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Sustainable horizons

Sustainable horizons

beam’s new sustainability director, Louisa Watson, says businesses – not consumers – must lead the way on sustainability.

Sustainability has returned to the top of business agendas after slipping down the priority list during the pandemic. This is why creating the position of a sustainability director within beam couldn’t be timelier. The UK trade association for the business events, accommodation, and meetings industry has appointed Louisa Watson, director of marketing at Wyboston Lakes Resort, to take the board role.

A passionate and long-time pioneer on sustainability, Watson was previously the association’s sustainability chair. She has also assisted the ‘Green Team’ at Wyboston Lakes Resort to become multi-award winning and now represents the resort within Greengage’s Platinum Inner Circle, an expert group with a sharp focus on sustainability best practice.

Here Watson talks about beam’s new role, plus her ambitions, frustrations, and future predictions on sustainability.

Why has beam created a sustainability director?

Sustainability is so high on business agendas now. Prior to the pandemic, sustainability was pushed to the bottom for many businesses. Now, many agents and suppliers need bespoke support to help them catch up and get to where they need to be. It is vital to encourage and support each other in our sustainability journeys. It’s not about competitive advantage. It’s about ensuring our sector is fit and stable for the future.

What are your objectives?

To help beam members achieve a good standard within sustainability that they are proud of and can grow from. I’d like to take away some of the frustration, cloudiness, and confusion. I want us all to be on a plateau together, almost holding hands and saying, how do we take ourselves up another level? If we don’t get there of our own volition, the government is going to bring in so many restrictions anyway – they’ll drag us there. We’d better to get on with it ourselves and encourage and support each other.

How do you plan to achieve your goals?

First, we need to understand where everybody is on their journey. We will release four main criteria to help identify this. We have a Sustainability Action Group to support suppliers and agents, addressing things such as waste energy accreditations and sustainability policies. We have a great mix of talent and strong individuals in the group, including Sarah Millington from Unique Venues Birmingham, Justine Meek from Warwick Conferences, Callie Richards from Inntel, Laura Dudley from arrangeMY, Richard Bull from Woburn House and Emma Williams from IHG. Fundraising and charity support also fall under this action group.

What support will you be offering?

One-to-one support, conversations, practical support, educational and networking events. We love working with strong sustainable partners, such as isla and Greengage Travel and Event Solutions. We’re open to working with credible sustainable partners that understand our sector and can move us forward. If members need help, they can get in touch with me or the beam office.

What is your biggest frustration when it comes to sustainability?

As a marketer, I’ve always been taught to listen to what the customer wants. However, when a business begins on their sustainability journey, I believe this shouldn’t necessarily be the case. Sustainability should be driven by morals, ethics and what is best for our planet. Businesses need to step back from what the customer wants and look at the way they do business. Identify short wins – the things you can do today, such as switching to green energy.

How well do you think we’re doing as an industry?

We’re doing okay. The key thing is that we are aware, and we know that it needs to happen. There is always more we could be doing. There are some shining examples of good things people are doing within our sector.

What are the biggest challenges around sustainability?

Agents and venues need to be effective communicators and educators to guide clients to make the right choices. We must explain why a buffet is less sustainable than a plated meal, or that apple juice can be a more sustainable choice than orange. Food is something in our control as a venue, but we also need to educate our clients on things we can’t control, such as how delegates travel to a venue. It’s about educating everyone to make better, more sustainable choices.

What does the industry need to do more of?

One of my favourite quotes is from the zero-waste chef Anne Marie Bonneau. She said: “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.”

What are your top tips?

Create a really engaged green team with someone who can galvanise, enable, and communicate well within that team. At Wyboston Lakes Resort, we have secured three accreditations for sustainability, which have been important for us as a business.

I’d advise any business to start with an accreditation. Even if you fail, it doesn’t matter – you have started your sustainability journey and you will learn from it.

What key trends do you foresee emerging in the future?

Corporate clients will become more demanding in this area. Food will change on menus to be more environmentally conscious – more local, seasonal, plant-based and meat will be better quality and smaller portions. Waste will become more of an issue as will our bio-diversity projects. And, of course, the UK Government will introduce more regulations.