From urban beekeeping to seasonal menus: Driving change in sustainable hospitality
Protecting the planet’s future is at the heart of our Hospitality and Event service at University of London Venues. Here our Executive Chef takes us behind the scenes of our eco-friendly Art Deco event space.
A year-round hive of activity, London’s busy Bloomsbury area greets visitors and commuters alike with a whirl of shops and museums and some of the best views of the capital’s glamorous skyline.
That’s why you may be surprised to learn that out of sight, on a south-facing rooftop just off the hustle and bustle of Russell Square, Senate House’s thriving beehives are helping support local biodiversity, nurtured even further with an additional 18 sapling plantings in 2023.
The four beehives help pollinate much of central London, with our bees foraging the diverse array of trees, shrubs and plants occupying the surrounding garden squares that are also available for event hire, managed by the University’s grounds team who are deployed using a fully electric fleet of vehicles.
Our resident bees produce enough honey to fill some 380 jars each year, something our sweet-toothed Executive Chef, Piotr Krawczyk Plonka, is particularly proud of and hopes to expand in the future.
But the bee colony, set up in a bid to help the University reach net zero carbon emissions by our 200th anniversary in 2036, is just one of the ways we are leading the way on sustainable hospitality.
Seasonal flavours and eco-friendly decorations
Doing everything we can to protect the planet is critical, says Piotr, whose menus are designed around seasonal ingredients sourced locally wherever possible, with any threatened fish species kept off menus.
From a flavour perspective, seasonality is a no-brainer, he says. “A big thing that we do is understanding our ingredients from start to finish – where they’re grown, how they’re grown. The environment that they’re raised in has a massive impact on their flavour and texture".
“You can’t truly know your dish if you don’t understand the ingredients and where they come from,” he explains, adding that being close to produce that is out of season is impossible without long-haul travel.
“There’s nothing more romantic for a chef than going into a local woodland this time of year and smelling and picking wild garlic. It’s like gold to chefs.”
The team avoids unnecessary food waste by encouraging balanced ordering from the outset, he says. “First and foremost, with sustainability is understanding how many people you’ve got, how you’re feeding them, what time of day. The people here that control the bookings, they are highly skilled and can advise you.”
And in addition to only using reusable cutlery and fully recyclable packaging, the catering team combats further waste by decorating the Grade 2 listed event venue using eco-friendly alternatives to imported cut flowers, which can generate emissions through water use, pollutants and air travel.
“We’re such a large organisation that we can really make a difference. We can start trends, lead rather than follow or try and catch up. Our processes are always being reviewed, how we order, how we cook, how we do what we do, and we’ll never stop,” says Piotr.
University-wide, some of our other policies include a zero to landfill policy, a recycling programme and using solar panels to create some of our own energy to heat and light Senate House.
But don’t just take our word for it. In 2020, we were proud to gain Gold-status accreditation under the Greengage ECOsmart programme, a scheme that sets the standard for greener hospitality.
Find out more about our sustainable event spaces.