What does it cost to be sustainable? Finance and funding in ESG
Emily Newman, Co-founder of NewDog PR was joined on the Innovation Stage at Independent Hotel Show 2022 by Eljesa Saciri, Hotel Manager at The Zetter Townhouse, Louise Carr-Merino, Sustainable Hospitality and Leisure Awards Manager at Keep Britain Tidy (which manages the Green Key accreditation) and Sarah Duncan, Sustainability (ESG) Consultant and Author of The Ethical Business Book 'Sleeping Lion' to discuss the ins and outs of ESG in the hotel sector, and navigating finance and funding within the sustainability space.
The panel discussion kicked off with a key question: what are the motivations for hotels to invest in ESG and sustainable initiatives?
Sarah comments that, this year: "For very good reasons I think a lot of hotels have had to put it on the backburner, as there have been some very pressing issues that have come along. But now we’re seeing the 'shit getting real' and the key shift is the corporate market.
"If you rely on corporates and corporate business then you are now part of their supply chain, and corporates are scrutinising their supply chain. If you don’t meet the criteria that they expect, then you won’t even get to pitch or tender for the business, let alone win it. If you’re talking about motivation, I think it's switched from wanting to do it because it’s the right thing to do to having to it because the commercial imperative has taken over, and I think that’s a good thing."
Eljesa adds: "It’s a demand that’s often more prominent with corporate guests, and the rates that corporates will pay vary depending on the credentials that you have. For us at Zetter, we found that it became a plus when discussing these matters because we had the foundation for that and could build on it."
Louise comments: "A lot of the hotels we speak to are really struggling with staff and supply chain issues, so ESG can slip down the ladder a little bit, but what we would say is that they need to look at a more rounded approach. If it slides down and your costs are escalating in a way that isn’t sustainable in the long term, then you need to look at how you can measure what you’re using to save resources, especially in light of current energy prices. If you’re still wondering what you’re using then you won't be able to manage what you’re using. You could be losing money without really recognising it."
"Who'd want to be a hotelier at the moment?" adds Sarah. "It’s so difficult. I think what we’ve got with hospitality and many other businesses at the moment is things like Brexit, Covid and other crisis could be looked at by a triage nurse as an acute condition which needs immediate attention, however we still have this underlying chronic condition which is climate change and all the human consequences of climate change. That’s not going away.
"Somehow people need to find out how to treat all of those. Treat those fire-fighting things but recognise that it goes hand in hand with this chronic condition, and try to find a way to tackle it all. It’s very complex but try and bring ESG into the very fabric of your business and don’t treat it like a project. If it’s a short-term project it’s likely to have short-term results."
Louise comments that it can also be a double-edged sword in terms of recruitment, as alongside corporates and guests looking for more sustainable hotels, the issue is also creeping up the agenda for potential staff too which may ultimately impact further on recruitment.
"If ESG falls off the priority list you’re shooting yourself in the foot with recruitment," she concludes.
Eljesa comments: "People want to work in a company with people that are looking at ESG. People do ask the question now, about how you’re caring for the environment. If it is part of the fabric of what you’re doing then it becomes normalised in the same way as everything else that you're doing. As an operator your team knows how to sell a room, and their core should also be what are we doing for sustainability; it should be normality. The more excuses you give yourself, the more you let it go.
On the uses of the terms 'ESG' and 'Sustainability', Sarah comments: Sarah: In my mind they essentially interchangeable. I know people see sustainability as ‘the green stuff’ but if you look at the UN’s sustainable development goals they cover societal stuff as well. It doesn’t really matter what term you use.
"The point is that there’s an interconnection between the environment and humans and climate change and the consequences to humans. A lot of people frame it as saving the planet, but the planet is going to be fine, the planet will go on a lot longer than us. What we are doing here is looking at being sustainable for ourselves, for human beings.
"I think, rather than separating things out, the basics are protecting a healthy environment and healthy people, and doing that within a framework that includes compliance and better business standards."
Watch the full discussion below: