Slieve Elva B&B becomes first Co Clare Business to achieve prestigious gold standard Sustainable Travel Ireland certification

Wicklow, 2 June 2023

Sustainable Travel Ireland is thrilled to announce that Slieve Elva B&B in Co Clare has been awarded prestigious gold level certification in sustainable tourism.

The B&B, which is located in the Burren and near the Wild Atlantic Way, provides a home-from-home experience and is run by husband-and-wife team Kris and Ireen Claes who hail originally from Belgium. The pair started the business in 2014. It is the first Co Clare business to achieve certification with Sustainable Travel Ireland and is the first B&B in Ireland to achieve the accolade.

Some of the highlights of Slieve Elva’s sustainability efforts include:

  • Reducing their energy use by 64.7% since 2020.
  • Installing a solar PV system in combination with a battery system and hot water heating.
  • Switching from fossil fuel heating to Biogas.
  • Reducing waste going to landfill by 71.4%.
  • Using no single-use toiletries.
  • Creating an orchard with native heritage apple trees.
  • Becoming a business supporter of the All Ireland Pollinator plan and reporting yearly on actions taken to improve biodiversity.
  • Putting a water harvesting system in place for the garden and greenhouse.
  • Serving guests homegrown vegetables and homemade products like jams and yoghurt.

And they are not finished yet. The pair has already started on their next initiative, which is an organic pond with regeneration zone and wetland filtration.

Speaking about the certification, Rob Rankin, Director of Sustainable Travel Ireland stated: “The remarkable accomplishment of achieving gold certification with Sustainable Travel Ireland serves as a testament to the organisation’s unwavering dedication in meeting and exceeding the stipulated criteria, while upholding the highest standards.”

Speaking about the certification, Kris Claes explains that any business, regardless of its budget, can make huge reductions to their carbon footprint – and save lots of money – just by making small changes. Those savings can then be invested into bigger projects if the business wants to further improve.

“We wanted to prove to everyone that even being a microbusiness with limited budget you can achieve a lot.

“Everything started with proper frequent monitoring and collecting all data of weekly usage. This gave us a very clear insight on all areas where changes and savings could be made.

“By tackling ‘low-hanging fruit’ we made our first improvements. This included changing all lighting to LED, installing thermostatic valves, using cold washes and creating awareness with all guests.

“As a very small business with limited budget, we thought bigger investments were out of reach. But by implementing small changes first, we already created savings that could be reinvested in other projects. After our ‘low-hanging fruit’ changes, we decided to invest in the solar PV range together with a battery and hot water unit. These resulted again in much bigger savings which made funds available to start building our greenhouse and installing EV charger. Our latest investment was to change our oil heating system to a biogas system. All these investments wouldn’t have been possible without starting with the small changes first and gradually building things up.”

The pair is keen to emphasise that sustainable tourism is not solely about a business’s energy, waste and water. It also focuses on biodiversity, building resilient, thriving local communities, and conserving culture and heritage, both for locals and visitors alike.

Hence the Slieve Elva duo are very active participants in local biodiversity and heritage projects via the Burrenbeo Trust and the Burren Ecotourism Network (BEN), a collective of over 65 local businesses. They are now mentors with BEN, helping other businesses on their sustainability transformation.

“There’s so much more involved in sustainable tourism like cultural and heritage preservation, working with local communities, accessibility for all … things you didn’t even realise were part of it. And this journey brought us and our business much closer to the local communities and businesses,” states Ireen.

But all of the effort is worthwhile, she adds.

“As the tourism industry becomes more and more aware of the importance of sustainability, getting this certification will send us straight to the front line and make our destination and business a top choice for all those traveling with conscious minds.

“The certification process with Sustainable Travel Ireland and our involvement with the Burren Ecotourism Network has resulted in our business becoming a more established brand and an example for the industry. These are all strong marketing advantages we can use to reach more partners and potential guests. By getting involved with local communities we finally have the acknowledgement that we ‘belong’ and can make a difference for the area.”

Rankin commented: “We are so impressed with Slieve Elva. They prove that tiny businesses can be truly powerful leaders when it comes to sustainability. We are just delighted to see them reaping the rewards of their hard work – both in terms of savings but also in terms of the reputation of their business and being seen as leaders in their very impressive community in the wonderful Burren.”

Rankin added: “The process that tourism businesses go through as they work towards certification with Sustainable Travel Ireland is transformative and provocative.”

Sustainable Travel Ireland is Ireland’s leading sustainable tourism training and certification organisation. The award to Slieve Elva is based on a detailed online submission and an in-depth in-person assessment by an independent auditor using criteria recognised by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC). The GSTC is an independent non-profit UN-mandated organisation that has developed criteria that serve as globally accepted standards for sustainable tourism.

Sustainable Travel Ireland’s mission is to transform the Irish tourism industry into a regenerative business sector that respects and protects the environment, but also supports local communities and makes better places for people to live and work in.

Globally, tourism accounted for 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions from 2009 to 2013, making the sector a bigger polluter than the construction industry. However, as Ireland’s largest indigenous industry, tourism is vital to our economy, and particularly to the economy of rural Ireland. So it’s critical that this industry becomes a sustainable one.