‘Caring for our planet should be a shared experience’: An Interview with Rebecca Hurley at BMA House
With ESG plans in full swing and a growing public interest in environmental responsibility, sustainable venues are increasingly in-demand. As event bookers across the country are tasked with finding the best sustainable venues, the spotlight is well and truly on sustainable venues – but what does it mean to be one and what are they doing to get there?
We wanted to find out. Introducing the Sustainable Venue Spotlight, a series which will highlight venues - and delve deep into what makes them sustainable. We’ll be talking to green hotels, sustainable nightclubs, energy-efficient workspaces and low-carbon events venues. First up, our interview with Rebecca Hurley, the Venue Marketing Manager at BMA House, the Grade II listed events venue and home of the British Medical Association at Tavistock Square.
What are BMA House doing to be sustainable?
BMA House puts the environment and sustainability at the heart of everything we do – resulting in a host of award wins including a Gold accreditation with Green Tourism, a Platinum ECOsmart accreditation and a ‘Best Accommodation & Meetings Sustainability Initiative’ award with Greengage.
On our ever-evolving journey to reducing our environmental impact, we’ve implemented the following measures and have achieved a number of things:
- The delegate carbon footprint has been reduced by 69% (since 2018).
- Water usage has been reduced by 5.4 million litres per year.
- Gas, fuel and electricity are strictly sourced from renewable sources only.
- The Clean Air Walking Route has resulted in a 57% air pollution reduction.
- Carbon-balanced and water-neutral events options.
- Plastic and paper-free events options.
- Biodiverse landscaping.
- Onsite herb garden – used as part of catering provisions.
- Carbon-neutral interior design and decor
- Sustainable lighting in venue (LEDs & PIR)
- Tap Water to Ozone cleaning system
- Our Cycle to Work scheme (including free bike maintenance) has over 40% staff uptake.
- Sustainable IT infrastructure.
Our passion for sustainable food is evident across all the menus our catering partner, CH&CO. creates. We encourage healthy events with delegates’ well-being at the forefront of all menu planning. Our ethical food practices mean we support British farmers and source local produce where possible, whilst ensuring food waste is kept to an absolute minimum.
At the end of 2022, we removed beef from our hot fork buffet menu for the coming season, created a Meat Free Monday for events and changed all our coffee break cakes to vegan.
‘Our ethical food practices mean we support British farmers and source local produce where possible, whilst ensuring food waste is kept to an absolute minimum.’
All of our suppliers are vetted for their sustainable and ethical practices, so we now only choose suppliers who can show they’ve made every effort to be sustainable. For example, we updated our house beer to Two Tribes, a brewery based in St. Pancras Kings Cross that delivers by pedal bike – all cans, no glass (see our local catering suppliers map here).
A “Wine with a Conscience” sustainable wines list has been introduced where wines are transported by land and sea rather than air.
We’re ensuring any waste is segregated for collection – timber separated from plastics, metal, glass and so on for a zero-landfill approach.
Older plants around the venue have been replaced. Our supplier offers a service to collect all the existing plants and pots to dispose of sustainably, meaning the plants get mulched and composted, the soils and stones separated and recycled and the pots reused elsewhere or broken down and recycled.
What goals and timelines are you working towards?
We’re fortunate enough to have a dedicated CSER (Corporate Social Environmental Responsibility) team at the BMA who heads up our corporate environmental & social policies. We aim to be carbon-neutral as a building by 2030.
One of the biggest areas is upgrading our heating and cooling system throughout the building, and being Grade II listed, this is no mean feat. This refurbishment work is planned to take place between 2024 and 2027.
With the installation of a new, energy-efficient plant, equipment and infrastructure at BMA House, together with improvements to the fabric and energy efficiency of the building, we’ll be able to start a massive programme of decarbonisation, away from reliance on fossil fuels.
Our customers have been asking us to help calculate the carbon emissions from their events. This is something we are working on this year, and we’ll soon be including the carbon footprint of meals on our menus to help our clients make the most informed decision on food choices.
How do you juggle profitability with corporate and social responsibility?
There is a perception that putting on a sustainable event will lead to increased costs. In reality, when you look at each element of an event, plant-based items are less expensive than meat, and we pass on all of these savings to our clients.
Last year we put together Christmas packages titled, ‘I’m dreaming of a Green Christmas’ and introduced a ‘Greenest Christmas Dinner’ option that was cheaper than our other packages and still included all of the elements you’d expect to see at a Christmas party. A set menu with hand-selected dishes to reduce your carbon footprint was included, plus sustainable centrepieces. So this is a prime example of listening to our clients and responding to their needs, in a positive light by not taking away the ‘fun’ element.
