Learnings from the inaugural SCALE Green conference

Inspirational speakers shared their sustainability journeys with practical advice and replicable actions

The first sustainability conference for the short-term rental industry took place on Tuesday 23rd April in London launched by Damian Sheridan and Gianpaolo Vairo of the SCALE family of shows . It was organised by an expert team including our Co-Founder and CEO, Vanessa de Souza Lage. Alongside Marc Ribail of QALIA, Bob Garner of EnviroRental and sustainability marketing specialist, Nikki Mattei (who writes these articles for Sustonica Insights).  This ground-breaking conference brought together property managers who were keen to understand how sustainability can become a positive part of their business model.

In this article, we will take you through the key takeaways from the different presentations.


Why we are here and why it matters

Bob Garner and Nikki Mattei opened the conference and set out the purpose and format of the day. The conference was designed from the outset to be action-oriented with delegates leaving with a blueprint for their sustainability strategy. It was packed with advice from property managers and other experts who openly shared their own experiences of developing an ESG strategy.

As did many other speakers, the annual Booking.com Sustainable Travel Report was highlighted showing the demand amongst travellers for more sustainable stays. Bob outlined the business benefits of sustainability for the STR industry, which were clearly backed up by the various speakers.

  • Differentiation
  • Prominence
  • Consumer demand
  • Improved profitability
  • Increased publicity
  • Future-proofing
  • Staff attraction and retention
  • More bookings
  • Elevated guest experience
  • Purpose-led branding

Over the past few years, interest in sustainability has been steadily growing in the vacation rental industry. The subject is widely reported in the media and is featured at all the major industry conferences. Furthermore, there are now categories for sustainability in industry awards and some leading property management companies have clear ESG policies. Then, of course, there is the Sustonica badge specifically for short-term rental property owners and managers!


Purpose and profit in vacation rentals

This session was presented by Graham Donoghue of Forge Holiday Group which includes Sykes Holiday Cottages and Forest Holidays. Across the group they manage 33,000 properties with an annual revenue of £0.2 billion. With a business of this size, it is clear to understand the environmental and social impact this adds up to. Graham shared the ways the group is striving to reduce that impact and operate as a purpose-led business.

The Group became a B Corp in May 2023 with its purpose to “Create lasting holiday memories with a positive social and environmental impact.”  As part of this purpose, every employee is given paid holiday for volunteering with a variety of different organisations. In addition,the group donates holidays to families who are facing the most challenging of times.


Our impact on people and the planet is as important to us as shareholder profit. We’ve introduced new ways of working to make a positive impact and do our bit to create a cleaner, greener, fairer future for all.


Graham shared his “5 easy sustainable switches” which could be taken on board by any property management company:

  • 100% renewable energy tariff
  • Recycled toilet paper and kitchen towel
  • Shampoo and shower gel free from microplastics
  • Attach a “Flow Restrictor” to your shower head and save 30 litres of water per shower
  • Join Sustonica

The Forge Group recognises its responsibility within the short-term rental sector and the power it has to influence the whole industry.


Engage and empower: community and guest involvement

The next speaker to take to the floor was Dale Smith, Founder and CEO of Host & Stay. He shared the progress of the business’ ESG (Environmental, Social. Governance) strategy with a specific focus on the cost savings made as a result.

The company reduced consumable costs like the elimination of 65,450 wet floor wipes and kitchen roll as well as providing less hand towels. These savings went immediately to the bottom line without having a significant impact on the guest experience.

Host & Stay created a purpose statement which incorporated local communities as an integral part : “Pushing boundaries to create better places to live, work and stay.” As such, their ESG strategy is based on three key pillars: Supporting our people, Protecting our places, Pioneering change.

Dale went on to explain their new initiative, MANAGEGREEN, created to improve environmental impact across the business. Ultimately, this has led to improved efficiency and cost savings. This new programme encourages owners to be certified by Sustonica as well as partnering with new eco suppliers. Alongside reductions, Host & Stay offsets its carbon footprint with organisations like Ecologi and Green The UK. These partnerships facilitate reforestation and wildlife conservation programmes.


Did you know that every pound spent with a local business has a multiplier effect of 2 to 4 times vs the same pound spent with a non-local or national business/chain?


Host & Stay’s latest sustainability project is its StayLocal initiative which shines a spotlight on local retailers in the towns where it operates. These independent shops create the unique character of a destination and positively impact on the guest experience. In addition, when guests spend with a local retailer they are part of creating a thriving local economy.


Sustainability advocacy: guiding owners to greener choices

Rachel Parsons definitely walks the walk. She set up New Forest Escapes in 2013, leading the business to B Corp status, and now supports other tourism businesses to do the same. In addition, she is a business and life coach and has just launched “The What If Department” to inspire and create change-focused businesses.

Rachel focused on the most fundamental aspect of a holiday: happiness. This is why people travel and what they expect to feel. The guest experience should always create that feeling of inner contentment with a sense of fun. Set this against a backdrop of eco-anxiety, particularly amongst younger generations, and its not hard to understand why sustainability can often get a bad press.

The ‘S’ word is often viewed as the right thing to do but boring. Why would you choose a healthy cake when you’re on holiday, when there is a decadent one on offer as well? We need to create cakes which are both healthy and delicious and it can be done – Rachel has achieved this with her Green Velvet Cake!

