While many hotels profess having a policy on environmental and social issues, at Heritance Tea Factory, guests can actually see what is being done to conserve the environment.
The hotel has its roots in an inspired idea, to conserve and restore a long-abandoned tea factory, transforming it into a hotel, thereby bringing hope and prosperity to a forgotten hillside settlement. Hethersett village was a neglected community without focus, whose inhabitants lived in deprived circumstances and struggled to survive as casual labourers. The restructuring of the tea factory as a hotel has revived the community not only with employment, career opportunities and provision of service contracts, but also by advice and assistance on how to create a better environment.
Through locally employed staff the word has spread about the importance of conservation and respect for the environment. In the village, the hotel has assisted in a garbage recycling and disposal programme with the provision of garbage bins. Villagers have been encouraged to care for their properties and the tin roofs of houses have been painted green to match the environment under a hotel home awareness scheme.
Assistance goes beyond the cosmetic; education has been given on organic vegetable cultivation for better crop yields and higher income.
The influence of the hotel has changed the lives of villagers in unexpected ways. They have become more confident, aware and proud of the beauty of their settlement, happy to welcome hotel guests and show them the kovil (refurbished by the hotel), and the school and crèche (both helped by the hotel).
Those employed in the hotel have learned discipline, including the importance of good hygiene in the home, thus improving their lifestyles.
Management vigorously pursues the environmental and social sustainability of The Heritance Tea Factory Hotel. The 3R method of pollution prevention (reduce, re-use, recycle) is in place and regularly monitored.
Programmes have achieved a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions; enhanced energy efficiency, conservation and management; reduced fresh water consumption and optimised waste water management; protected air quality and controlled noise pollution; enhanced eco system conservation and land use, as well as improving the storage and use of hazardous materials.
This translates into actual projects, including the creation of a prototype organic vegetable garden and a 25-acre tea garden free from chemical fertilisers and pesticides. There is also a non-pollutant Micro Tea Factory that manufactures the eco-friendly Hethersett Tea.
The hotel has a functioning Biogas Project. This was set up when it was observed that kitchen waste, given to farmers in the area for use as food for animals, was potentially hazardous. Animals were getting injured due to broken pieces of glass and indigestible particles contained in the waste. To dispose of the waste in a useful way that wouldn't harm the environment, the biogas project was introduced in 2004.
Biogas refers to the gas produced by the biological breakdown of organic matter in the absence of oxygen. The biogas production unit built at the hotel has four cylinders into which food waste from the hotel is stored and left to ferment. The end result is biogas, comprising carbon dioxide and methane. The methane makes it possible to use the biogas as fuel, and this is used to produce green tea in the Micro Tea Factory. The residue waste after production of the gas is used as organic compost.
Recycling of non-biodegradable items is scrupulously followed to international standards so that no trace of it interferes with the environment. Even empty beverage bottles have been utilised for land stabilisation.
A novel introduction is the biological and eco-compatible process of minimising the breeding of flies instead of using pesticides. Flies are lured to a unit spread with poultry droppings. Worms breed in the droppings creating the conditions preferred by flies for laying their eggs. However, the worms devour the eggs thus considerably reducing the breeding and prevalence of flies.
In a first for any hotel in Sri Lanka, a Biomass Gasifier has been installed. This uses locally farmed gliricidia wood in a biomass gasification instead of imported, and pollution causing, diesel. The central heating and hot water in the hotel is supplied by this eco-friendly sustainable energy source.
This not only reduces the hotel's carbon footprint but also paves the way to alleviating poverty by generating more employment opportunities locally while reducing the foreign exchange drained out on purchasing imported crude oil.
The success of this pioneering venture is symbolic of the dedication to conserving the environment practised at Heritance Tea Factory.