Interviews.

‘Plastic straws are tip of the sustainability iceberg’

Click. catches up with luxury travel expert Juliet Kinsman to talk social responsibility in hospitality

by Will Hide, Click. Travel Writer

Topic: Social responsibility

Click. Takeaway

  • Hotels need to think more long term about sustainability. Short term costs can be recouped in the long run
  • Educate customers when it comes to sustainability
  • Getting rid of plastic straws has been in the news a lot recently, but that’s just the tip of the eco iceberg
  • Try and create a circular economy, so be mindful of the origins of products and where they end up

Juliet Kinsman is a journalist, hotel expert and founding editor of Mr & Mrs Smith, who has spent much of the last two decades celebrating the world’s most special places to stay. Meeting philanthropic hoteliers and those behind award-winning luxury travel brands inspired her to set up Bouteco, where she, “works with hotels to help them talk about their sustainability initiatives in a more engaging way”.

Juliet Kinsman, hotel expert and founding editor of Mr & Mrs Smith

Click: Juliet, if you had to give the hotel industry as a whole sustainability rating out of 10, what would it be and why?

Kinsman: I’d say five out of 10. There are different kinds of sustainability – social, economic and environmental. Tourism is one of the biggest employers in the world, so that’s great in terms of social sustainability, giving people jobs and contributing towards local economies. But environmentally, the very act of travel is not friendly in general. I was on a plane recently and was given a packet of sugar, milk powder and stirrer with my coffee, which I didn’t need and handed back. The cabin-crew member told me it all gets binned whether used or not because of health and safety regulations…it’s been exposed and used in theory just by being on the plane. In hotels, changing sheets, washing towels and so on, I’d say that’s almost eco terrorism in terms of the amount of water and detergent used and energy consumption too.

Click: Generally, in what ways are hotels bad at sustainability? Do you think money is the bottom line why they don’t improve?

Kinsman: Hospitality is about providing various services for a customer, and hotels will generally choose the most cost-effective way of doing that. But if they just thought a little bit more deeply and pushed purpose higher up the agenda along with profit they could be more responsible without it affecting their bottom line. For example, if you invest in renewable energy, yes there’s going to be a cost in the short term but ultimately, you’ll make savings. And don’t pander to what the consumer thinks they want, such as all those lovely little luxury single-use plastic bottles of shampoo and body lotion. Educate them and say we have refillable plastic pumps because it saves this much plastic.


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Click: In what ways are we seeing any signs of improvement?

Kinsman: Everyone has woken up to the plastic issue. Plastic straws have been made the “poster child” for the anti-plastic campaign but that is just the tip of the iceberg. Major hotel brands are sending out press releases saying, “we’re getting rid of straws”, which is great, but that is one tiny example. We still need to tackle things like disposable coffee cups, bathroom toiletries and plastic food-wrap in the kitchens which the public never sees. Single-use bottles of water in particular too. For example, I stayed at a hotel in Tasmania recently, which I absolutely loved and is exemplary when it comes to renewable energy and is architecturally environmentally-friendly, but I thought it was a shame that for whatever reason they still give out plastic bottles of water.

I’ve just been working with a brand-new hotel in Mauritius called Salt and I’m really excited because they identified a pesticide issue on the island, which no one was talking about before. They’re creating and supplying non-chemically treated food in a brand-new way and really putting the spotlight on that issue.

Click: If a hotel has never really thought about sustainability what are the first steps it can take to start to be greener, before hopefully going further?

Kinsman: Think about minimising waste and what goes to landfill. Try and create a circular economy, so think about the origins of what you’re using and where products end up. Buy from ethical suppliers. Make sure you invest in your staff – pay fairly and provide good working conditions.

Check out Booking Cares, Booking.com’s Corporate Social Responsibility programme

Will Hide is a travel writer and journalist, who spent 12 years on the travel desk of The Times before turning freelance

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