Eco-minded: Michelle Devlin, head of sustainability, Red Carnation Hotels
Michelle began her career in housekeeping for Center Parcs, nature-centric family resorts in Europe, which set the foundation for her role as an eco-warrior. When she joined Red Carnation in 2005, she found another company whose values aligned with her own. Rising through the ranks in housekeeping, Michelle pioneered sustainability campaigns and projects along the way. Now the General Manager of London’s Egerton House Hotel in Knightsbridge and the head sustainability manager for Red Carnation 18 hotels around the globe, we chat about her efforts and inspirations to help the planet.
When did you become interested in sustainability?
While working as Executive Housekeeper at Center Parcs, I became involved in sustainability and was instrumental in the site achieving ISO14001 accreditation, which is the British environmental management system (EMS) standards. I learned early on that it is actually the little things that make the biggest difference, and my passion is educating my colleagues and our guests to understand each small effort compounds to make a big impact on our planet.
What is your role as head sustainability manager?
Red Carnation is part of The Travel Corporation (TTC), which owns 40 travel brands including tour operators, hotels, and transportation companies operating in 70 countries, serving 1.9 million travelers annually, and the sustainability efforts for all are done under the TreadRight Foundation program. I work closely with them and the “How We Tread Right” program to ensure we at Red Carnation Hotels have a positive impact on the planet, people, and wildlife.
We are working specifically towards 11 sustainability goals linked to the UNWTO sustainable development goals. This strategy cements our commitment to rebuilding in a sustainable manner post-COVID, ensuring continuous sustainable luxury. I oversee the rollout of these initiatives across the collection, along with our environmental committee, who are responsible for driving all our sustainability initiatives.
What specific measures have you taken at The Egerton House Hotel?
We have 28 rooms, but again even though we are a small property, every little thing counts. We have been actively working to eliminate single-use plastics such as straws, cocktail stirrers, water bottles, single food portions, piping bags, and cake boxes. We started with a list of 110 items, we now have a list of approximately 20 items for which we continue to seek a suitable solution. Some examples:
We partner with Belu Water, which supplies us with mineral and filtered water in sustainable glass bottles. Belu donates 100% of its net profits to Water Aid.
For a number of years, we have worked with CleanConscience to re-purpose leftover toiletries into care kits which are then distributed to charities.
We have recently partnered with London perfumery and royal warrant holders, Floris to develop a refillable solution for our guest toiletries in order to eliminate this source of single-use plastic.
We recycle our used candles diverting waste candle wax from landfills, to create artisan scented candles.
What are some examples of efforts across the Red Carnation collection?
As a brand, hotels within the Red Carnation Hotel Collection have recently installed Winnow AI food waste technology in order to reduce food waste; our menus are under constant review and we make the use of local and organic produce a priority. We maintain a register of suppliers and sustainable producers. As a brand we are also working towards eliminating plastics, our hotels have eliminated 30 different single-use plastics and will be plastic-free by 2022.
Some notable sustainable achievements at our individual hotels:
The Rubens at The Palace has the largest living wall in London, comprising 10,000 herbaceous plants.
We are saving bees and have our own beehives at four properties and are adding more: The Chesterfield Mayfair, Ashford Castle, Xigera The Montague on the Gardens, Summer Lodge and The Oyster Box. Their delicious hand-harvested honey is served at the hotels.
Saving thousands of trees around the world: Ashford Castle in Ireland protects 141 hectares, Bushman’s Kloof protects 6,256 hectares in South Africa, Xigera protects 4,500 hectares within the Okavango Delta in Botswana. The total of all three hotels protects 10,900 hectares / 20,000+ football fields.
African Art preservation: Over 90% of the furniture and art pieces at our South African properties have been hand-produced in Africa by over 80 studios, designers, and artists - the largest collection of African design anywhere in the world and intrinsically sustainable.
Saving Wildlife in Africa: in partnership with Cheetah Outreach, the Cape Leopard Trust, and neighboring farmers, we have purchased three Anatolian Shepherd Dogs as livestock guardian dogs. This helps communities close to Bushman’s Kloof to protect themselves and their livestock from top predators.
Ashford Castle retained their Gold Standard with Green Hospitality Ireland since joining in 2010.
What are your top tips and best practices for other hoteliers?
Ensure information about projects, no matter how big or small, that have been implemented is readily available, as guests are increasingly interested in sustainability and want to feel good about where they are spending their money. Keep this info updated on your website.
Being sustainable doesn’t mean a drop in standards or service, in most instances being sustainable means standards and/or service are enhanced through the implementation of innovation and different thought processes.
Make sustainability something guests can become involved with through promotions and programming.
Ensure the team is knowledgeable of projects within the hotel and can talk confidently about initiatives to any guests expressing interest.
Work in collaboration with charities, suppliers, and artisans and assist them with their sustainable goals.
Volunteering doesn’t just benefit the charity or organization hosting the volunteers, it can aid camaraderie and team spirit, as well as making individuals feel good about being able to give something back to their local community.