How Green is Scarlet – Eco-hotel in Cornwall (Jan10)

My first impression of the building was horrendous. It was sitting on the cliff top surrounded by bungalows and modern seaside houses. Looking at the website for the Scarlet Hotel near Bedruthan Steps in Cornwall, I had thought that it stood on its own in a beautiful bay. The picture of the distinctive red hot tub stands out apparently in isolated splendour. And it was the tub that convinced me that what I was looking at was actually where we were heading.

Entering the hotel was another matter. It was spectacular – a large glass window with an infinity pool and a beautiful view of the sea beyond. And the hotel foyer was further enhanced by some truly wonderful artwork – a figure made from beech nuts and elsewhere a man made from bark. Our room was also a treat. Spacious, light and airy, with the sun beaming in the window from across the sea.

The hotel had only been open for a matter of days when we arrived – less than 3 weeks. They apologised in advance for any teething problems – and we found them. The telephone system was impossible to use, there was no bulb in one of the lights, no labels to tell you which switch would illuminate what part of the room and no space for soap in the shower.

But it was the eco-features that I was most interested in. The Scarlet has been built as an green building and has an impressive list of more than 100 measures that it has taken in this respect. From re-homing reptiles to maximising solar gain the building. And from using recycled cement and sustainably sourced wood to installing a biomass boiler and grey water harvesting. Also, the use of sea thrift on roof tops apparently reduces heating and cooling loads, as well as supporting butterflies and other insects.

I didn’t think the green policies in running the hotel had been quite so well thought out. There was nothing to tell guests that they should hang up their towels if they didn’t want them laundered. And they had sumptuous towelling dressing gowns that presumably got washed after each visit. The environmental impact of laundering is significant, so reducing the load is worth quite a few eco-brownie points. I should point out that in their literature, the Scarlet says they do encourage guests to minimise their use of towels but there was nothing in evidence that I saw. Perhaps this was another teething problem.

However, the hand-made organic soaps each in its own little bag were clearly intended. I’ve still got the cotton bag but haven’t yet managed to find anything useful to do with it. I suspect that most people simply throw them away. This is worse than wasting soap. They say anything left behind is used by the laundry as a stain rub. But far better would be using liquid soaps in a plastic bottle that is re-filled after each visit. One hotel I’ve heard talking about their green initiatives said that this measure alone saved them a substantial amount of money, so that’s another benefit.

We arrived at around tea time. Delivered to our room were some of the most delicious scones I’ve ever eaten, with clotted cream and jam. We had to hold back remembering our dinner booking later on.

Although the evening food was good to eat, I was disappointed that there was nothing on the menu about the sustainability of what was being served. The head chef was happy to come and talk. He told us that everything was locally sourced but he didn’t seem to understand that this on its own didn’t make the food ‘sustainable’.

For example, there wasn’t any information on whether the Scarlet avoided fish species that are endangered. They could have referred to the Fish Online a website set up by the Marine Conservation Society, which gives advice on which fish are OK to eat and which are not. Equally, the film ‘End of the Line’, which is all about sustainable fishing has a section on their website encouraging people to rate restaurants on their fish policies. I wanted to know what their policy was on blue fin tuna, skate and monkfish, all of which are not recommended.

Equally, there was nothing about the impact of meat on climate change. I’m not a vegetarian but could be tempted by some delicious non-meat alternatives.
Given that the Scarlet have invested so much in being a green hotel, it seems extraordinary that they’ve over-looked some obvious areas of real impact. And one I haven’t mentioned yet – the television in my room was left on stand-by.

I have to forgive them for not being in a more isolated location although I’d recommend that they make this a bit clearer on their website. And I wouldn’t make too much fuss about the teething problems. But my view was that they need to add quite a few more points to their long list of eco-measures and perhaps change a few policies to boot. A good start but still some way to go.

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