In September I reported on the building of the latest Premier Inn in Burgess Hill in Sussex, and indicated some of the savings being made that are enhancing the profitability of the growing hotels group. On the 24th November I attended the official ‘opening’ of the hotel and learned more both about the application of new technologies to the hotel but how changes were being made across all the Whitbread brands as they seek to minimise their environmental impact.
To a guest many of the actions being taken by the group will be invisible. Certainly the busy restaurant and high occupancy level at Burgess Hill speak volumes to the popularity of the group’s offering. Premier Inn is the UK’s largest hotel chain with over 42,000 rooms and a continuing expansion programme, now extending to properties in Dubai and India. With all the hotels having bar and restaurant offering a good three star standard at very competitive rates the popularity looks set to continue.
The embracing of efforts to reduce the carbon footprint should not be seen as a large corporate looking to gain a good public image, but should rather be seen as a hardnosed effort to increase corporate profitability. With profit up 6.6% in year ended March 2010 we are perhaps seeing early benefits of the new policies coming through. Certainly most of the diners in the restaurant on the opening day will not have been conscious of how much is being saved on energy use in the preparation of the food they enjoyed.
Some changes are simple to make, although the groups has had to do much arm twisting to influence the slow to innovate supply chain and much training to convert staff to make effective changes to working practices. A simple example will show this – kitchen refrigeration. Switching from doors to drawers on the refrigerators made great energy saving as cold air remains contained in a drawer whereas it spills out when a door is opened. Conceptually simple but encouraging manufacturers to change the way they make fridge’s to produce the equipment at competitive prices was a major task. The staff had then to be trained in turn to use then efficiently.
On top of the new kitchen block sits a new assemblage that blankets the kitchen extract system. Reducing noise and smells may be a side product but the main function is to extract the waste heat from the kitchen vents and use it to preheat water entering the hotel system. This water then enters the hot water system at a temperature that means the system only has to raise its temperature by 10 – 15 degrees, reducing energy consumption considerably.
Under the car park are 17 bore holes for the ground source heating that also raises water temperature entering the hotel systems from the extraction of natural heat. As a giant heat exchanger it can also be used in summer for cooling. This and a number of other innovations are being incorporated into the estate, as detailed in my previous article.
This visit however was a chance to see the finished rooms, and I have also had the opportunity to experience some of the measures being brought in by this and other groups. Premier have been very focussed on making sure that they embrace the necessary technologies to more to a carbon zero build within the standard coast envelope. The first of the hotels to embrace the new sustainability philosophy was the property in Tamworth which cost 30% more to build. This 60 bedroom property in Burgess hill has advanced the learning curve and has a build cost only 10% higher than previous hotels.
Going green (expressed by the slogan ‘Good Together’ in Whitbread’s programme) will only work if we adopt an approach that does not punish lifestyles in making the essential changes. The delight of Burgess Hill is that most of the changes are technical and are cosmetically invisible to most guests.