Turning the Caribbean Green One Property At a Time

Over the past year, some of the travel industry’s biggest names have made headlines for announcing sweeping plans to eliminate everything from plastic straws to single-use water bottles.

And while there’s no denying such efforts are important and worthy of applause, many in the environmental movement view plastic straws and single-use plastics as the low hanging fruit, representing just a fraction of a much larger, more significant and complex problem.

However, there’s an exciting effort sweeping the Caribbean, one that involves hospitality developments taking eco-friendly to the next level by implementing “eco-infrastructure” with the goal of making a truly significant difference in the effort to protect the Earth and its resources.

Beginning with architectural design, eco-infrastructure allows developers to incorporate sustainability into the very fabric of a new project, from material choices to functionality and more. In other words, rather than retrofitting existing facilities to be more “green,” which is expensive and time-consuming, this approach ensures the most efficient, cost-effective sustainability program possible from the very beginning.

As a result, these developments have the potential to produce more energy than they use. And by some accounts, eco-infrastructure is the wave of the future in real estate and hospitality.

There are numerous exciting upcoming projects that exemplify this burgeoning trend and they build upon the strong efforts of some existing eco-friendly resorts throughout the region such as Hotel Xcaret, which has been environmentally-focused since its outset.

Not only does Hotel Xcaret belong to the Global Compact Network (the world’s largest international social responsibility initiative) but it was also the first EarthCheck design project in Mexico, a certification that recognizes the hotel’s compliance with best practices in key aspects such as energy, water, transport, material selection, ecology, and social, economic and cultural well-being.

Another noteworthy example is Sandos Caracol Eco Resort, which has woven into its mission a focus on constantly improving operating practices to guarantee a smaller ecological footprint. The property encourages sustainable practices among its guests, suppliers, employees, and community in pursuit of efficient use of energy-related and natural resources.

In honor of Earth Day, here’s a look at some of the Caribbean’s most notable upcoming eco-infrastructure hospitality projects, places poised to take the eco-friendly movement well into the future.

Port St. George, Bahamas

The Bahamas’ first ever eco-engineered luxury destination, Port St. George plans to achieve the “sustainable trifecta” of net zero energy, water, and waste.

Slated to break ground later this year, sustainable features will be incorporated throughout the entire project’s infrastructure, including into every building.

Plans call for microgrids and decentralized power fueled by renewable sources. Solar energy, for instance, will be captured and stored in every structure, creating the prospect of being entirely off-grid.

“For electrical energy, we will make extensive use of solar tiles and rooftops on all residential and commercial structures,” Duane Gerenser, president of StarPort Resorts Inc., told TravlePulse. “And that will be supplemented by small wind turbines that will be placed on top of structures.”

“There will be conventional electrical power available, but we’re fairly certain we will be net-zero,” Gerenser added.

Rainwater meanwhile will be captured in catch basins and reverse osmosis desalinization will conserve the supply of clean fresh water.

In addition to the property’s bigger picture efforts, the use of disposable plastics will be discouraged on the property and any use of automobiles will be restricted. There will also be a system to process food waste, thus reducing excess garbage and generating fresh compost for an organic hydroponics farm.

“You can do this in a cost efficient and pragmatic manner if you design sustainability into a project from ground zero,” said Gerenser. “In some cases, it’s more cost-effective than conventional construction approaches. Not in all respects, but in those cases where it’s not, the costs are prohibitive.”

Located on an 882-acre parcel of land that will include a five-star resort, 515 residences, and extensive sport and retail amenities, Port St. George represents the largest eco-engineered project in the works right now in the Caribbean, and is among only a handful of such projects in the world, said James Moss, vice president of StarPort Resorts.

“We’re not doing this because we are being utopian, we believe that’s it’s where the market lies,” said Moss.

“It’s what expected,” adds Gerenser. “But the other thing is we are pragmatic environmentalists. We are doing what we’ve analyzed and concluded makes sense because it’s the right thing to do.”

Club Med Miches Playa Esmeralda, Dominican Republic

Upon opening in December 2019, Club Med Miches Playa Esmeralda will be the very first operating resort in the Dominican Republic’s soon-to-be-developed region of Miches, a secluded paradise located on the northeast coast of the Caribbean destination.

The property, being promoted as an eco-chic haven, went through an in-depth environmental impact study prior to construction to ensure it would have a minimal impact on the land’s natural state. The resort’s creators also implemented a tree replanting program through which every tree removed is to be placed on or around the resort’s 93 acres.

