Written by Laura Griffith-Jones
“Sustainable tourism is now the norm rather than an exception,” says Ronald Sanabria of the Rainforest Alliance. And how right he is.
The meaning of the term ‘eco-hotel’ has changed: no longer does it simply denote a rustic jungle hideaway; it could be anything from an opulent city resort to a chic treetop retreat, so long as the hotel is committed to the environment and community. “One of the main changes,” Sanabria elaborates, “is that the sustainability agenda that a decade ago was primarily seen among small ecotourism companies operating in the rainforest is now being embraced by mainstream businesses.” And today, green-thinking jetsetters expect more than just solar panels and recycling bins, so hotels are experimenting with all sorts of sophisticated eco-wizardry – from infrared solar power and wind-generated electricity to heat-reflective windows and glorious sky gardens.
One such mainstream business is The Savoy (fairmont.com), in London. In 2010, it reopened after a £2.4 million refurbishment that aimed to reduce its carbon footprint while retaining its Edwardian grandeur. “There’s now a new definition of luxury: luxury with authenticity and integrity behind it,” says Managing Director Kiaran MacDonald. Heating and cooling systems were replaced with low-energy, high-efficiency ones. Natural ventilation, double-glazing, and solar-reflective film on south-facing windows regulate the room temperature. Its impeccable approach to sustainability has won countless awards.
The Savoy takes waste management seriously, too. Glass bottles are reused, saving about 100 tons of glass from being recycled annually. Champagne corks are sent to a special-needs school, where pupils create and sell items to raise money for the Prince’s Trust, and old computer and kitchen equipment is donated to charities. Kaspar’s Seafood Restaurant was awarded the Sustainable Restaurant Associations’ ‘Best Food Waste Strategy’ in 2013 for its food waste-to-renewable energy scheme, whereby kitchen scraps go through combined heat and power (CHP) and anaerobic digestion processes to create enough energy to light about 20% of the rooms. Pursuing its ambition to ‘think globally and act locally’, the hotel has its own herb patch in the Victoria Embankment Gardens, which creates a good habitat for insects and birds. It’s also involved with the River of Flowers initiative, aiming to re-establish native wildflowers, bees, and butterflies in London, as well as Thames21, a charity set up to transform the littered London waterways.
And The Savoy isn’t the only stylish city establishment thinking eco. The green design and construction features of Firmdale Hotels’ Crosby Street Hotel (firmdalehotels.com), in New York, earned it a Gold LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certificate. It maximises water and power efficiency by using dual-flush and low-flow toilets, premium-efficiency motors, and occupancy-based sensors. And despite being in a major metropolis, it has maximised its outdoor space to promote biodiversity. There’s a sculpture courtyard filled with trees and shrubs, a patio with ivy-shrouded walls, and a woodland meadow on the second floor, with native plants such as butterfly weed, false indigo, and blueberries. The green roof has a vegetable patch with strawberries, tomatoes, lettuces, herbs, courgettes, and rocket, which is also home to four chickens, called Brooklyn, Manhattan, Bronx, and Queens.
PARKROYAL on Pickering
But perhaps no hotel has used outdoor space in an urban environment as ingeniously as Singapore’s PARKROYAL on Pickering (parkroyalhotels.com). The multi-award winning hotel uses natural materials throughout (wood, pebbles, recycled composite stone, and granite), and its undulating ‘hotel-in-a-garden’ design concept is strikingly innovative. It boasts 15,000 sqm of lush greenery, in the form of cascading vertical gardens, shady trees, waterfalls, and Singapore’s first zero-energy solar-powered sky gardens, as well as a kitchen garden on the fifth floor. Not only is all this foliage picturesque but it also attracts insects and birds. The hotel’s sustainable strategies include light and motion sensors, LED bulbs, rainwater reserves for irrigation (supplemented by NEWater, Singapore’s recycled water scheme), and a drip irrigation system.
In the heart of Swedish Lapland, Treehotel (treehotel.se) also employs people from nearby villages and sources its food locally – expect salmon, moose, reindeer, and even bear on the menu. Owners Kent and Britta Jonsson Lindvall’s philosophy is to run a wilderness retreat that has no environmental impact.
The six tree-rooms, set in a remote forest by the Lule River, are four to six metres above the ground. Designed by some of Scandinavia’s leading architects, each one differs profoundly – the Bird’s Nest dangles like a giant weaver dwelling; the Mirrorcube melts into the wintry wonderland – but none has harmed nature. “You could move the rooms and no one would notice that there’s been a hotel here,” says Kent.
