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Q&A: Aine Martin, Green Manager, Hotel Doolin

Co. Clare’s Hotel Doolin has become the first Irish hotel awarded carbon neutral status by The Green Hospitality Programme – a national resource for sustainable and responsible tourism in Ireland recognised by governmental authorities including Fáilte Ireland, Tourism Ireland, Discover Ireland and the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI).

Hotel Doolin implemented a comprehensive carbon/energy reduction programme throughout its site over the last number of years. We spoke with Aine Martin – the hotel’s Green Manager – to find out about the reasoning behind this switch and the logistics of making such changes.

Food for Thought – FFT.ie: How does it feel to be recognised as carbon neutral by The Green Hospitality Programme?
Aine Martin: It’s wonderful to have our team’s hard work recognised! Our newfound status has taken the creativity and commitment of everyone here. The team surpassed expectations not only adopting our new policies without question but proactively suggesting new creative initiatives as well. We’re really proud to lead industry standards as a small boutique hotel in the west of Ireland and prove that achieving carbon neutral status is accessible to all businesses. 

How did you go about the process to be recognised as a carbon neutral business?
We worked with the Green Hospitality Programme – a national resource for sustainable and responsible tourism in Ireland recognised by governmental authorities including Fáilte Ireland, Tourism Ireland, Discover Ireland and the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI). Certification included several visits by the awarding team and our creation of a five-year energy efficiency plan before ultimately being assessed and awarded.

What have you done to become carbon neutral?
At the forefront of our plan was changing energy from oil to green electricity – we now use an ambient air-to-water system that has reduced our consumption from 465 tonnes of carbon in 2017 to a projected 110 tonnes by the end of 2019. We also changed all the lights to LED.

We’re committed to planting 10 native trees locally per wedding too which has resulted in 1700 trees in the last two years, with each tree offsetting a tonne of carbon per annum. It’s actually something we offer our wedding couples as a gift as part of our wedding packages – a really meaningful activity in that couples will always have a real-life connection to the area. In 2018 we replaced our wedding marquee with an A-rated, 100% sound-proof purpose-built wedding venue called the Eco Barn which is extremely efficient while also offering the unique magic of an alternative wedding setting.

We have also installed a 50-foot polytunnel where we grow lots of vegetables and herbs, we actively harvest rainwater – we get quite a bit of rain here in Co. Clare! We banned the sale of plastic bottles and all single use plastics which was a bold move but one that our suppliers have generously supported us in. It’s actually one of the most-loved initiatives by guests as it’s the most tangible within their experience. We get lots of positive feedback on our wooden ‘do not disturb’ signs and reusable napkins. Over 70% of our food is supplied by businesses within a 50km radius – you don’t get more farm to fork than that!

We actively monitor energy consumption and created an active energy management and reduction plan.  We actively aim to reduce waste and water consumption, we support local businesses.

Did it involve a lot of investment?
We made a substantial financial commitment to fulfill this programme but this shows how we as a brand value and respect our position as a Wild Atlantic Way hotel. We’re committed to future proofing and in doing so delivering immediate benefits for both our eco-conscious guests and our surrounding ecosystem. Being environmentally-focused is above all else, the right thing to do.

Why did you decide to change the way you run your premises?
Hotel Doolin is located along the Wild Atlantic Way which is a very special place in the Burren & Cliffs of Moher Geopark. Our area boasts unique geology, heritage and culture and it not only made sense to take care of the environment and respect the community that we are so fortunate to be a part of; but it also responded to our passions as a team.

What was particularly challenging about the process?
Of course, the day-to-day business of running the hotel had to continue while we focused on sustainability. Sometimes it can be challenging to set the time aside to achieve our environmental aims and objectives. However, it’s undoubtedly more worthwhile than we could ever imagine and teamwork and passion gets us through. Communicating our belief system effectively to both employees and customers is essential to the success of such a project.

Aside from environmentally, what are the benefits of making the change?
We have found that there has been a significant increase in the demand for an eco-wedding venue as couples are increasingly putting their beliefs to the forefront, so the wedding market has been a great performer for us. We went from no weddings a few years ago to 92 per year. Our overnight guests too, both domestic and international, are aware of their carbon footprint and we have found an increase in returning business the more we aligned with this. It is also becoming more apparent that being a sustainable workplace is very beneficial in attracting and retaining staff.

How long did the process take?
The process took three years but that’s only to get to where we are now. The commitment is permanent, and we continue to monitor our results and adopt further initiatives where we can to reduce our footprint and enhance the guest experience even more.

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