Even infrastructure has undergone a series of assessments in order to earn various environmental nods, including BREEAM certification, which is the world’s leading sustainability assessment method for masterplanning projects, infrastructure, and buildings.

As part of the BREEAM certification, no construction detail is overlooked, said Robin Bouffart-Gout, Corporate Social Responsibility Coordinator, Americas for Club Med.

“We have to ensure the best practices for construction, starting with the conception phase, and later there are onsite visits,” explained Bouffart-Gout, adding that even such details as where wood is sourced from is subject to review.

“We have to ensure through certificates that the wood doesn’t come from a rain forest and that the wood was planted and grown specifically for the construction,” Bouffart-Gout added.

The heavily reviewed construction process won’t be the end of the efforts at Club Med Miches Playa Esmeralda.

Once the property opens, it will operate under the Green Globe certification. The program, which includes 44 core criteria, involves a structured assessment of the sustainability performance of travel and tourism businesses and their supply chain partners.

There are numerous other notable efforts being weaved into the development of Club Med Miches Playa Esmeralda. The property will include about 5,000 square meters of solar panels to minimize the energy it must buy from local providers. In addition, resort’s staff will be trained to be eco-friendly, including educating them about actions that can be taken to save water and energy, said Bouffart-Gout.

If there is one downfall of the project, it is that there’s only limited ability to recycle waste, which is due to the surrounding area’s lack of facilities.

“We have the equipment and facility to implement waste sorting for plastic and cardboard but the area doesn’t have a proper waste management center,” explained Bouffart-Gout. “The idea is for us to recycle what’s possible.”

Nevertheless, the entire project will serve as the model of what eco-chic means for the Club Med brand, said Joseph Nunez, Club Med’s public relations and partnerships manager.

“This is our most eco-friendly project, but it is by no means the only resort that’s going to be sustainable,” Nunez explained. “We have implemented different elements of what we’re doing here at other resorts. But this is the first property where we are incorporating it all in one place because this is an area that’s very environmentally sensitive and we want to have the most minimal footprint we can on the site.”

Rock House, Turks & Caicos

Even before breaking ground, Grace Bay Resorts is injecting a dose of sustainability into its newest project, the luxury residential resort Rock House on Providenciales’s north shore in Turks and Caicos.

Property creators have focused on three key elements: water conservation, material re-use, and reduced consumption, Simon Nicholls, founder, and director of Coast Architects.

“Water here in Turks and Caicos is a precious resource,” Nicholls explained. “Our only water source is the sky, so the way we deal with water is very important. Our approach to this is two-fold: capture what we can, and re-use everything so that our city water consumption is kept to a minimum.”

Rock House will harvest water from rooftops and store it for irrigation so that it won’t have to use environmentally-costly potable water for irrigation. What’s more, all wastewater (gray water) will be treated onsite at Rock House using the best treatment system on the market.

“This means that all the treated gray water is also able to be used in our landscape,” Nicholls continued. “Rain, or liquid sunshine as we like to call it, rarely falls here, so capturing it for more consistent reuse is very helpful in maintaining our native landscape.”

The “material re-use” portion of the project stems from how developers intend to incorporate local materials that are being excavated to make way for structures.

The Rock House name comes from the cliff upon which the development sits, and the nature of the topography means that some excavation will be required to site buildings.

“This creates a fantastic opportunity to reuse the excavated rock as a key design element and further underlines a sense of place and the identity of the project,” said Nicholls. “Additionally, this creates huge environmental savings in excavation and transportation of a foreign stone.”

Finally, the reduced consumption focus at Rock House is something that will take on various forms including building orientation with larger openings facing North to minimize energy usage; as well as salvaging on-site plant material for reuse in the finished project, and an on-demand water heating that requires less energy.

The cumulative impact of all of these efforts will mean a reduced carbon footprint for years to come.

All of this stems from a keen awareness of the threat of climate change and hurricanes, says Nicholls, and a desire to “future proof” properties in the Caribbean.

“This environmentally sensitive approach and high-quality building product are key to the future of the Caribbean and Turks and Caicos as a destination for years to come,” said Nicholls.

“We recognize that as architects, we have a responsibility towards sustainable design—especially in an area of the world that is as beautiful and precious as the Caribbean,” he added.

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