A look inside Sustainability at the Spa at Ashford Castle Hotel Resort

When did your sustainability journey start?

It started on the estate about ten years ago measuring waste, water and energy.

What was the driving force behind that at the time?

Two things:-

Money saving 

Looking after the environment.

Who was this change coming from? Was it customers or Estate Senior Management?

It was from the management. We have always had a ‘green’ focus. At the time it was thought of as a green initiative rather than sustainability.  This property was chosen to drive it forward and it is maintained today.

It was implemented by the previous owners and implemented by the general manager.

The CEO of the group has decreed that you should be as sustainable as possible.  Where has his passion come from for this?

Brett Tollman and his family have led this initiative. He the owner of the Travel Corportation and The Red Carnation Group.  His passion is for wildlife, the environment and saving the planet.  They have so many entities under The Travel Corporation their main focus is to give back.  The Make Travel Matter Foundation is the key focus.  They get very involved with international aid projects.  The way this filters down to us is by way of corporate social responsibility (CSR) days.  We get 2 CSR days per year to go out and become integrated into communities to help. Every employee of the red carnation gets these days.

How many employees are there across The Red Carnation Group and how many days does that translate into? 

There are thousands of employees across the group, we have 460 here in County Mayo equalling 960 days.

The purpose is to integrate our team into the local community. In 2020 we are working with Mayo Roscommon Hospice, we are going to do events with them throughout the year.

Last year we worked with MADRA a dog charity and a COPE a homeless charity. 

Members of our team help out on initiatives such as painting the shop frontage or assisting them other much needed tasks.

Do you choose what you do with your volunteer days or do you have an approved list of partners?

We have preferred charities but if an employee has a charity they are passionate about, they are able to discuss it.

We also support the local community. On every check out from the hotel 1 euro is donated to the community centre.  The Tollman family have donated 285,000 Euros to the local community since the renovation of the castle.

Funds are also donated to the Local villages, schools, churches and the football club.

If you come to us through the villages you can see they are pristine and the donations have contributed towards that.  It is a reflection to our customers of the way we and they contribute.

As a spa operator, do you have any specific goals that you are working towards?

Our biggest focus this year is on products.  We want to be able to compost of our products after usage.  The biggest hurdle is communicating this to suppliers.  We have been receiving volumes of unnecessary packaging.  The packaging we are most concerned about is plastic, bubble wrap and air bags. 

We are evaluating the items we use in the spa. Take bowls as an example,  we will be using trees that have been felled in the grounds to make our own items for use.  It’s not immediate but it will happen over time.

Are you aiming for Zero Waste?

Yes, we want to re-use or re-cycle all materials.

At the moment we have a measurement of 28% into landfill or energy mass to be incinerated and 72% is recycled.

We worked very hard in 2019 to eliminate single use plastics from the estate.  Our target is 2022 to have no single use plastic.  We do not buy any plastic and any plastic we do receive now, we keep it and we re-use it for our on line shop, Mr’s T’s boutique, where they reuse all the packaging but we would still like to eliminate it.

Ashford Castle is the first hotel to receive the Plastic Smart Award, from The Green Hospitality Awards. 

We are proud of these figures but we have more we can do through educating the team.  

The Red Carnation Group have developed a new sustainability course which is being implemented this week and will be delivered to all employees at all hotels.

The biggest focus is educating our teams on sustainability and letting it flow from there.

When you started down this journey what was your first task?

Two years ago upon joining company my first task was on single use plastic and trying to reduce electricity.  

I am the purchasing manager, it is something I can directly impact upon and we use a procurement process system where everything has to come to me for approval. It’s good to question what is going to be purchased and see if there is an alternative.  It wouldn’t be that easy to control if it didn’t go through our thorough procurement process. Having someone specifically checking environmental policy on purchases makes a huge difference.  

One of our policies now is also eliminating unessential disposable items instead of replacing. We either buy things that are reusable or do not use it at all.

Do you communicate your policies to the guests?

It is important to us to educate guests about what they really need and don’t need when they are here with us. It is about changing their mind-set.

We have found guests very accepting of the changes we have made.  On the whole we feel guests expectations have changed.  

We do not have individual amenities for people now but we have everything they need available for them.  This reduces the packaging and waste of product.

We encourage guests to be environmentally conscious in small ways like we ask them to leave a green tree on the bed in their room if they’re happy to re-use their linen. We have bikes and walks and jogging maps to encourage them to leave their cars. We are conscious of travel to and from the property so we organise a pick up and drop off to the beaches  We also give them a bucket to pick up rubbish which we will recycle. 

When will you know if you’ve reached the end of your sustainability journey?  What marks the end?

We don’t think it will ever end.  The goals that we are given come from the CEO of the company.  We are given one goal to achieve at a time. This is across all hotels and spas.  Our teams are driven to know more, we all are and bit by bit is the best way.  We focus the teams in sustainability meetings. 

Our goal now for 2021 is to be carbon neutral.  Every single building on the estate is coming from renewable energy except the castle, which is 23% green energy and 77% brown energy.

All our energy is from the grid.  We will be able to switch to renewable energy for the Castle towards the end of the year and become carbon neutral.

We are looking to upgrade all cars to electric or hybrid and we offset all company flights.

What other day-to-day practices in the spa have you made to be more sustainable?

Procurement of products is very important.  The brand we use is an Irish product and is all hand harvested using locally sourced ingredients from Sligo which is about an hour away.  

It is all manufactured locally too.

We also have a Spanish brand with strong sustainable values and we have also just chosen a hair care brand that is 100% sustainable sourced, manufactured and packaged.

In treatment rooms we evaluate all the things we use.  We use biodegradable towels in the spa and hair salon to reduce or eliminate laundry.

Another big thing was water – we do not buy plastic bottled water or operate fridges.  It was 59,000 bottles per year and now 0.

All the lighting is LED.

We separate all the waste in the spa and throughout the hotel.

Our uniforms are dry-cleaned, we don’t accept them returned in plastic bags.  In fact we will soon be re-using our old duvets as suit covers, they are just in the process of being sewn up.  Our guest dry cleaning comes back in a bamboo box.

Our slippers are no longer in plastic or contain plastic 

With everything you have implemented what has been the biggest challenge?

Communication and education and understanding – not everyone has a natural interest in the goals of the company but it is part of our foundation skills in training as a member of staff in the company.  It begins on their first day of joining the company.

What advice would you give another spa embarking on this journey?

Our advice would be to get all the decision makers involved from every department.

We have bee surprised by some team members and their background knowledge.  Some may have degrees in environmental studies and can bring something to the table. 

Make it fun and have the right ambassadors leading it from the beginning. Choose people who have passion.

Support from our GM and our colleagues has helped everyone get the most out of this journey.  Every year we have green week and each department makes their own recycled project. Which is very high quality.

We share this with our guests on social media, newsletters and website.