It is so important to use the write language and create experiences which are less harmful for the environment but always appeal to that feeling of “happiness”. So, think about connecting guests with wildlife, local human stories and mouthwatering local delicacies. Always remember to make it personal.

Rachel shared some innovative sustainable examples from tourism businesses like Cornish Gems’ rethought welcome pack and The Thinking Travellers’ focus on eating invasive fish to protect native stocks. These examples are part of a new project called ‘The Sustainable Practice Guide” which will be launching very soon.


Certification advantage: beyond the basics

Our Sustonica Founder, Vanessa, and Marc of QALIA explained the drivers behind sustainability certifications as well as the main areas of impact for property management companies. They focused on the E, S and G of Environmental, Social and Governance policies.

Add to this the fact that there is a paradigm shift in the way businesses are operating. This new approach balances profit with purpose and considers the impact on the planet and society. Larger businesses are already having to report on their ESG data and incoming regulation will only accelerate the need for all businesses to do the same.

For property management companies, there are 5 main areas which contribute to your carbon footprint, which are not within your direct control.

  1. Guest travel
  2. Supplier emissions
  3. Waste generated
  4. Energy use
  5. Employee commuting

Vanessa and Marc then went on to share tools and actions related to the 5 areas of a property management company’s footprint. These included actions such as changing products or suppliers such as eco-friendly cleaning and laundry to reduce supplier emissions. Or providing reusable shopping bags and digital guidebooks (like Touch Stay who provided our SCALE Green delegate guide) to reduce waste.

The ’S’ of ESG stands for ‘Social’ and relates to all the human relationships you have through your business operations. Consequently, it includes your own team (both in the office and your properties), the communities where you operate and your guests. There are so many opportunities to have a positive impact, many of which can connect these three groups. For example, you could involve your team and/or your guests in community projects.

Lastly, the ‘G’ of ESG relates to ‘Governance’. This incorporates all the policies and procedures you have in place for running your business. From remuneration to carbon reporting, tax compliance and fair employment policies.

Having a Sustonica or QALIA certification (specifically for luxury rentals) empowers you to discover your areas of impact and be recognised for the actions you have taken to reduce them.


New metrics for banks, investors and regulators

Ufi Ibrahim is CEO of the Energy and Environmental Alliance. This alliance is a global coalition of hospitality and lodging investors, developers, operators, and asset managers. She attended SCALE Green to show how sustainability can no longer be ignored as a key part of investment risk management.

She demonstrated the dangers that climate change is having on destinations across the globe. This is not just in terms of damage to rental properties from extreme weather events but also from a property value point of view. She warned of the pending revaluation of real estate assets, which are currently overvalued by between $121bn and $237bn.


“The state of ESG reporting compares to the state of annual reporting before the Wall Street crash of 1929”

(Dr Catherine Tilley, Sustainability for Sceptics Workshop, KCL, 6th Feb 2020).


Regulators are driving the world economy towards one which will be measured by ESG data. Currently, that ESG data is woefully inaccurate and has only just become standardised globally. Investors and banks are already having to report on their ESG impact. As such, they will expect their suppliers and those in whom they are investing to provide the same data.

Regulation aims to ‘mainstream’ climate change into every decision along the investment chain to facilitate a net zero and sustainable finance transition.

Consequently, now is the time to start your ESG strategy. This will involved identifying your key impacts, collecting data, recording and analysing that data and reporting on it transparently.


Sustainable suppliers

One of the highlights of SCALE Green was the pitches by 8 businesses. These companies provide products/services which can help a property management company to implement their ESG strategy.

Canopey – an online platform for the wholesale purchase of consumables like cleaning products and toiletries. All green claims are verified and as a buyer you will receive a quarterly report showing you the impact saved in terms of carbon emissions, water and plastic.

Compare Your Footprint – a carbon footprint calculator with an option specifically for “Accommodation” which also allows you to include the transport emissions of your guests.

Composty – premium range of compostable cleaning sponges and cloths. A stylish sustainable alternative to conventional cleaning supplies.

Krystal – the UK’s largest independent web host and public cloud provider, offering uncompromisingly good cloud and hosting services with industry-leading technology that’s better for you and the planet.

Minut – comprehensive monitoring solution for rental properties through its innovative sensor technology. Designed to detect noise levels, occupancy, cigarette smoke, motion, and temperature.

PriceLabs – revenue management for short-term and mid-term rental businesses. Dynamic pricing and market data tools for accommodation providers.

Smily – offers a single interface to advertise vacation rental properties to over 1000 websites, including Airbnb, Booking.com and Expedia. Also helps with guest communication, collect and secure payments, and increase profitability.

Treepoints – an online platform for businesses to have an immediate positive impact on the environment, through contributing to verified tree planting projects.

Voltshare – an integrated EV-charging solution with a high-quality charger, mobile app, and unique pay-as-you-go business model that generates revenue for venue owners from every charge.

Even if you were not a delegate at SCALE Green, do check out these companies to see how they could help you on your sustainability journey.


The first SCALE Green was a resounding success. We hope this summary has given you an insight into the opportunities and obligations which sustainability presents.



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