Confronting the mammoth-sized elephant in the room

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Gwen Powell of CleanConscience calls on the hospitality industry to be held more accountable for unwanted assets that still have value.

The hospitality industry is trying hard to be more open about its environmental and sustainability obligations. However, according to Gwen Powell, the Founder of UK-based charity, CleanConscience, greenwashing is still rife and needs to be addressed.

Reporting is largely focused on operational activities and, to a much lesser extent, on the construction phase. What is completely overlooked, however, is what happens during renovations and whether redundant materials, such as furniture, fittings and linen, that still have resource value, are given a second life.

“What goes unseen is the mountains of duvets, pillows, curtains and linen that end up in skips, and yet are in perfectly good condition”, says Gwen Powell. “It’s especially galling to see mattresses thrown away when more than a million children and families in the UK are currently in ‘bed poverty’”, she added.

ABOVE: CleanConscience CEO, Gwen Powell

Frustratingly, a cost-effective alternative exists in the shape of CleanConscience; a social enterprise specialising in hotel ‘decant and soft-strip ‘projects that benefit the environment, the hotel, as well as the many charities it supports, numbering 73 in the UK plus 3 in Sierra Leone and 7 in Lithuania. Gwen believes that, “It should not just be illegal to greenwash, it should also be illegal to dispose of perfectly good assets via a waste contractor”.

Waste carriers are claiming a 98 per cent recycling rate on hotel refurbishments by factoring in those items sent for incineration at energy from waste plants, saying that the waste has been ‘recovered’. Gwen Powell believes that is misleading and it should change. Maybe it will, thanks to new legislation. The next time a hospitality chain thinks to make an over-the-top green claim, it could do well to remember that, since the end of April 2023, ‘greenwashing’ has been outlawed under the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumer Bill. The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) now has the power to take action against organisations making ‘false or misleading environmental claims’ and will ensure such statements align with UK consumer law. In fact, the CMA can levy fines of up to 10 per cent of global income for serious breaches.

Powell goes on to say that, “The hospitality industry is well known for this ‘throwaway’ culture, following the quick-and-easy route of hiring a waste carrier to take care of unwanted items that are not easy to redistribute. Somehow, however, hotels still manage to belong to certifying bodies such Green Tourism, Considerate Hoteliers, and Green Key, and use ‘green’ slogans in their marketing”.

Emma Whitlock, Manager in England for Green Key, the leading standard for excellence in the field of environmental responsibility and sustainable operation within the tourism industry says,

“The topic of waste is central to Green Key criteria. It is mandatory that establishments register their total amount of waste and have recycling facilities in place. In addition, the Guideline criteria recommend that establishments have a waste plan in place in order to reduce waste and donate materials that are no longer used to charitable organisations.”

“It is a requirement that all awarded hotels increase the number of Guideline criteria being met each year that they apply, and we encourage them to seriously consider the amount of waste they create and what happens to it. Seeing redundant items reused and bringing real social benefit to communities in need, is far better than sending it to landfill or incineration.”

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