Part 3/6: Supplying the hospitality industry as sustainably as possible
Done well, tourism generates employment, grows local economies, promotes cross-cultural understanding and provides an incentive to preserve culture and natural environments. Done badly, it contributes directly and indirectly to environmental degradation through sometimes inappropriate development of tourist activities.
Where does this leave a business like ours – in the business of supplying the needs of those meeting tourists’ needs? Our business vision is to be ethical, helpful and profitable by valuing our customers while treasuring the environment. One way we can do that is to help our customers reduce their environmental impacts through the products they buy from us – especially when those customers are catering to the desires of paying guests who still want life’s little luxuries for that magical break away from the daily grind, but do not want this to be at the cost of the environment. We help primarily in two ways. First by sourcing and developing products that meet our customers’ precise needs, and second, by including a wide array of sustainable products that harm neither the environment nor the welfare of those who have produced them in the range of products we sell.
Supplying problem-solving products that meet rather than create a need
As anyone in marketing will tell you, product development and marketing is largely about creating new products then manufacturing a perceived need for those products. Out of Eden co-founder Ian Hartley prefers instead to ask our customers what they need, then source or develop the products that will solve their problems.
As Ian says:
It’s important to listen to the problems an individual B&B is facing because most B&Bs experience similar problems.
We slip postage paid postcards in with every order, with a message to the customer telling the recipient who packed the product, soliciting comment on the condition in which the goods arrived, and inviting new product ideas. Some 25 per cent of our customers engage readily in this feedback process by returning their postcards to us or feeding back online. Others enjoy a new forum we’ve created online for them to pitch their ideas in exchange for a chance to win £80 worth of credit to spend on Out of Eden goods – an award given each month for the most innovative product idea received.
Our problem solving products include a washable pillow that never goes flat, eco-friendly kettles marked with one, two or three cup fill levels so that guests only boil the water they need, and a wooden welcome tray for in-room refreshments that sports a clever drawer for dust-free dry storage of teabags, coffee sticks, sugars and the like. Future innovations drawn from suggestions from our customers may include a compact waste bin for separating rubbish into either a non-recyclable or recycling compartment, or a device that will enable the small B & B owner to fold sheets quickly, neatly, effectively and without the assistance of another person.
Chipper with Clipper and staying green while keeping clean
We take pride also in offering our customers a wide range of sustainable products among the some 2,400 items we stock. These are identified in our catalogue by a Green Product symbol which certifies their green credentials, and many of them are showcased in our on-site showroom, which affords us the opportunity to literally ‘set out our stall’ with some of the products we love. They include luxurious towels made from 100 per cent Egyptian cotton and ‘eco-mix’ towels for which a blend of 80 per cent cotton and 20 per cent polyester ensures a faster drying time that saves on energy consumption. Other favourites include environmentally-friendly cleaning products from Ecover and Bio-D, quality Fairtrade teas and coffees from Clipper, and Red Tractor milks, responsibly produced to the highest UK standards for animal welfare, food safety, traceability and environmental protection. We also offer wooden coat-hangers, toilet rolls made from 100 per cent recycled paper.
Sharing products such as these with you enables us to stand by green or at least greener products that do little or no environmental harm. Sometimes, as is the case with our new Fair CosmEthics toiletries range and the Clipper Fairtrade organic teas and coffees showcased in our showroom – sustainably sourced products guarantee a fair price for producers, better working conditions and fair terms of trade for farmers in the developing world.
Choice is key
But let us be very clear: not every product in our range is sustainable. Our toiletries range offers paraben-free products made from plant-based materials and using organic extracts as well as bespoke soaps made in Cumbria from soap noodles sourced from Indonesian palm oil plantations that have been responsibly and sustainably managed. We’ve got liquid soaps sold in 5 litre bottles for replenishing pump dispensers and dispensers that sit on wall brackets, and shampoos, body washes and conditioners packaged in ERP (environmentally responsible product) certified plastic bottles containing an organic based enzyme additive that biodegrades in landfill, breaking down the molecular structure of polymers to enable microbial action to take place. At the same time, some of our toiletries are packaged in the 25ml and 30ml single use non-recyclable plastic amenity bottles to be found in hotels and B&Bs everywhere. Likewise, our Dùsal natural fill duvets sit alongside heat-crimped polyester filled hollowfibre duvets imported from China. The Dùsal duvet is fully machine washable at 40 degrees and can be used for years, so long as it is fully dried out after each laundering. By contrast, the synthetic hollowfibre duvet is likely to lose its shape when washed and is basically good for just one season.
