Green is good: how the Scarlet hotel has blazed a trail

Emma Stratton, director at the Scarlet in Cornwall, explains how her hotel puts ethical concerns at the top of its agenda, whether or not the guests are aware of them.

Stratton has tucked herself away in the conference area of Bedruthan Steps Hotel & Spa , one of the two hotels she runs with her sisters, Debbie Wakefield and Rebecca Whittington, on the cliffs overlooking the stunning Mawgan Porth bay in north Cornwall. She’s isolated herself from staff and guests as she approaches the tail-end of a nasty cold. Despite the struggling voice and plentiful supply of tissues, she’s on good form.

Bedruthan Steps was opened by Stratton’s father, Peter, in 1959, and half a century later, the three daughters invested £12.5m in building their vision of a luxury eco-hotel.

That hotel is the Scarlet , which now commands an impressive year-round occupancy level of 89% and has gained a reputation as a forerunner in its field, offering luxury that, as Stratton puts it, “doesn’t cost the earth”.

The family ethos

To understand how the Scarlet came to be, Stratton explains she has to go back to her childhood, when her family was running Bedruthan Steps.

“My father was always concerned about the environment and was really ahead of his time when it came to sustainability,” says Stratton. “He ran a market garden in nearby Saint Mawgan and would source much of the food for the hotel from there. And then he was one of the first people to install solar panels at Bedruthan, so it’s no surprise that when we came to build the Scarlet, his work had a heavy influence on us.”

Stratton and her sisters came into their family business in 1986, and grew Bedruthan into one of the most highly regarded family hotels in the area. They introduced sustainability wherever they could, and became the first hotel in Cornwall to have a solar-heated outdoor pool.

Then, following an eight-year planning process and the demolition of the former Tredragon hotel, the sisters set about building the UK’s greenest luxury hotel.

“It was a difficult site to work on, being on a steep hill,” says Stratton. “But we were building from scratch, so we were able to design exactly what we wanted. Green technology had come on a great deal since my father’s day, so we were able to develop a true eco-built hotel.”

In September 2009, the Scarlet, an adult-only hotel, opened its doors for the first time. It may not be obvious to its guests, but everything the hotel does is about reducing negative environmental impacts.

“We always ask ourselves how to make the business sustainable and not damage the environment more than we have to – and have the business at the heart of the community,” adds Stratton. “But we don’t impose that philosophy on our customers. We just hope they notice the differences and buy into it.”

It took us four years to find sustainable slippers for the bedrooms. We looked at 40 or 50 options before finding an excellent recycled felt slipper that the guests can take home with them

Emma Stratton

From the very beginning, Stratton's top priority has been to minimise the hotel’s environmental impact. It’s been decorated with water-based eco paints, and there’s not a single piece of timber in the hotel without a Forest Stewardship Council certificate. A biomass boiler fired by wood chips supplies all the heating and hot water, and movement sensors in public areas ensure lights are only in use when needed.

The Scarlet now operates more than 101 sustainable initiatives, including recycling greywater (waste water from showers and baths) to flush loos, locally handmade soap bars and organic unbleached towels and robes in the bedrooms, and induction hobs in the kitchen. Care has been taken to ensure the business is sustainable throughout.

There are, though, some things Stratton is still searching for.

Have you ever found a toothpaste that isn’t in a plastic tube? I’ve been looking for a truly sustainable toothpaste for years,” she says. “There’s a gap in the market for someone there – someone who, like us, obsesses about the tiny details.

Emma Stratton

“It took us four years to find sustainable slippers for the bedrooms. We looked at 40 or 50 options before finding an excellent recycled felt slipper that the guests can take home with them. Finding the right things for the hotels, however small they seem, can take a long time.”

Changing the business model

Both the Scarlet and Bedruthan hotels sit in the family company, Red Hotels, which employs around 280 local people. A look at the group’s accounts shows that going green hasn’t dented the profits. In its latest set of results for the year to 1 January 2017, Red Hotels reported a sharp rise in revenue to £12.1m, from £10.8m during the previous year. While profit dipped slightly, to £1.7m from £2.6m in the previous year, this was down to further heavy investment in the hotels, and, to a certain extent, Red Hotels’ commitment to sustainability. Investing in local projects, charities and staff perks is not a box-ticking exercise for Stratton; it’s at the core of her business philosophy.

“We make a profit, but I believe there’s a balance to be had,” says Stratton, who has ambitions to change the way business is done. “Business hasn’t addressed how society is changing. I’d like to see if we can change things. The current standard business model isn’t right.

“At the moment the groups doing great work for the environment or society in general tend to be small not-for-profit groups. Big business just has the ethical side of things as an afterthought. The next challenge is for big businesses to have ethical concerns at their core. But things have gone too far in the wrong direction. Profit is put above everything else and this just isn’t sustainable.”

From a childhood watching and learning from her father, Stratton has built one of the UK’s most successful luxury hotels, while still giving back and not taking from the environment. It’s a philosophy Scarlet believes can work in the wider business world, and she’s looking for people to join her business revolution.

“I would love to talk to people who, like me, want to do something positive to change the way businesses view success,” she says. “I know there are shareholders and investors out there who are really interested in building truly sustainable business models – ones that make money while benefiting society at the same time. Something needs to change, and I’d love people to get in touch with me and talk about how we can do that.”

This material is published by NatWest Group plc (“NatWest Group”), for information purposes only and should not be regarded as providing any specific advice. Recipients should make their own independent evaluation of this information and no action should be taken, solely relying on it. This material should not be reproduced or disclosed without our consent. It is not intended for distribution in any jurisdiction in which this would be prohibited. Whilst this information is believed to be reliable, it has not been independently verified by NatWest Group and NatWest Group makes no representation or warranty (express or implied) of any kind, as regards the accuracy or completeness of this information, nor does it accept any responsibility or liability for any loss or damage arising in any way from any use made of or reliance placed on, this information. Unless otherwise stated, any views, forecasts, or estimates are solely those of NatWest Group, as of this date and are subject to change without notice. Copyright © NatWest Group. All rights reserved.

scroll to top