Chatsworth: Bringing stewardship into the 21st Century


chatsworth house sustainability manager

Luke Sherlock is Sustainability Manager for the Devonshire Group, which includes Chatsworth House and Bolton Abbey. We catch up with him to find out how, at the Chatsworth Estate in Derbyshire, the team are drawing on centuries of tradition to tackle the social and environmental challenges faced over the century to come. 

Sustainability in the DNA 

On the back of two World Wars and the vast social upheavals of the 20th century the great country estates had to adapt. Their owners had to be bold, think strategically, take risks, spot opportunities, and innovate. No doubt there was a fair amount of learning from mistakes along the way.

Perhaps this was no better exemplified than here at Chatsworth, home to the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire and passed down through 16 generations of the Cavendish family. Today Chatsworth House, garden, and farmyard is one of England’s most popular visitor attractions, its survival largely thanks to the post-war modernisations of the 11th Duke and his wife, Deborah, whose legacy is already sorely missed after she sadly passed away last year.

chatsworth house

The Chatsworth House Trust, set up in 1981, is now dedicated to the long-term preservation of Chatsworth House, the art collection, garden, woodlands and park for the long term benefit of the public.  The charity promotes the study and appreciation of Chatsworth as a place of historic, architectural and artistic interest and of natural beauty, and encourages the use and enjoyment of Chatsworth by visitors for education and recreation.

That’s why when I was appointed to my role in late 2013 and spoke to Lord Burlington, the current Duke’s son and chair of the Devonshire Group Environmental Committee, I wasn’t surprised to hear him talk about sustainability as being in Chatsworth’s DNA. The traits required to act sustainably, namely long term thinking and the energy to take decisive action, had already been in place for generations.

Chatsworth woodlands

Integrating the Triple Bottom Line

If you thought of Chatsworth’s role as a centre for rural employment, skills development and learning; as supporter of local suppliers through the purchase of goods and services; as landlord and neighbour to many in the Peak District; as steward of landscapes; it became clear that thinking in terms of the People-Planet-Profit Triple Bottom Line was implicit to a landed estate whose activities stretched back over four centuries of history.

Although recognition of this came in a Green Tourism Gold Award in 2013, the team felt that there was great benefit to be had in making that implicit understanding of sustainability explicit. Therefore in 2014 Chatsworth decided to undertake a full Triple Bottom Line assessment and appointed NEF Consulting, the consulting wing of fellow network member the New Economics Foundation, to complete this analysis; the remit being to capture positive and negative impacts, create priority ‘hot spots’ for action, and design a framework by which performance across the Triple Bottom Line could be measured in the future.

people planet profit

We are now in the process of digesting the report’s recommendations and will be integrating economic, social, and environmental impact measurement into management reporting; in so doing distilling what can be the conceptual idea of sustainability into a practical call to action and a story to be followed.

Focusing on Energy Management

One of the priority areas will be energy management: both demand and supply. We are already planning for the upcoming ESOS legislation, continuing to roll out energy efficient lighting, as well as making significant investments in renewable heating technologies as sensible alternatives to oil heating systems (taking the cue from Fit for Future members like the National Trust, who were kind enough to share experiences with us).

We hope these individual actions will now sit in a wider narrative for Chatsworth: our Triple Bottom Line performance.