We offer all these products rather than a selection of them because it is our job as a one stop shop retailer to provide choice for our customers. We recognise that many of our customers remain loyal to certain high street brands of cleaning products whose manufacture and use may not be so good for the environment, while choosing at the same time to add value to their business through the provision of organic and Fairtrade bedroom consumables to their guests. A 10.5 tog single duvet Dùsal duvet made from goose feather and down costs £35.95 – more than three times the price of the £11.50 single hollowfibre duvet we import from China. While yes, we want to stand up for ethical and sustainable consumerism, as suppliers we must also consider not only what our customers want to buy but also what they want to pay, and this of course will be determined by what they think they can charge their customers for their room.
Changing demands and the ethics of sustainable supply
Increasingly, of course, consumers are aware that the cost of their product choices is more than monetary. Globally, the trend towards ethical consumerism which first surged in the 1980s with boycotting – actively avoiding the products of certain companies and corporations on the grounds of environmental or social injustice – and procotting – consciously supporting the production and purchase of earth-friendly and justice-friendly goods and services – continues apace. It challenges diamond and gem merchants to examine their supply chains; chocolate manufacturers to source their cocoa and palm oil from sustainably managed plantations; multinational oil corporations to clean up pollution and invest in renewable forms of energy; and high street supermarkets to find better alternatives than single use plastic to wrap our food. Producers everywhere are coming under increasing pressure to provide more sustainable products for ethically mindful consumers and everywhere, civil society is pressuring governments to make producers toe the line. There’s pressure too on other consumers to wake up, and not only smell the coffee, but to ask also how it was produced, by whom, and with what damaging effects on the environment.
This has created new opportunities for the hospitality industry. Since the 1990s, when the hotel chain Scandic first asked its customers to hang up their towels if they want to use them again, hospitality providers have learned that greener operations don’t have to cost the holiday maker – or, for that matter, the provider – a penny more. At the same time, the increasing number of hotels and B&Bs applying for Green Tourism accreditation suggests that more and more hospitality providers and the guests that use them are willing to pay a green premium for products and services.
What more can we do at Out of Eden, to meet and greet the changing laws of demand? In the first instance, we can of course expand our range of sustainable products. We can also continue to ensure that the companies making the products we import from overseas do so within recognised standards for production and hygiene, while paying heed the health and welfare of their workers. Naturally, at the moment, we don’t have the capacity enjoyed by larger businesses to audit and observe business practices directly overseas. We do, however, have trusted and reliable UK-based merchant traders who act as our ‘feet on the street’ abroad, to check that the suppliers we import from are keeping to acceptable standards. We have them. And we use them.
We appreciate and share the concerns of our customers
This isn’t about tick-boxing. Increasingly customers – for example, universities or larger hoteliers – quite rightly ask us to complete a lot of forms, asking us to tick this or that box to show that we carry out adequate quality control, have evidence of safety audits, and assess the impact of products sourced overseas – both on the environments they’ve come from and the people who’ve made them. We comply willingly because the sustainability of our supply line matters to us, just as it matters to us that it matters to them. We are currently receiving help from representatives of the not-for-profit organisation Hope for Justice, in developing a tailored business and supply chain policy for our business that prevents modern slavery. As a company with a turnover that does not exceed anywhere close to £35 million, we are not required to develop a policy of this nature. We do it because we appreciate and share the concerns of our customers, who care how products sourced from various countries Worldwide are produced and about the conditions for those who produce them.
Endorsing products with people and planet at their heart, while recognising the cost and brand considerations of our customers allows us not only to stay in business, but to stay in the business of amplifying positive impacts through the products we source, develop and sell. For more than two decades, we’ve tried to lead the market well, by making sure we are buying sustainable products from suppliers who work the right way and do the right things. The challenge for us as, it is for many businesses, is to continue to do more in this area, even though it adds significant complication to our business. It is a challenge we are totally committed to tackling head on.