From bees to bins: how a London hotel aims to become truly net-zero | Hotels
We’ve all seen that sign in hotels where we are encouraged to reuse our towels for the sake of the planet. Often it’s just lip service. But what if that idea is taken a level upwards – to make your whole hotel sustainable?
That’s the premise at room2 in Chiswick, west London, said to be the world’s first net zero “hometel”. It’s forecast to be 89% more energy efficient than a typical UK hotel and has a host of sustainable measures, from solar panels to recycled furniture, zero food waste and a wildflower roof.
It’s the brainchild of owner Robert Godwin, who is passionate about driving a cultural shift in an industry where sustainability is often an afterthought.
I didn’t think an overnight hotel stay could make me think about climate change, but here it does, and not in a preachy way. The staff are all on board and proud of their sustainable goals – and all the small details add up.
As we arrive, someone is picking up an order from Too Good To Go, an app that connects people to restaurants and shops that have a food surplus, and the lobby is packed with plants and upcycled furniture.
Another welcome innovation is flexibility: check-in is from 2pm, as is check-out, so you get a full 24 hours to make the most of your stay.
Each room has a kitchenette – hence the hometel moniker – so it’s great for those who want to keep costs down by self-catering. Coffee and delicious food are available in the Boca restaurant on the ground floor – more on that later.
Our studio is flooded with light from big Crittall windows and has everything you could expect from a boutique stay: big, comfy bed with crisp linen, Roberts radio, calming colour scheme and the kitchen is fully-equipped.
I never thought I would get so excited about rubbish, but the three-in-one bin in the room – for food waste, mixed recycling and general waste – really makes us mindful of what we are using. Godwin tells us he looked at 200 bins from around the world, couldn’t find one that fitted his ethos, and came up with this design.
“We needed the right ones to encourage our guests to recycle in the right way,” says Godwin. “All of the waste is compartmentalised and sent to different plants for mixed recycling or renewable energy. And all food waste goes to a new life.”
There are natural textures everywhere: wood flooring, a blue-and-white striped fabric headboard, rattan chairs and a cork bench. A wooden Do Not Disturb sign, Post-it notes made of recycled paper, and pens and pencils which guests are asked to leave behind after use for future guests are nice touches.
Features such as the bespoke marble-print wallpaper in the bathroom and the Dali-esque handcrafted mirrors were inspired by Chiswick’s Arts and Crafts heritage. And any carbon emissions from unavoidable items such as the biggish television are offset by a tree-planting scheme with its reforesting partner in Nicaragua.
The energy-efficient shower – said to use 40% less water – is huge and powerful enough for any long-stayer. Bath towels are generously sized, and heavenly smelling body wash and shampoo come in dispensers from vegan brand Doers of London. Carpets on the corridors are made from recycled fishing nets, and in the basement there’s a 24-hour laundry and a gym with Peloton bikes, weights and yoga mats.
The real behind-the-scenes savings are in energy use, according to Godwin. “We are forecast to be 89% more energy efficient than a typical UK hotel and that’s largely through minimising heat and energy loss. We are built to new regulations and, collectively, it’s a massive improvement.”
Those improvements include a ground source heat pump, solar panels, motion sensors in the rooms, a green roof with 75,000 bees and wildflowers for biodiversity and insulation, and a blue roof to capture rainwater and minimise local flooding. Any additional power will be bought from solar, wind and hydro sources. Two lab rooms monitor the efficiency of the building and how guests use power and energy in their rooms.
So why is the hotel industry lagging behind on sustainability? “I think it’s a lack of will, and that comes from a lack of knowledge,” says Godwin, whose epiphany came after a trip to South Africa in 2019 where he saw first-hand the effects of climate change in droughts and collapsing food chains. He is now seen as a trailblazer, with big hotel chains including Hilton coming to him for advice.
In the Boca restaurant kitchen, there are no big fryers or extractor fans, and the menu, created by head chef Elisabetta Boi, has been adapted to be low energy. Boi tells us she is sourcing locally where she can, and bringing a taste of her Italian heritage. Zero waste is the aim here, too: potato peelings are made into vodka and any other waste is recycled or available on the Too Good To Go app.
We try some sample dishes of what is to come when Boca fully opens on 1 February, and they all pack a punch in flavour. There is delicious homemade focaccia with wholemeal flour, risotto with black truffle and parmesan, and a white radicchio salad with figs and house-made fresh ricotta. Puddings are a tiramisu with mascarpone and a mouthwatering panettone filled with ice-cream. Starters are from £8 and mains from £10.50, pretty much the going rate in Chiswick.
Next morning we grab a coffee and head off to Chiswick High Road, just paces away. There is no need for a car park at room2, as public transport is so good. Turnham Green station is three minutes’ walk away, from where it’s a 20-minute tube journey into central London. There are frequent buses to Kew Gardens or Richmond Park, or you can wander down to the Thames to admire the houses of leading Arts and Crafts figures Emery Walker and William Morris.
Morris urged people to have nothing in their house that wasn’t beautiful or useful. Room2 has beauty and utility in abundance, and shows that being net zero doesn’t have to mean compromising on comfort or style. Doubles from £116 room only, room2.com/chiswick
Four sustainable European hotels
On a farm in southern Iceland, Hotel Fljótshlíð has been certified by Svanurinn, a Nordic eco labelling scheme, which means it is one of the most environment-friendly hotels in the area. Its 14 rooms have heated floors and private bathrooms, all powered by renewable energy. Nationwide, Iceland uses 70% hydropower and 30% geothermal. Guests can pay to plant trees to offset their carbon footprint, and the hotel is aiming for zero food waste. Local jams, meat, eggs and vegetables can be bought on site or in the restaurant. There are views of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano, and guests can go horse riding or tour the working farm. Doubles from £106 B&B, smaratun.is
In Zagori, north-western Greece, Aristi Mountain Resort & Villas was built with traditional methods and using only locally available materials. Water consumption is minimised with pressure regulators and wastewater is recycled through a hi-tech cleaning system. It’s a member of Stay Beyond Green, a hotel network that is vetted according to UN sustainable development goals. The hotel’s award-winning Salvia restaurant uses fruit and vegetables from its own gardens and greenhouse, rears its own chickens and has local trout on the menu. The 24 rooms, suites and villas are spread out so they blend into the mountains, and activities include hiking, rafting, horse riding and birdwatching. Doubles from €178 B&B, aristi.eu
Opened last September, the Wren in Dublin uses 100% renewable energy and recyclable and biodegradable materials. Aiming to be Ireland’s most sustainable hotel, it makes a conscious effort to limit single-use plastics in its 137 rooms and puts a big emphasis on local. Wonky veg is used in the kitchen and waste is reduced by using Too Good To Go. The ALT bar makes the most of local distilleries and breweries, with Irish whiskey, Dingle gin and micro ales on tap. It’s a four-minute walk to Trinity College and Grafton Street and a 19-minute walk to Connolly, the country’s busiest train station. Rooms from €129 room only, wrenhotel.ie
In the Alqueva dark sky reserve, Montimerso Skyscape Country House has 15 rooms, all with contemporary Portuguese furnishings, and a terrace or balcony. Rainwater is used for irrigation and, because of its dark sky location, light pollution has been reduced. The staff are mostly from the local Alentejo region and local food suppliers are used wherever possible. The big draw here is the sky – the reserve was the world’s first Unesco-certified starlight tourism destination. Guests can use binoculars to look at distant stars and planets from the stargazing platform; other activities include cycling and wine tasting. Doubles from €200 B&B, montimerso.pt