At some point over the past 11 years, we have all heard of the IMVELO competition recognising the efforts of hospitality enterprises in embarking on the path of sustainability. The articles on the IMVELO praise the environmental management systems of the regular entrants and certainly inspire us readers to investigate our own commitment to sustainable business practices. The IMVELO is creating significant awareness of environmental management issues in the industry. Some of us are motivated by the extent of the green engagement of the finalist in this competition. Others might feel intrigued and a little overwhelmed.  What does it actually mean to be “green”? Where would one even start within a hospitality business? What does it entail to take action and reduce environmental impacts associated with day to day operations?  In short, what is it that makes a hospitality business truly green?

We could assume that a guest house, hotel or restaurant is termed green when it is managed with as small an ecological footprint as possible. This includes minimal impact upstream (before resources enter the facility) and downstream (after resources have left the facility). This minimal impact on our environment in all operations can be achieved through numerous things such as using renewable energy and conscious procurement; the main one however is efficiency.

Efficiency is the production of a desired effect with a minimum amount of effort pollution or waste, it is using less to achieve the same result.  When “greenness” is being stripped to its core, it means elimination of squandering wastage: Less water, less electricity, less fuel, less non-biodegradable consumables, less contaminants, less waste. But being green means not that we offer barely lit rooms, that we ask guests to shower less, that the hotel is cold and unheated … No, it means we offer what we normally offer but with less resources. In other words we utilise the same amount of light using less electricity, we run a swimming pool using less water, we offer a warm restaurant causing less pollution. Overall this means that we have to be less wasteful in all actions relating to the business operation. That’s it: efficiency.

Efficiency can be achieved through measuring and improving the environmental performance of an entire operation and is categorized into 4 areas: Water, energy, waste and contaminants. For day to day operations it would mean one looks at every single corner, every single device, every single water outlet, every single purchase. Basically anything in the facility, which could possibly have an ecological impact. Once inefficiencies in these areas have been identified, appropriate efficiency measures and mechanisms have to be chosen and implemented. The opportunities to be greener are seemingly endless yet do not always suit every business, budget or circumstances.

A general resource management process leading to greater efficiency would look as follows:

Resource efficiency management process

Everybody can benefit from seeking better efficiency. Regardless of whether one wants to make small, incremental improvements, or grandiose, world-shaking changes, one does need to sacrifice the quality of the establishment. Yet most importantly, staff and management need to become skilled at greening the day to day operations and at setting up as well as maintaining efficiency. And this is the key: training and education. One cannot expect to solve problems with the same knowledge that has created them. We need to learn about efficiency and how to use less whilst achieving the same.

There are environmental training courses designed to facilitate changes in the hospitality environment. These impart knowledge on how to save water and energy and reduce pollution and waste effectively.  In an eco-consulting or resource management course, participants are trained to thoroughly inspect a hotel/guest house as well as associated offices and to analyse resource consumption and detect inefficiency.  Professional training will demonstrate how to establish a detailed strategy and choose appropriate measures to take this particular guest house small hotel and its customer’s lifestyle to a more efficient level. Methods to maintain sustainability and changes are imparted leading to an understanding of green business practice in the context of a hospitality environment. Comparing historical resource consumption and monitoring financial savings each year form an integral skill. The result will be the ability to champion the journey complete with a comprehensive plan to establish a long lasting environmental performance, which benefits many: the business, the stakeholders, the guests, the community and our planet.

I think it is time to walk the talk of the hospitality industry. Let’s all move on from environmental awareness to implementation and thereby create a green hospitality industry that is true and evident. For hospitality businesses of any size it would be irresponsible to operate without an environmental management and resource plan. Sustainability is a journey we have to take – yet one needs to know where one is going – and that can be learnt. So, when it comes to the IMVELO awards, I would like to see independent hotels, small guest houses and trendy restaurants all being winners!

Natural medicine, vitamins and nutrition are some of the ways to keep colds and flu at bay in winter. Another way is the often forgotten old housewife’s recommendation to keep warm, and it has proved its merit over the centuries.

