Much like when it comes to booking a restaurant, choosing an energy supplier or buying a new pair of shoes, enquiring about a business's sustainability credentials before you buy is all part of the decision-making process. It’s the same game for venues, with one of the most-asked questions by event-bookers when searching for the perfect venue relating to how sustainable it is.
It’s an issue that Warren Campbell, the general manager at London venue 15Hatfields, was well aware of long before sustainability became the buzzword that it is today. When the Chartered Institute for Environmental Health approached him back in 2007 with a brief to set up a venue ‘of some description’, Warren knew exactly what he wanted it to be. 15 years later and 15Hatfields is one of London’s most sustainable venues. We caught up with Warren about what it actually means to be a sustainable venue, how to prevent food waste when feeding over 100 people, and his top tips for venues starting out on their sustainability journey.
What led you to a career in sustainability and events?
I've always been an environmentalist and really keen on protecting the environment, plus I was vegan and vegetarian for years and years. I was headhunted by my agent who said that they had a brand-new project starting with the Chartered Institute for Environmental Health. They said it was a blank canvas - but they knew they wanted to set up a venue of some description.
So, I came for an interview in 2007. It was literally: here’s a million pounds, we want to create something, we don't know what we want to create, but we want something in the events industry to do with our lower ground floor. I came in on the job and said to them, ok, let’s create London's most sustainable venue. They were like, well that's a really good idea. Let's do that!
I created 15Hatfields - the name, the brand, the collateral, the ethos, how we work - every part of it. It's like having my own business from a distance, without so much of the personal investment and risk. That was 15 years ago now. Happy days.
How did you come up with the name 15Hatfields?
One of the main ideas was to use our street address. The street is called Hatfields, we’re number 15 - it just made perfect, logical sense to go down that road. Also, when you come to any sort of venue list, numbers come first, so we are right at the top every single time! It was just about those little smart, tactical, experienced moves.
In your own words, how would you describe a sustainable venue?
A sustainable venue is an organisation that, at its very core, has an environmental management system and is committed to bringing sustainability into the decision and thought leadership process. An environmental management system covers all of your key impacts: your water consumption, energy consumption, waste streams, food streams and infrastructure.
True sustainability sits in three key circles: environmental sustainability, social insights sustainability and economic sustainability. Imagine drawing a circle chart overlaying those three - you should position your company right in the middle!
What are the main things that venues need to think about to become more sustainable?
People get a little bit frightened by it. They want to become sustainable, but it really scares them. My advice is to take it in very small manageable steps. The first thing is to make sure everyone in your organisation is aware of what you're trying to create and that they all buy into it. It's about creating a team that is dedicated to bringing your idea forward.
Think about a commitment or a policy. What are you going to achieve? What do you want to do? It's about looking at your impact, measuring it so you've got a baseline and then doing logical reduction, so that you are thinking about how you can minimise those impacts.
Most companies now have a sustainable or corporate social responsibility charter linked to their website. Look at those guys - talk to them. Come to us for advice. There are so many different organisations now that are really keen to help and it doesn't have to be difficult.
What I would say to everyone is to start with the quick wins. In the first year we started, by changing the light fittings, encouraging people not to plug in their phone chargers, to turn their computers off and to really limit the amount of electricity they use, we saved over £60,000. Just from the electricity in a five-floor central London building.
What are the main challenges when it comes to creating a sustainable venue?
When it comes to some of the accreditations, you have to have the budget for the Gold Standard. The Gold Standard is independent accreditation for your environmental management system. That puts a lot of people off because they’ll be spending £2000-3000 to join the accreditation and to be audited and they get like, 250 pages of jargon. It makes it so complicated that it puts people off. My approach for people that are a little intimidated is to start your journey by just identifying the four key areas: energy, water, waste, recycling.
The other problem is that there's a really high staff turnover in our sector and I think even more so now. If you have a staff change, it's not seen as a priority.
Have you noticed an uptake in the number of people who are enquiring about sustainable venues?
Consumer interest has changed so much since Covid. I think people took a step back and, by not travelling and not having airplanes in the sky, became more aware of people's impact and that there's a different way of looking at things.
In the last year, of the enquiries we have been getting, sustainability is one of the leading questions. When you look at venue directories, you've got the boxes that ask: are you sustainably accredited? What are you looking for? The end user wants to come in and know the level of vegan and vegetarian food that you're offering, for example.
On that note, food waste is a huge issue facing venues. How do you tackle that?
I've known Nick (managing director) at Eden for 22 years. They are London's most sustainable catering supplier and their office happens to be less than a mile away from my venue! We've really been on a journey of development together to use sustainably, locally sourced, freshly made, handmade products, and get away from stuff in a packet, tin or jar that’s massed produced.
When it comes to food waste, you need to be transparent with the organiser in the first place. We make sure we understand the demographic before the event and we're very transparent about portion sizes. We say to every client that books us - we don't over cater. We have a very strict portion size which we will talk through with you. We say to clients that we will take final numbers up to four o'clock the day before we place the order with the catering company to make sure that we’re not over or under. We're lucky, because we have a lot of repeat clients. We get to know the client and what they want.
We don’t put everything out; it’s done in batches and then we replenish. Anything that's left over goes to staff lunches and then goes back to Eden. They've got an anaerobic digestion machine where it goes through this 30-day cycle, and at the end of the 30 days, you get little pellets of fertiliser which then go out to Wandsworth council to fertilise the gardens and public areas.
Another thing is, if we’ve got 120 people coming in, we’re probably catering for a hundred because we know we’re getting a 5% dropout. We know we’re going to have the person who eats less and the person who eats more. And if we do start running out – we put more bread out!
We also plan lots of little breaks throughout the day. So, for a daily delegate [rate], they'll get arrival tea, coffee, and flap jacks with organic honey to start with, and loads of fresh fruit. At 10:30, they've got another break, which is tea, coffee and Fairtrade cookies, and they can have as many of those cookies as they want. Then they have their lunch with another serving of tea and coffee. Then in the afternoon, they get tea, coffee and organic cakes. Every hour and a half you're feeding them so they don't need to overeat. And there’s fresh fruit throughout the venue all the time.
Any plans for the future of 15Hatfields?
Carbon’s a big thing that we're looking at. It’s all well and good for airlines to say they’re going to plant 1000 trees every year, but how are you going to monitor those trees? Who’s looking after those trees? Those trees are going to take 15 years until they’re at a point where they’re actually having an impact.
The first thing you can do is try to prevent carbon being released in the first place i.e. by using 100% renewable energy. It might be a little bit more expensive, but if you use a reputable supplier, you are then investing in carbon neutrality through energy production.
The other thing I've been looking at is the term biodegradable. Don't even get me started! We don't have the infrastructure in this country yet in any mechanised recycling plant to biodegrade to the correct specifications. Unfortunately, the government isn't prepared to invest in biodegradable recycling plants. Truly biodegradable plants need heat, enzymes and time. You can't just throw a biodegradable semi-recyclable plastic pot into your normal recycling because it screws up the whole recycling chain. It’s about educating people about what is correct.
Choosing the perfect venue can be a time-consuming and challening task. Check out our guide on how to choose the perfect venue for your event to make it nice and easy.