Talking Point: Sustainable landscaping

How can hotels make their grounds sustainable?

How can hotels make their grounds sustainable?

Paul Cawsey, Sustainability Manager for Mitie’s Landscaping business explains how sustainable landscaping for your hotel can be an important part of the customer experience, and not just about ticking a green box.

There’s nothing quite so welcoming when you first arrive at a hotel as the sight of beautifully designed landscaping. It’s a part of the brand experience, it adds to the feeling of escape if you’re on holiday. Sitting and walking around superbly kept gardens is just as important as enjoying a meal in the hotel’s restaurant in terms of ‘experience points’.

Hotels should consider the integration of sustainable landscaping practice as part of the customer experience. It’s not just about catering for the more eco-aware customer, or educating on what’s possible, but a cost effective business decision that just happens to be environmentally responsible. Why not show what’s possible when you work with nature, and show off a sustainably designed garden - it can be a business bonus.

What does sustainable commercial landscaping involve?

At the core of sustainable landscaping is the use of design and maintenance practices that suit your geographical climate.  Sustainably designed grounds adapt to aspects like local rainfall patterns and are able to survive without much watering. Ideally they don’t require pesticides or fertilisers and although that is challenging to achieve, landscape professionals strive to accomplish it.

The bottom line in business is often measured by monetary gain or loss. If you are worried about budgeting for your landscaping services, then considering a rigorous sustainable approach can save money. By designing your grounds in harmony with local conditions, you can save costs on:

  • water consumption
  • purchase of pesticides and fertilisers
  • energy use for power gardening equipment

For example, we are exploring prairie style planting for our clients in the UK, to reduce the amount of water required during establishment and growth periods, along with installing self-watering planters that have pollinator friendly planting schemes. This is a departure from the traditional amenity planting schemes often associated with hotels. However, it is a cost effective approach that also introduces a new type of landscaping aesthetic which is designed to last.

The biggest ecological priority and responsibility we all face is increasing biodiversity.  Biodiversity as part of sustainable landscaping means providing safe habitats for animals, insects and even plants that have become displaced from their own natural environments.

Plants and animals are losing their habitats due to urbanisation and that has consequences for all of us as our ecological balance is disrupted. It affects pollination of crops, diversity of food resource, species extinction and more.

All species depend on each other.  According to the Convention on Biodiversity, “At least 40% of the world’s economy and 80% of the needs of the poor are derived from biological resources. In addition, the richer the diversity of life, the greater the opportunity for medical discoveries, economic development, and adaptive responses to such new challenges as climate change.”

The potential of sustainable hotel landscaping

The good news is that there are different ways to engage in sustainable landscaping practice. They don’t involve anything particularly complicated or expensive and encourage a positive interaction with nature and even your neighbours, commercial or domestic. Furthermore, you’re enforcing your position as a responsible business that manages and respects natural resources.

The birds and the bees

Improving wildlife biodiversity by installing bird boxes around your hotel grounds is a simple thing to do. According to research by the UK’s Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) the decline of native birds in the UK is still a major cause for concern. The primary cause of this is declining natural habitats and changes in agricultural practices. We can improve the effects of birds’ declining habitats by giving them safer, alternative places to live and thrive.

The same applies to attracting bees. The global bee population is decreasing at a rapid rate. It goes without saying that the threat to plant and crop pollination increases as the bee’s decrease.

The installation of bee boxes means you could provide safe new homes for them, even in the heart of a city. For some clients we recommended the installation of solitary bee boxes on their roofs or within landscaped areas. It is unobtrusive, inexpensive and takes little time and effort to install and maintain.  We are currently in discussion with Urban Bees and the Royal Horticultural Society to explore new research and application options for bee boxes within commercial properties.

The added bonus is the increased variety of birds and insects that would grace your hotel’s green spaces to delight guests and be a talking point of interest. Having your own beehives adds its own dimension with the possibility of having home-produced honey as a unique and attractive service offering.

Go wild

Encourage local wild flowers and plants to grow in your grounds. Not only are they beautiful, but they are accustomed to the geographical climate, and are likely to thrive and attract wildlife such as birds and butterflies. There’s no reason that you cannot create an orderly, peaceful and attractive setting by carefully planning space for wild flowers.

Mown paths and wild flower meadows have become features in towns with the intention to encourage threatened local species to survive and propagate as part of a wider environmental policy. Where better to help your community than giving some of your own grounds for that purpose? If you need to make it a profitable feature, create a paying service in that space that relates to the planting project – a nature café, or evening bar or evening walk lit by solar powered lamps. It could be a space that your guests enjoy by day and by night. Why not start a programme where guests could donate to sustain the wild flower project as separate concern – for the benefit of any visitors you may welcome to use the grounds?

On golf courses, the spaces adjacent to the fairway or rough areas are ideal for ecologically friendly planting. At Mitie we offer advice on increasing the floral diversity in these spaces which attracts pollinators, invertebrates and birds. It can also be incorporated around golf course water features as well as standard decorative ponds.


Hotels tend to be landmark premises in a town or a city.  Why not start or get involved with community ‘green’ projects to engage with your local stakeholders and use your landmark status for a good cause? It also enhances your reputation by showing a commitment to corporate social responsibility practice. Whether you contribute towards a community garden, or plant one yourselves and involve your community, it helps to share your time and resources for the improvement of the local environment.

Mitie has been involved with the Poppy project – a group undertaking that involved planting field poppies with ex and injured British Army soldiers. Planting the poppies is not only symbolic, but will increase biodiversity in the area by attracting butterflies and bees. Furthermore it shared the message that simple solutions can make a difference to improve your local ecological health.

The power of the pond

Water features often grace hotel gardens – they might be small ponds on a terrace or large outdoor features supporting a myriad of wildlife. As well as providing a great visual aspect, these environments encourage biodiversity. Add a pond or water fountain and watch as the wildlife comes to you.

Additionally, pond surveys can be carried out to assess and enhance these features for water birds, insects and even protected species. For example, in the UK swallows have been in decline as their preferred habitats are disappearing due to urbanisation and modernisation. They feed on flying insects, which they find in wetland areas and pastures which are also in decline due to agricultural practices. As swallows do not stray far from their nest to feed, nesting and feeding areas must always be close together. Therefore, creating and managing ponds in tandem with bird boxes could make a positive impact on the swallows’ declining numbers. It really is that easy to make a positive difference on an entire species.

In water stressed areas, hoteliers should think hard before creating a water feature or landscaped area that requires constant watering. Hotels often worry that guests expect a certain kind of green landscaping or outdoor area, but guests are increasingly aware of the environmental impact of their stay. Clear messaging that explains a more arid grounds area is part of a biodiversity programme or sustainability project can help to manage guests’ expectations about a hotels’ siting and the region. Explain what the more unusual flora and fauna a guest might encounter are, and that they are more likely to visit because of the native planting and landscape. As water risk grows for hotels in many regions around the world, guests may have to accept that multiple swimming pools or a lush golf course set in the middle of the desert are too unreasonable demands to make of a property in that region.

Get clued up

If your hotel is committed to following sustainable landscaping practice, then have a biodiversity survey undertaken of your premises. A survey, with the help of an ecologist, will examine what habitats already exist in your grounds and recommend how to make the best of them.

You can make your sustainable grounds a part of your paying business by pairing it with service delivery, whether it’s food and beverage or wellness-related like a spa. Being sustainably responsible doesn’t mean that you undertake a costly experiment, but you can integrate it as a valid return on investment as it enhances your business.

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