Keeping warm with clothes is one option, the other is to warm your house and then keep it warm. The natural recipe of making sure one is snug and cosy during winter within our four walls, has been forgotten by many. This article aims to help readers to ensure that their homes are easier to warm and keep warm.

Most homes in South Africa are built to handle one season only, the Mediterranean to tropical climate. Many homes are therefore poorly designed with regards to heating and cooling. In fact, due to infinite and cheap electricity supply builders and architects alike have often dismissed traditional building layouts and insulation features for the benefit of good looking designs, large open plan living areas double volume spaces and most of all low building costs.
To avoid catching a cold inside, one has to quite simply keep the cold out of the house and the warmth inside the house. Not really a secret, but a science. Once these scientific principles of how hot and cold air move around are better understood, keeping warm is really simple and saves money.

Natural energy patterns move hot and cold air around inside a house. We can’t see it but we might feel it. Any home is practically a microclimatic zone and features natural air movements through convection, conduction and radiation. These “In-house weather” patterns collaborate in many ways:

Convection

The classic “chimney effect” is hot air rising and cool air falling. We all know that a balloon filled with warm air will rise. Since hot air expands and thus has more volume than cool air, it is lighter and therefore rises up. This natural chimney effect is no different in a home and is more prominent in a double volume or double storey home. Any warm air downstairs rises either directly toward the ceiling or upstairs leaving the occupants below in the cold despite the hard working heater. As this hot air moves upwards it draws in turn cold air below it. If you stick your hand under a door with a gap, you can feel a cold draught coming in.

Some of you might now wonder about a fireplace chimney? Up to 75% of the heat generated by an open fireplace is drawn up through the chimney by the “chimney effect” in the same fashion any heat would rise. And it gets worse: an oxygen hungry open fire will draw so much more fresh oxygen from wherever it can, a crack in the window, a gap under the door. The result is a constant supply of fresh cool outside air coming into your home. Warmth has little chance to build up with this convection effect. The place in the whole home that really feels warm is only right in front of the fireplace.

The remedy for convection:

  • close doors that lead upstairs unless you want the warm air to flow upstairs to the bedrooms
  • reverse ceiling fans to bring warm air which has risen up to the ceiling down again
  • close doors to unused rooms
  • close up the chimney of an unused fireplace which is a perfect “chimney” to draw up any warmth from the home to the outside. One can use what is called a chimney balloon.
  • ensure all windows in the home are closed
  • cover vents during colder times
  • eliminate cracks and gaps in doors and windows using weather strips and door brushes
  • close any holes in the ceiling, watch out for unused down-lighter shafts.
  • close open keyholes

Conduction

In scientific terms conduction is the transfer of thermal energy between neighbouring molecules in a substance due to temperature gradient. It always takes place from a region of higher temperature to a region of lower temperature, and acts to equalize temperature differences. In home terms, warmth that builds up just below our ceilings, because of the “chimney effect”, will then move through the ceiling boards to equalize with the colder temperature that sits in the attic. How quickly the warmth will get through the ceiling boards and into the attic depends on the resistance of the material being used, the so called R-value. Like our bodies which need fleece and thick warm cotton jumpers, our homes also need insulation to increase the R-value of the materials that separate colder from warmer areas. Remember, warmth will always try its best to escape to colder regions.

The remedy for conduction:

  • Ensure there is plenty of insulation above all ceiling boards, the thicker and fluffier the better
  • Close curtains on windows and glass doors
  • Close French or American shutters outside your windows
  • Plaster walls
  • Install double glazing windows

Radiation

Radiation is when a hot object emits electromagnetic waves. These short waves deposit their energy by heating materials which in turn then emit the energy as long waves in form of heat. The biggest and most effective radiator we know is the sun. Quite different from many other countries, winter sun here in South Africa is not only a common sight but also a relatively long one: our shortest day is 10 hours long.

Have you noticed that your usually super hot car in summer is now just so snug and warm in winter? The heat building up in your car is classically called the greenhouse effect. And why not harvest it in one’s home, too? All we need to do is capture the warmth that the sun shining through the windows onto our floors and furniture has caused. We can harvest the warmth these materials give to the air in our home as long as there is no way for it to escape through convection or conduction. Ever heard of a winter garden? On a cold but sunny day, a well constructed winter garden with open doors into the rest of the home can act as a great source of warmth for the whole house. Of course, not only a winter garden can contribute warmth, but any closed window pane facing the sun.

