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My sustainability journey: reducing the environmental impact of apartments

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Linda Close is the owner of The Botanic Apartments, which are located in Warrnambool, Australia. She shares how making her commitment to sustainability tangible has benefitted the business
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Owner of The Botanic Apartments, Warrnambool

Last year, we relaunched our business as The Botanic Apartments. The word ‘botanic’ has such positive connotations and feels like it really fits our beautiful environment. This wasn’t just a rebranding exercise. To me, it signified that we’ve come a long way on our sustainability journey. We’re incredibly proud of the sustainability goals we’ve been able to achieve. 

Humble beginnings and impactful initiatives

We started small by replacing everyday items with sustainable options where possible – objects like guest amenities, bin liners, light bulbs and cleaning products. We adopted the attitude that if we needed to buy or replace anything, we would choose the most environmentally friendly option. Today, we apply this mentality to all purchases, big and small. 

From there, we looked at other sustainable changes we could make. We started providing refillable guest amenities – shampoo, conditioner, body wash – which was fundamental to eliminating single-use plastics at our property. We saved money in the process too, as individual miniature toiletries are much more expensive than using refillable dispensers. 

We also make our own daily cleaning product to reduce the use of harsh chemicals, which is actually very easy to do. We use lectric soda, vinegar, dishwashing liquid and a scent – we use lavender, but you can use whatever you prefer. The combination of the acid-base vinegar and the lectric soda work really, really well. Our employees have mentioned they prefer our in-house product, too, because they’re not breathing in or exposed to harsh chemicals while working. It’s also worth mentioning that reducing harsh chemicals doesn’t sacrifice health and hygiene, which is all the more important since the pandemic. We make sure to balance our sustainable solutions with thorough cleaning protocols to improve sanitation outcomes. 

We also invested in a number of larger initiatives including electric vehicle charging stations. Implementing a charging station is not totally straightforward – you have to have the right infrastructure in place. It needs to make sense for your business, which it did for us based on our location. 

Like all of our sustainability practices, we made sure to indicate in the extranet that we offer electric vehicle charging stations, which has helped us to secure bookings. I recently received a booking from someone who had seen that I offer a charging station and requested to use it during their stay. 

electric car charging station

 

When it comes to energy, we follow a two-pronged approach. Firstly, we implement measures that help reduce our electricity consumption as much as possible. For example, we invested in double-glazed windows to ensure a comfortable room temperature, so that guests aren’t immediately reaching for the air conditioning controls in summer or the heater in winter. Secondly, we make sure that when we do use energy, it comes from a sustainable source. In our case, our solar panels generate 20 kilowatts of electricity and provide most of our energy needs. 

The solar panels directly impact our bottom line, too. Our biggest cost saving, by far, has been on our utility bills. During the course of this year, we reduced our power bills by over 75%, which saved us thousands of dollars. In summer when there’s more sun, we actually produce enough electricity to sell back to the grid, which goes towards offsetting winter heating costs. But to add a dose of realism, these results didn’t happen immediately. We calculated that it will take seven years until we break even on the upfront costs of the solar panels.

Provide guests with options 

The great thing about the sustainable changes we’ve made is that there is zero negative impact for guests. Not every guest may notice or comment, but the ones who do are really pleased and appreciative. 

The key to involving guests in your sustainability journey is to provide options for them to make sustainable choices. We offer different bins in each apartment, for example, so that guests have the option to recycle. We’ve heard from our corporate guests, in particular, who are often away from home, that they appreciate having this option. 

Our guests with electric vehicles love charging their vehicle from our solar electricity. These customers are already environmentally aware, so it’s always great to connect over those details. This often leads to repeat business, too. We know from feedback that our sustainability credentials are one of the reasons guests return.

Seek out experts 

You don’t know what you don’t know, and we’ve had some great advice from suppliers who helped us to make informed decisions throughout our journey. For example, we asked our local council to help conduct a green energy audit. Their free report covered multiple aspects of our business including an analysis of our power consumption, while explaining which changes would have the most impact. This really helped us focus on where to start and gave us a plan to work towards. My main advice to other operators is don’t try to do it all on your own. Seek out experts and learn from them. My favourite question to ask experts is: what would you do?

So, have our investments in sustainability been worth it? One hundred percent. Implementing sustainable measures has improved our business without any question. It's improved how we and our staff feel about working here, plus the number of returning guests is higher. I believe we should all make positive contributions to the environment, and operating sustainably is one way I can make a difference.

 

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Takeaway
  • Starting small can lead to significant results. If you’re at the beginning of your sustainability journey, ask yourself what everyday items you can replace with sustainable options 
  • Providing sustainable options can create connection moments with eco-conscious guests, resulting in repeat business 
  • Seeking out sustainability experts can help you identify areas to focus on and the steps you can take to reach your sustainability goals
  • Indicating the sustainability practices you offer in the extranet can help you attract guests looking for specific initiatives