Six months ago, Fifty Shades Greener, which provides environmental training for hospitality businesses, was a one-woman operation run by Raquel Noboa from her base in Liscannor, Co Clare.
New client wins in Ireland and overseas, however, mean Noboa now has a team of seven people on the ground.
Fifty Shades Greener teaches hotel owners how to reduce their carbon emissions, and cut operating costs, by lowering the amount of energy and water they use and the waste they generate.
Noboa, from Salamanca in western Spain, established the company in 2017. She had been working in Irish hospitality for more than 20 years, having moved to Clare in 1998 at the age of 17.
The idea for Fifty Shades Greener came out of Noboa’s experience working in sales and marketing at Hotel Doolin alongside Donal Minihane, its general manager.
“Donal decided one day he wanted to run the greenest hotel in Ireland and he appointed me as ‘green manager’,” Noboa said.
“I realised pretty quickly that the hotel was affecting the environment in three very clear ways: through the energy and water we were using and also the waste we were producing. We needed to educate the staff at the hotel about the steps they could take every day to help us cut down on those three things.”
These steps were relatively simple, but highly effective, and Hotel Doolin went on to be recognised by Green Hospitality, a certification body, as Ireland’s first carbon-neutral hotel.
“Utility bills are rarely a big priority for business owners, but they hold all the information you need about how you’re consuming resources,” Noboa said.
“I learned that our oven at Hotel Doolin used 38 kilowatt hours (kWh) of energy. If we turned it off for just one hour a day, we could reduce our electricity use by 14,000 kWh a year and save €2,000. That’s just one machine, switched off for one hour a day.”
Noboa decided to strike out on her own in 2017, using what she had learned through her work as green manager at Hotel Doolin to help other hotel owners and operators cut carbon emissions.
She took the business online in 2019, developing a structured four-month training programme, available at fiftyshadesgreener.ie and priced at €1,200.
Noboa is now expanding outside Ireland through licensing agreements with new clients in other countries.
“The idea to license my training content came from Kildare and Wicklow Education and Training Board (ETB),” she said.
“They licensed my course content last year. They’re now making it available free of charge to hotels and other tourism operators through all 16 ETBs around the country.”
The Green Business Training Programme is being funded by the government through Solas, the state agency with responsibility for the ETBs.
Since its launch last November, Noboa has agreed additional licensing deals with four trainers in Ireland and three in Britain.
She has also licensed her course content further afield to Dalhousie University, a public research university in eastern Canada, and to Sustainable Travel and Tourism Agenda, a private hospitality consultancy in Kenya.
Fifty Shades Greener is a high potential start-up client of Enterprise Ireland, the state agency.
“When trade shows start up again, I’m really looking forward to working with Enterprise Ireland to get introductions to the right people in international markets,” Noboa said.
“Already, I’m talking to state agencies, colleges and universities, industry bodies and local authorities. I have developed an educational programme for secondary schools. I want to scale fast and reach as many people as I can as quickly as possible.”