Remedies to capture radiation:

  •  Allow sunshine to come through the windows into the room
  • Open curtains and blinds, but not windows
  • Cut back trees which cast shadows on north facing windows
  • Rather have deciduous trees near your house and windows than evergreens as these allow sunshine to come through your window when you need it in winter
  • Have a well insulated winter garden or a conservatory
  • Do not drain hot boiling water from your pasta or potatoes into the sewerage. If you keep it in your sink it will radiate some warmth into your kitchen.
  • And last but not least: sit by the window in the sun.

So now you know. And remember that these three natural forces work hand in hand with any artificial heating method, such as wall panels, under-floor heating, fan heaters, etc. In fact they make your heating system more effective and therefore more environmentally friendly by maintaining the warmth where you want it. Well managed together these “weather patterns” are certain to keep any cold at bay and save you not only money on utility bills but possibly on medical bills as well. Always keep in mind, if you give warmth the chance to move out, your cold will move in!

Oh, and by the way, when it comes to summer, think the other way round: let the heat escape from your home! Just before summer, I’ll let you know how to keep your cool!

South Africa is facing rising energy costs and a future of unstable energy supply; this has led to numerous initiatives aimed at reducing energy consumption, such as Eskom’s 49m campaign. The 49m campaign aims to inspire all 49 million South Africans to save electricity by making small behavioural changes.

The 49m campaign illustrates ten pledges that would save electricity:

  1. Turn off your heater: Warm up through exercise
  2. Turn off you heater: Play with your pets
  3. Defrost your fridge regularly
  4. Save water
  5. Watch less television
  6. Clean your oven windows to see inside without losing heat
  7. Turn off unnecessary lights
  8. Turn the thermostat down
  9. Only fill the kettle with as much water as you need
  10. Switch off appliances that are on standby

All ten pledges involve small individual changes in behaviour, which collectively across South Africa will make a significant difference in energy consumption.

One of the easiest ways to save electricity (as seen in pledge number ten) is to turn off appliances you aren’t using. When appliances are on standby they are consuming energy, this phenomenon is termed vampire power. Recognizing energy vampires and reducing their power consumption is an obvious energy saving technique that anyone can easily carry out; not only to save energy but also as a personal cost-saving habit.

A simple step to take towards greening your home is to become aware of the top energy vampire offenders and unplug them when they are not in use. Almost all appliances draw energy while on standby; in order to detect energy vampires we need to know where the primary culprits lie. The main offenders are:

  • All appliances that are turned on via a wireless remote control; when on standby these appliances are continuously drawing energy in order to power the receiver that senses the remote control.
  • All appliances that have a digital clock face. This may include microwaves or sound systems that constantly draw energy to power the digital display.
  • Mobile phone chargers; when plugged into the wall socket cell phones chargers draw power even when they are not charging a mobile phone.

The following are examples of a few easy ways to reduce the energy vampires in your home:

  • The first and most obvious way to reduce the costs of vampire power in your home is to turn off appliances at the wall socket. If no power is able to reach the appliance it is not unnecessarily drawing energy.
  • Turn off appliances using their on/off button and not using the remote control.
  • Close the microwave door; if the door is open then the light is on and consuming energy.
  • Reduce your energy demand; the fewer appliances you have the less power they can draw.
  • Unplug your mobile phone charger when not in use.
  • Plugging numerous appliances onto one strip provides an easy solution for switching off multiple appliances at once.
  • Smart strips are an effective product that sense when appliances are not in use and automatically turn off plug loads.
  • For televisions or computers and their accessories, a smart strip monitors the power of the primary appliance and when not in use turns off all accessories. For example, you don’t need your printer on when your computer is not in use.

It only takes a few behavioural changes around the home to decrease energy consumption and save on electricity bills. Following the ten pledges is an easy way for anyone to begin energy saving habits that reduce costs.