Tree-hugging? Meet the Kerry hoteliers who are showing how it's done

Eve Kelliher talks to a dynamic duo with a passion for sustainability at home and in their workplace

The image of Teddy O'Brien that led to an Irish tree-hugging campaign.
The image of Teddy O'Brien that led to an Irish tree-hugging campaign.

It made world headlines when Icelanders struggling with pandemic restrictions were urged to try embracing trees to deal with social distancing — yet this is something young children would seem to know without being told. Because, closer to home, it was the sight of her little boy joyfully hugging a tree while out walking that planted an idea in his mum’s head.

Little Teddy O’Brien was to start a trend that branched out from his native Kerry to the world. Inspired by the image, his mother and uncle, hoteliers Ciara and Marcus Treacy, invited people to post their own tree-hugging pictures on social media to promote the message of sustainability.

It started as a campaign to tie in with World Earth Day but over the past few weeks has become a symbol of sustainability as well as the Covid-19 lockdown. “We may not be able to hug each other right now but we can still hug a tree!” said Ciara.


Marcus Treacy and Ciara Treacy.
Marcus Treacy and Ciara Treacy.

Sustainability underpins both home and professional life for Ciara and Marcus. The siblings are third-generation hoteliers and run sister businesses The Ross and the Killarney Park in their hometown where they strive to create an environmentally-friendly base for visitors. “We both have a passion for eco-awareness and environmental sustainability and are relentless in our efforts to drive the message of environmental preservation,” Ciara, manager of The Ross, told the Irish Examiner.

They teamed up with another eco-friendly force, HomeTree Ireland, for the HugATreeNotMe campaign. “As soon as the hotels are open and trading, we will plant a tree for each tree-hugging social media picture which carried the hotel’s social media tags,” said Marcus, Killarney Park Hotel.

The recent restrictions have helped people reset, they believe. “I am hoping we will all learn from this time and I think we will all be different after it has ended,” said Ciara. “We’ve all been reconnecting with nature.”


Marcus Treacy and Anne Lucey.
Marcus Treacy and Anne Lucey.

Despite the doors remaining closed during the pandemic restrictions, both hotels continue to work hard on promoting the message of sustainability, they say. “The hotels are continuously looking at ways to soften their impact on the environment and allow guests to enjoy the beautiful Killarney location in an environmentally-friendly way,” said Marcus.

Both hotels are members of The Green Hospitality Programme, the Irish environmental certification standard for the hospitality sector.

The hotels are also founding members of The Killarney Hotels Sustainability Group which is a group of hotels totalling more than 3,000 bedrooms that take protecting the landscape and environment to the forefront of what they do.

The hotels have been recognised by Electric Ireland for having 100% green electricity and have also been awarded a certificate from Calor to confirm that they use 100% BioLPG which is 100% renewable.

The Ross and Killarney Park have actively eliminated single-use plastic: In the last 12 months, they have replaced miniature toiletry bottles with larger luxury refillable dispensers. This action alone reduced single-use plastic by a whopping 100,000 bottles per annum.

The hotels’ takeaway coffee cups and lids are compostable and drinking straws and cocktail stirrers are made of metal.

In addition, glass water bottles are provided and guest amenities such as toothbrushes, earbuds, shower hats, and vanity kits are made with either bamboo or a biodegradable material.

Bedroom plastic — linen/laundry bags, newspaper bags, and guest carrier bags — are no longer plastic and have been replaced by a natural material such as linen or paper.

“We no longer use plastic pedal binliners and have introduced a recycling bin to all guest rooms,” said Marcus. “We are partnered with Clean The World which assists in recycling any toiletry waste and used bars of soap.

We use green energy, 100% green electricity and BioLPG, as our primary fuel source.

“Our hot water and heating system is powered by The EscoPod, a prefabricated thermal energy centre that delivers hot water with massive energy and CO2 savings. Our cleaning products are supplied by Green Clean which means they are allergen-free and chemical-free cleaning products.”

The hotels offer two Porsche-designed electric car charging points for guest use. Both hotels operate on LED lighting which saves many tonnes of CO2 energy.

“Cardboard packaging, glass, cans, used light bulbs, and batteries are all returned to suppliers or collected for recycling and paper usage within the hotel is continually monitored in our efforts to reduce and reuse,” said Marcus.

“Our team are active members of Killarney Tidy Towns, a voluntary community-based group that works to keep our town clean, tidy, and sustainable.”

Food is sourced, as much as possible, from local producers, thereby reducing food miles. “We’re not perfect, we’re trying to tackle what we can and we question everything,” said Ciara.


The fact that, in regular times, the tourism industry depends on guests arriving on planes from across the globe is not lost on them. Neither is the health and safety challenge reopening will bring, with requirements for single-use menus, for instance. “It is all about finding a balance,” said Ciara.

For everyone, it’s about doing what we can. I take solace that the emissions are way down at the moment!

“It’s about being able to say to yourself, in the future, as an old lady or an old man, ‘Well, I did my bit.’”

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