Dad (Michael to everyone else!) previously worked for a multi-national thread manufacturer as CEO and it was through that role that sustainability and CSR really took on an importance within his general business ethos. In many discussions that we had as a family (before we became partners), it was something that he passed onto us as key to any responsible business and, therefore, became a driving force when we first took over the Dowans in 2012. From the word ‘go’, it was at the top of the agenda – although considering how much work we had to do when we first walked through the doors as owners, it sometimes slipped to peg 3 or 4 depending on the day!
Having set a basis for productive thought around the subject made the job of creating a sustainable working environment a bit easier but it was by no means simple! Challenges abound when you are running a business for the first time (even with mountains of experience in various sections of it – as we all did) and so trying to ensure that it remains at the fore-front of everything that you are implementing can be tricky but within the first few years, we had managed to achieve a fair chunk of what now forms the basis of a ‘full’ sustainability policy as follows:
- Through our renovations, we re-wired the entire building (no mean feat as it very quickly became obvious that a lot of the wiring had been patched together over various decades!) and when we put in new lighting, we changed all of the lighting to LED ensuring that we were more energy efficient.
- Also, throughout our renovation of the hotel, we ensured that there was the provision of enhanced insulation where possible and, on inspection of some of the windows that we determined were not ‘fit for purpose’, we replaced these with double glazed versions ensuring that we could maintain a higher level of heat retention and therefore energy efficiency.
- Back in September 2017, we became the first hospitality business in the area to utilise non-plastic Vegware straws for all of our drinks in the bar. This, at the time, was not very common practice and so was a fairly expensive venture, however, we believed that it was worth the cost!
- A lot of our orders for the kitchen used to be delivered in plastic bags, polystyrene boxes and non-disposable packaging; after several conversations with our suppliers (Steph bit their ears off with constant contact!), we were able to come to an agreement whereby we minimised on the non-disposable elements of the deliveries (putting items into larger reusable plastic containers; putting fruit and vegetables into paper bags; utilisation of biodegradable bags for some of our more delicate fruit items etc) and also, for our fish deliveries that used the polystyrene boxes, we made a purchase of two Yeti cooler boxes so as to permit the delivery of the items to ourselves minus that packaging.
- A further conversation that we had with our suppliers (Steph became a real thorn in their side for a few weeks whilst these things were being ironed out!) was the ability for us to source produce that was, as much as possible, locally caught/reared, of a seasonal nature and also, with regards to our seafood deliveries, sustainable. With specificity, this meant line caught and landed fish, locally creel caught lobsters and langoustines from the Moray Firth, Aberdeen Angus beef from two locally based farms, new season and late season lamb from local farms, seasonal game offerings from Ballindalloch Estate and fruit and vegetables grown by a passionate local based on the other side of the river from us! We are truly fervent in our belief that local and seasonal produce offers us the opportunity to sing the praises of what Scotland’s larder has to offer and, beyond that, we believe that our staff should have the means by which to explain this ethos as it is through their hard work that our guests can share in this initiative!
- Most recently, we have implemented a dynamic wine list that celebrate organic and sustainable production in the industry – primarily, we selected those wines whose stories offer the most concentrated efforts in this arena and we couldn’t be more delighted with how it looks! We’ll discuss this in more detail in a specific wine related blog to come.
Corporate Social Responsibility is so much more than the above measures though and we are happy to say that the ‘social’ element of our policy is well and truly covered as well as follows:
- From our first few weeks here, we have made it our mission to contribute as much to the local community as we can with regular requests for donations, raffle prizes and charitable endowments being met with positivity – it is our firm belief that charity is fundamental to a life of worth and, as children, Lauren and Steph had this constantly re-emphasised to them with charitable work forming a substantial part of their young lives.
- Over and above the donations that we give to local community events and raffles, we have also ensured that we host an event each year (and some years have meant more than one event was held) with all proceeds going directly to a chosen charity selected because of its relation either to the business (Aberlour Childcare Trust - Scotland's largest children's charity that extended from the Aberlour Orphanage of which the Dowans formed the nursery section), our family's relation to a charity or cause (Alzheimer Scotland) or local cause (Maternity Ward 3 at Dr Grays' Hospital).
- The welfare of our staff is, we believe, what encourages our low turnover – a work life balance is particularly difficult to manage in a hospitality context due to the unsociable hours, the length of shifts and the low pay however, our slightly ‘unorthodox’ approach to these traditional elements of the industry is, what we believe, sets us apart. We have always paid higher than minimum wage and have an aim to, by the end of summer 2021, pay the real living wage; we close our bar at no later than midnight which means that our staff are not here to ridiculous hours of the morning (as we were in our first 18 months which meant 20 hour days, no sleep and a definite lack of work/life balance!) and our full time members of staff work no more than an average of 40 hours each week over the course of the year (capped at 50 hours at the absolute most in the height of the summer).
There is much more to be done to allow us to become a fully fledged sustainable business, but the above steps demonstrate our commitment to this end goal.
Have you implemented any sustainable approaches in your own personal lives/businesses that you think we could benefit in hearing about – get in touch, start a conversation and we’ll see where it leads to!