Similarly, Butterfly House, a boutique eco-lodge on a jungle-fringed beach in northeastern Brazil, blends seamlessly with its surroundings. Founder Chloe Gibbs says, “During building, every precaution was taken not to disturb the environment.” Everything about its design shouts ‘green’ – from the grass-thatched roofs to the eco-treated bamboo and salvaged 300-year-old Brazil-nut wood used in building.
The water is heated by solar power, and waste is composted and used to produce biofertiliser, with non-organic matter being treated and recycled. It’s also fervently committed to the community: most staff members are local, and a project called ‘Flap Your Wings’ accumulates 5% of all restaurant earnings for the education of villagers.
Mövenpick Resort and Spa Dead Sea
In a very different setting, Mövenpick Resort & Spa Dead Sea, on the shores of the Dead Sea in Jordan, announced its sustainability programme in 2009 and, two years later, was awarded the world’s highest score in the Green Globe Certification. Like Hotel Verde, Mövenpick has advanced energy-saving systems in place, such as solar panels, frequency controllers for air-handling units, and water-savers for showerheads and taps. Key cards are used to save electricity, and there are solar-powered cars on site. It’s dedicated to protecting the region’s landscapes and people, so staff members (40% of whom come from nearby villages) participate in shoreside clean-ups, and 85% of food is bought locally to support the community. In addition, it grows its own fruit trees. Executive Chef Jihad Omar’s pride and joy is his organic bitter orange marmalade. “Nothing beats [it],” he says. “Our oranges are grown without chemicals or artificial fertilisers and are picked fresh from our garden.”
As green as its name suggests, Cape Town’s Hotel Verde has taken a similar tack. It has a roof garden, a living wall, an eco-pool containing living plants that clean the water, a vegetable patch on the nearby restored wetland, and an Aquaponics herb garden to provide fresh ingredients to the kitchen. The hotel also has two Cape honeybee hives, and plants trees at ‘under-greened’ schools to offset its carbon footprint. Unsurprisingly, it has many feathers to its cap: it’s the first LEED Platinum hotel in Africa, one of just six hotels to have a Platinum LEED for New Construction certificate and Africa’s first hotel to offer carbon-neutral accommodation. Nothing has been overlooked: through its thorough recycling and composting programme, it achieves its zero waste-to-landfill objective. It has photovoltaic panels, wind turbines, double-glazed, spectrally selective windows, energy-saving heating, LED motion-controlled lights, and a gym with human power-generating equipment, another first for Africa. Guests can participate in an incentives scheme, where you earn ‘Verdinos’ (the in-house currency) for reusing your towel or sorting your rubbish, which can either be used to pay your bill or donated to the Rhino Foundation.
Injidup Spa Retreat, Western Australia
Overlooking the rugged Western Australian coastline, a three-hour drive south of Perth, Injidup Spa Retreat is a tranquil beach spa resort.
Its 10 luxury ocean-view villas each feature their own private heated plunge pool and barbecue on a deck terrace, with breathtaking views overlooking Injidup Bay. Inside, the French-inspired villas feature crisp, neutral tones offset with an eclectic mix of furnishings and objets d’art.
However, the day spa is the real draw of the retreat. Offering the finest contemporary techniques blended with oriental philosophy, the selection of indulgent spa treatments includes wellness-focused body treatments, massages, and healing baths. Along with a signature range of treatments such as the Fusion Massage, guests can also take part in morning and afternoon meditation and yoga sessions.
For a unique and memorable stay, request a personalised experience, from whale-watching cruises to a private-chef dining experience in your villa.
Try these: Eco-friendly hotel spas
Indulge and help the environment simultaneously!
Zara Spa at Mövenpick Resort and Spa Dead Sea, Jordan
This spa offers hydro-pools, whirlpools, pools with varying saline concentration, steam rooms, tropical scent showers, 31 treatment rooms, and a VIP royal therapy suite. Dead Sea natural ingredients dominate treatments here. The minerals in the salt water and mud are anti-inflammatory and rejuvenate the skin and blood circulation.
The Tree Sauna at Treehotel, Sweden
This innovative spa has a steam sauna and a Hikki wood-fired hot tub. The products are organic and made with raw materials by Green Salon-certified local company c/o Gerd.