We also include non-dairy alternatives in all refreshment breaks – and any additional charges are not passed onto the client.
What are your focuses for 2023?
We’re always looking at ways to reduce food waste – we’re currently working with a firm WasteKnot that provides ingredients that would otherwise be wasted. 7% of what’s grown in the UK never makes it to the kitchen because it’s not ‘shelf perfect’ or part of a fruit or vegetable that’s often disposed of. WasteKnot provide a marketplace to ensure farmers are paid a commercial value for produce while helping the hospitality sector with a sustainable produce source.
‘7% of what’s grown in the UK never makes it to the kitchen because it’s not “shelf perfect”. '
Some of our older meeting rooms will have electrical upgrades during 2023, for example, LED lighting with motion sensor PIR operation.
The carpet in our flagship space, the Great Hall has been in place since 2008. Plans are in place to install a new carpet in April, which will be a major project. The old carpet will be taken off-site and recycled correctly, with our new one being made from sustainable fabric.
How are you encouraging your guests to be more sustainable?
Our clients are asking for more plant-based dishes and are keen to know where their food has come from, who our suppliers are and how far it has travelled. We have all of this information to hand and have created a fantastic Suppliers Map to show how close our catering suppliers are to us. We work very closely with our catering partner, CH&CO. to ensure we’re using suppliers who share the same ethical standards as us.
Our most recent investment combines technology and sustainability to create a perfect blend of past and future at BMA House. Built during the COVID pandemic to support fast-moving client requirements, our new hybrid studio provides a truly immersive conference experience for all and reflects not just its commitment to technology but also the environment and sustainability.
During the creation of the hybrid studio, we recognised the changing needs of delegates and organisers, including the need to offer remote options to limit the need for unnecessary travel. This was a key part of our decision to invest in technology that helps organisers make their events simultaneously sustainable and fit for the digital world. Our commitment to ensuring we remain leaders in this field led to us winning ‘Best Venue for Hybrid Events’ at the 2022 London Venue Awards.
How are you working on the employee side to encourage sustainable practices?
Do you have any employee programmes/initiatives?
The BMA’s CSER group actively encourages staff to be socially and environmentally responsible. We get involved in charitable giving, host health awareness days and have focused activities on sustainable practices, recycling and reducing our carbon footprint.
We’re very proactive in the community taking part in projects which is why we’ve hosted events such as the Chelsea Fringe and a ‘Gardens and Health in the City’. A ‘Take the stairs initiative’ was brought to life as part of a team challenge to walk rather than take the lift, in support of improving wellbeing and work-life balance.
We encourage staff to feel at peace in the city by visiting our mindful garden; a tranquil haven which can be accessed all year round for staff to unwind and take some quality time out of their day. The BMA also encourage staff to cycle to work; more than 40% of staff cycle to work, encouraged by additionally installed showers and we’ve provided 176 hours of free bike maintenance in recent years.
We’ve introduced filtered, sparkling and boiling water in kitchenette tap locations to reduce the need for kettles and point-of-service boilers that are energy inefficient.
‘Caring for our planet should be a shared experience.’
What else can you tell us?
Plans to take our sustainable venue to the next level have already begun. Event organisers can now choose from delicious menus without high-carbon dishes (e.g. beef-free BBQs and no lamb in our delegate day rate packages), and expect an increase in plant-based items across all menu offerings. These changes allow organisers to make conscious decisions when choosing their menus.
Where we’re unable to repurpose furniture, we are sending the majority of it for community use in schools via the Business 2 Schools charity.
We’ve partnered with Cross River Partnership to promote a ‘Clean Air Walking Route’ from Kings Cross providing delegates with a ‘cleaner’ journey to BMA House, taking guests off busy Euston Road onto backstreets where air pollution is 57% lower.
We’re proud of our Gold Green Tourism status, ensuring environmental impact is top of our agenda, but sharing our key successes with others is what we do best as caring for our planet should be a shared experience.
- Sustainability is central to everything BMA House does. As an accredited and award-winning sustainable venue, they’re targeting everything from water, energy usage, and travel to waste, lighting and IT infrastructure to ensure they’re doing what they can to host events responsibly.
- As part of their commitment to making sustainable food choices, BMA House works with ethical suppliers, supports British farmers, chooses local and seasonal food wherever possible, and has increased the number of vegan and plant-based menu choices.
- For BMA House, sustainability is about shared efforts. The venue is proactive in the community and supports the employees and clients, using client feedback and technology to support its efforts to reach carbon-neutral status by 2030.
- Looking to the future, BMA House aims to give clients the tools to calculate the carbon emissions from their events and provide key information such as the carbon footprint of meals on future menus.