Verdant Leisure – Rising to the Green Challenge
Verdant Leisure is a high-quality holiday park operator offering self-catering pitch, lodge and caravan holidays, combining holiday home ownership with rental, across Scotland and Northern England. It was established in 2010, and since the Palatine investment in April 2016 has grown from four to 10 parks through a buy and build strategy, mainly acquiring family run businesses to bring into the Verdant group.
Verdant’s holiday parks are all situated in places of natural beauty that are attractive to holidaymakers and in recognition of this factor looking after the environment has become a strong theme within the visitor experience. Verdant management also recognised that a happy and well-trained team would lead to greater customer satisfaction but with scattered locations and sometimes whole park teams needing to be integrated into the company culture this would need a new and cohesive approach. Further, given their rural locations Verdant parks can often be one of the biggest employers in an area and this has brought additional responsibilities towards the local community. Finally, each park operates almost like a small village, including leisure facilities such as swimming pools and hospitality, making health and safety a wide ranging and crucial issue to manage.
Palatine ESG Programme
The Palatine ESG programme has helped provide a framework for the delivery of ‘Sustainable Verdant’ by identifying a range of key areas to focus effort and investment in a strategic way. Priority ESG themes include:
- promoting sustainable tourism and giving back to communities both locally and nationally as part of the team and customer experience
- strengthening health and safety management and capabilities
- investing in people and employee care and making everyone a brand ambassador
- operational efficiencies with positive impacts on both environmental footprint, resilience and cost control
Sustainable Tourism and Green Champions
Shortly after investment it was agreed to enter all parks into the Green Tourism badge scheme, aiming to achieve a bronze award for each initially and progressing to silver as a minimum. The scheme ‘works to promote a greener, cleaner environment for people, places and planet’. Verdant supported this by creating Green Champions at each park and at Head Office, meeting quarterly to review progress against individual Green Action Plans. This overarching commitment to sustainable tourism is well demonstrated by the impressive progress that Verdant has made across its ESG themes throughout the investment period to date.
Creating Safe and Healthy Places to Work and Visit
Health and safety is naturally high on the agenda, especially with the acquisition of new parks which may have been run in more ad hoc ways previously. Significant focus has been placed on training staff in risk management, supported by online tools to provide visibility and better control of H&S performance. The adoption of this system has helped to instil a strong safety culture throughout the group.
The management team also turned their attention to other, no less significant, risks such as mental wellbeing in the workplace. In response, Verdant has introduced an effective internal awareness campaign, committed to having a minimum of one trained Mental Health First Aider at each of its locations and is planning to sign the Time to Change employer pledge during 2020.
The Team Verdant people strategy was introduced early in 2017 with the central aims of enhancing the employee experience and building team capabilities. The strategy has included an annual staff conference, awards and reward packages, updated appraisal processes and improved training provision and clarity in career pathways, enhanced companywide training and succession planning. The result has been a more motivated and cohesive workforce and a number of notable successes:
- Three-star accreditation from Best Companies, meaning that employee engagement is extraordinary.
- Ranking 14th in Best Companies’ Top 50 Companies to work for in Scotland 2019.
- Achieving three-star accreditation in The Sunday Times Best Companies to work for in 2019 and 2020, with particular praise for employee engagement.
- 75% of supervisory and management vacancies being filled by internal candidates in 2019.
- Provision of more strategic board reporting to enable targeting of further investment.
An engaged and motivated workforce has clearly had a positive impact on quality of service and customer experience with the percentage of holidaymakers rating their experience as 4 (good) or 5 (excellent) improving from 79% in 2018 to 93% in 2019.
Minimising Environmental Impacts and Operational Efficiencies
As part of its Green Tourism commitment Verdant continually assesses its business operations and how it can minimise the impact on its surroundings and the wider environment, while also extending the opportunity to act sustainably to visitors as part of the programme. Significant initiatives have included:
– Minimising water consumption:
Verdant installed water loggers at all its holiday parks as a way of enabling leak identification and remedy. This has proved highly effective with water savings estimated at 80,000m3 per year and an associated cost saving of almost £80k across the estate. Continuing the effort on minimising water consumption, waterless urinals have also been installed at all locations and all guests are encouraged to use water wisely.
– Energy Management:
Verdant recognises that its park operations require substantial energy input and efficiency is vital for both resilience and cost control. Over the last 5 years energy audits have identified opportunities to minimise electricity and gas consumption, including through equipment upgrades and operational practices. Examples include rolling out a LED light replacement programme as old units fail and installing solar panels to generate renewable energy at two sites. There are further opportunities to increase renewables installation across the park portfolio, which will be explored. More sustainable travel to parks has been supported by installing charging stations for electric vehicles.
– Waste management
Mindful of its duty of care as waste generators and handlers, Verdant has implemented several initiatives to reduce waste generation, and particularly plastic and other waste streams going to landfill. Working with its waste management suppliers it has increased customer engagement through improved signage and communication which has driven up recycling rates significantly.
Initiatives included switching to transparent waste collection bags to encourage better recycling rates and conducting waste checks prior to collection to prevent contamination of recyclates.
The war on straws has also been fought at all the parks’ bars and restaurants and onsite shops no longer offer single use carrier bags. Customers are encouraged to bring their own bags and ‘reuse carrier bag stations’ have been installed for visitors to drop off plastic bags for others to use.
Local habitats and biodiversity
Being close to nature and having enjoyable spaces to roam and play are part of the hallmark of a Verdant holiday and has led to the company being proactive about on-site conservation and increasing biodiversity within its management plans. Several sites adjoin designated natural areas, making responsibility in land management additionally important while bringing opportunities to engage guests in special experiences. At one location Verdant is working alongside Scottish Nature and the Amphibian & Reptile Conservation Trust to enhance the habitat for natterjack toads, which they are able to explain to visitors, while at another site local national park rangers visit to engage visitors with the conservation work they are doing in the local area.
Verdant has continually supported national good causes as well as the communities local to its sites. It operates a local procurement policy to ensuring local produce is stocked in its site shops alongside bigger brands, and local businesses, such as tourist attractions, are promoted on all sites.
Verdant has a clear and effective approach to charity fundraising, with increasingly impressive results based around a two-pronged approach of supporting local wildlife trusts and in addition inviting guests and staff to nominate a charity of the year for the whole group. In 2019, by an overwhelming majority, Verdant customers chose Teenage Cancer Trust as the charity of the year for the second time bringing the amount raised to over £75,000. Charity Champions are appointed to work alongside their colleagues to encourage awareness and create fun fundraising activities with owners and holidaymakers – a good form of customer engagement. Other causes supported have had a direct alignment with the core business, such as Verdant’s commitment to provide 10 short breaks in 2019 to Mummy’s Star, a UK charity dedicated to supporting women and their families affected by cancer during and post pregnancy.