that, not only will you get professionally-managed, safe, secure, home-from-home accommodation, you’ll also get the opportunity to live in the environmentally-aware way you probably do already. Take charge of your own food waste, your own laundry, your own energy usage.
Later this year we will release an industry publication – exclusively for attendees of our 2019 ASAP Serviced Apartment Convention – bringing together the thoughts of several industry commentators and influencers on exactly this subject. Watch this space for more!
Let’s show the hospitality sector that this is a completely sustainable way to operate – and gives the best possible way to travel the world, while not costing the earth.