Ethical Housekeeping – Will it Save the Planet?

24/10/2017By Derek Picot
Derek Picot has held many senior positions in the hotel industry, and has witnessed numerous developments. One evident change is the rise of sustainability and ethics – not just in the hotel industry but within businesses globally. Here he looks at how hotels are changing their practices and ponders on whether these new commitments will make a difference.
ethical hotels

At my local coffee haunt I am being advised that all their beans are ethically sourced, that they are an equal opportunity employer and that they have fair trade pricing.  None of this can be challenged by the consumer but I suppose we all take it as gospel.

Whilst writing of scripture, one of my clients is a Church organisation and they are embarking on ethical hotel-keeping.  They are an interesting organisation.  Their ethics include offering a percentage of their profit back to the community in which they operate, wages that are above the statutory living wage, food that is locally sourced and a cost to the customer that is reasonable in comparison to their local competition.

At their Board gatherings they start with a moment of private devotion. This is commendable as I think that it is most Directors experience praying at the end of a challenging meeting rather than at the beginning.  They have achieved a remarkable performance and found strong support from a number of organisations including Government and other ethically minded businesses.  Most surprising is the appeal that their concept has captured in the imagination of international travellers, especially those from Asian and Africa with little or no advertising.

I like this initiative to turn this little used Church accommodation into something that creates better value.  If hotels can be developed from redundant sites that promise to provide labour opportunities, a cash return to the community as well as the stakeholders and within the facility still retain a place of worship, this surely has to be positive news for the neighbourhood.

I am sure that all their customers are delighted to be getting value for money and feeling that they are giving something back.  This then leads on to how those hotels at the top end of the pricing scale represent value to their customers.  The World Tourism Organisation attempts to encourage various large tourist and hotel enterprises to follow similar standards with mixed results.  Whilst most publicly quoted hotel companies produce and follow ethical standards there are definite conflicts of interest for some operators.  Take for instance the western values of collective bargaining and union representation.  These concepts would not be so welcome in certain areas of the Middle East or Asia.

Hoteliers are not generally very good at advertising what their organisations stand for.I would welcome a statement from the hotel’s management to tell me what they do in their community and what type of employer they are.  Perhaps a small manifesto of their values might be useful printed on the room key folder or at least in the ubiquitous ‘In Room Directory’.

On a recent stay at a London property I was keen to see what I could glean in the way of management initiatives to convince me that they were leaning towards greening.  There was a fine printed note on the washstand asking me to ‘Save the Planet’.  It seemed to me that this was now only in the hands of Mr Trump and his North Korean foreign policy, but closer reading led to a complicated set of directives.  If I placed the towels back on the towel rail (a place my mother has always told me I should) they would not be changed for clean ones, but if I wanted clean ones I should place used towels in the tub.  In addition, if I wanted my sheets changed daily – a suggestion that implied in its wording that most guests didn’t – I should leave a specifically designated card on the pillow.  At over £430 a night it would never have occurred to me that the property was looking to save cost.

So to the restaurant where I was served a cup of coffee with the words ‘free trade’ emblazoned on the saucer in bright green enamel.  I asked the waiter what that meant.  He said he would find out and then came back and said, ‘Fair trade organizations create trading partnerships that are based on dialogue, transparency and respect that seeks greater equity in international trade’.  Or I think that is what he said.  So I went away and looked it up.  Then when I went back I asked him if he meant Equal Exchange Coffee.  That is a voluntary program utilized by coffee importers and food companies to create an alternative market for traditionally disadvantaged producers in developing countries, usually small scale farmers.

He added that he thought most people felt more comfortable with a statement like that on the saucer.  I couldn’t disagree and thought it was at least a positive step.

I would like to see more examples of the work hotels do in their communities, but most management seems to act like shrinking violets at the local hop.  They hang around the wall of the dance hall and lack the nerve to proudly display their best achievements.  When the hotel team work on a project that helps the neighbourhood or if the business is sponsoring something that its guests would like to know about, these things should be promoted.

In the meanwhile I came across a hotel in the New Forest where they have created ‘Breathing Places’ – areas where trees are planted and wildlife is encouraged. I’m expecting further branches to open all over the UK.


Derek Picot

Derek Picot

Founder, Derek Picot Consulting

Derek Picot, founder of Derek Picot Consulting, is an international hotelier who has worked on five continents for a number of international firms in senior positions.

He currently consults on hotel operations, hotel development and asset management for several public companies and a European Bank.  Derek is the author of ‘Hotel Reservations’ and can always be relied upon to have an opinion on current hospitality and hotel themes.