SPOTLIGHTING SMART SUSTAINABILITY
As we invest in our approach to sustainability and embark on an exciting journey to become a Certified B-Corp, we are greatly inspired by those hospitality businesses already making strides in using business as a force for good.
In the first of what we hope will be a series of interviews with sustainability leaders, we shine a spotlight on the practices of one of Scotland's first country house hotels, Rufflets in St Andrews.
We spoke to Partner and Managing Director, Marco Truffelli GMBPsS FIH MI, to hear more.
How has Rufflets approached becoming a more sustainable business?
Well, wording and language are important to us and, of course, sustainability is the common definition of this drive towards protecting Earth from all the challenges we've been facing, but ignoring for a number of years. However, at Rufflets we prefer to talk about 'responsibility', as in being a responsible business.
We've taken a holistic approach that focuses on the people first and the planet within them, meaning that to be able to save the planet we need people to be self aware of the challenges that we're facing. We spend as much time on the people as we do on the practices themselves.
As an example, we now know that if you're a regular smoker there's a 50% chance that you'll die of a smoking-related illness. That's known, and yet heavy smokers continue to smoke. If we take that same analogy into sustainability, we now know more than ever before the facts around the trajectory of travel and yet we all keep doing things that we shouldn't be.
To be truly sustainable, we believe that you first have to be self aware and responsible.
Can you share some of the initiatives you've worked on?
A lot of our activities centre around our kitchen garden and grounds.
Our organic soil manifesto centres on our agricultural practices and our investment in the earth, quite literally. Monocropping has been depleting the richness of soil in agriculture since the turn of the century, so our Head Gardener, Logie Cassells, began rotating crops over 2 years ago to make sure that the ground is fertilised naturally.
Another key part of what we're doing began in 2021; our journey to apply for organic soil certification. The process usually takes around 2-3 years, so hopefully we should achieve this soon. There will be an inspection to make sure that no fertilisers, weed killers or any foreign agents have been used across the 10 acres of Rufflets.
This has been a fascinating journey, with a lot of learning and education for us and for our guests. For example, the Summer can bring extreme showers and heat which leads to the flourishing of the wrong greenery. Or the right greenery, but in the wrong places. Of course, we always say that weeds only exist in the English language, not in other languages. So there's a task to educate our guests that, yes, during moments of extreme weather we may well see a sprouting of weeds but that's because we're not using weed killers.
We feed our soil well, using seaweed as one of the most incredible natural nutrients as well as organic kitchen waste. Those organic food scraps also help to feed our 35 ladies; our chickens. They have the best diet in Scotland! They produce, subject to the weather, up to 240 eggs per week, which we mainly use to feed our weekend guests.
Also, for the first time in Scotland, we have produced organic hops that have grown very, very well. We've partnered with a local organic beer producer, Futtle, to produce a 4,000 can batch of organic beer, produced with organic hops. We're already planning a second batch, so this is a real milestone. Everybody said 'you can't grow organic hops in Scotland' but Logie said 'yes, you can' and, of course, we have.
We're also planning further partnerships using the ingredients from our kitchen gardens, but it will never be mass production.
Overall, it's really the knowledge that Logie brings that is one of the key determinants in this success story.
How has Sustainability Coach, Dominique King, helped to support your sustainability journey?
Dominique has been instrumental in giving us structure in our journey; helping us go from the mission, to the vision, to the values and to the operationalisation of everything.
It's been very important to us as we had devised a 5 year strategy for the business. In that, we had clearly identified our mission and vision, but we knew that, at some point, we would need to consider how we talk about us being a responsible business.
Going through the process with Dominique made us realise that to really be true to our own vision, the sustainability element had to be integral with our mission and vision.
And now Dominique is helping us with the further embedding and implementation of sustainability into everything that we do. Of course, it's a journey that's pace is dictated by our own business capacity but I'm a huge believer in taking incremental steps.
Dominique has helped us to make that vision wholesome because it now touches on every single aspect of our operation and it's given me a tool to ensure that whatever we do, it has to be congruent with our vision.
You can read more about Dominique's Sustainability Coaching services here.
How did you approach involving the wider team?
Well, it's like a French Press and the slow release of coffee. It's definitely not an espresso with an immediate shot.
We've gone through layers. We started the journey with a very intimate group of 2 or 3, before expanding that out to a few more people and now we're at the stage of involving the whole team. We wanted to make sure that when the questions naturally came, we weren't looking at each other scrambling for answers. We all needed to sing from the same hymn sheet.
Commercially, what benefits have you seen from becoming a more sustainable business?
I think the proof to our organic pudding will be in the Autumn of 2023. September will see the launch of our new luxury shepherd huts and a lot of our journey, so far, is focused around this huge milestone. This will enable us to position Rufflets in a different echelon. As a product, these are our first tangible macro-statement of us adopting a different model, on the basis of being a responsible business.
We're no longer developing a room with a bathroom, we're developing a destination that exists to provide a restorative and rejuvenating experience. We are almost guaranteeing the best sleep that one could ever have. Everything, from the materials we've chosen to build the huts, to the way that they're constructed and how power is supplied, it's all centred around that sustainability element.
The fact that they're immersed in the woodland, in contact with nature, is basically making that destination experience at one with nature.
They're also a fantastic opportunity for us to experiment and test. For example, we're not going to use chemicals to clean the natural materials within the shepherd huts. So what can we learn from this approach that we can potentially apply to the rooms of the hotel itself?
"Ultimately, we have to change minds from thinking that something looks ugly, just because we're not used to seeing something that way. Amy Edmondson from Harvard Business School said, relating to sustainability, 'when we talk about mind shift, the basic human challenge is this: it is difficult to learn, if you already know'. So for us, it's about applying that sentiment to everything we do and, perhaps, we all need to unknow a few things to enable us to learn."
Marco Truffelli, Partner and Managing Director
Finally, any mistakes you’ve made along the way that other hoteliers could learn from?
Well, I'd like to think I'm a straight-talker but I'm a stickler for language and always want to ensure we don't negatively influence our own minds in this journey, so I never treat experiences as mistakes.
I think you can treat this journey as a focus on a destination, along with the intention. So when you have intention as well as the focus on the destination, there's many different routes to get to that end point. That said, being a responsible business and focusing on sustainability isn't a marathon with a finishing line.
Our approach is very much empirical; trial and error. If someone wants to define that error as a mistake then that's fine, but we don't treat it as such. It's an opportunity to do it better next time.
If there was one area where we're more self-critical, it's probably a reluctance in sharing our journey until we've done a few trials. But there is a reason in the methodology that says 'who are we?' and 'in what business are we in?. We believe we're here to entertain and educate, in a non-patronising way, our fellow guests. That education piece needs to be delivered with a bit of entertainment, so for example, rather than patronising a guest who notices a few weeds in our garden with a response of 'did you know that...', we pop a few signs around the gardens that say 'do I look ugly?' with a brief explanation of our journey.
Ultimately, we have to change minds from thinking that something looks ugly, just because we're not used to seeing something that way. Amy Edmondson from Harvard Business School said, relating to sustainability, 'when we talk about mind shift, the basic human challenge is this: it is difficult to learn, if you already know'. So for us, it's about applying that sentiment to everything we do and perhaps we all need to unknow a few things to enable us to learn.
And you know what? The amount of comments we've had through guest feedback in relation to the gardens has completely turned around in the last few months. From 'that doesn't look very well kept' to 'wow, we can really see what you're doing here'.