Cape Town – It’s no secret that a move to responsible tourism and economic practices in the country is no longer optional.
With human populations growing, temperatures rising and our overall dependence on natural resources becoming more and more, there has never been a time to be more aware of our effect on the environment.
South Africa has an ironic advantage on sustainable tourism, in that tourism growth is behind that of first world countries with leading economies. In Africa, the hotel industry grew nearly 30% over the past year, and is expected to grow exponentially in the coming years.
With the high pressure to go green, this means that new developments will be able to lay foundations for green hotels from the ground up, instead of having to adopt existing infrastructure to slot in with green practices.
Hotel Verde in Cape Town serves as a prime example. This hotel opened in 2013, and was built on green-only principles. Within one year of existence, the hotel was already named a World leading establishment when became the very first hotel in the world to be awarded double platinum for Ledership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) from the United States Green Building Council (USGBC).
More recently, in April, Minister Molewa signed the Paris Climate Change Agreement on behalf of the South African Government – an agreement that is universally regarded as a seminal point in the development of the international climate change regime under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Although this is not only relevant in the Western Cape, the agreement means that new sustainable tourism practices will be further prioritized in the country.
In many ways, SA has to potential to keep leading the world in terms of sustainable development and tourism.
Cape Town International is monitoring its carbon footprint
Testing vehicle smoke emissions as well as monitoring air quality regularly are just some of the things Airports Company South Africa [Acsa] are incorporating at Cape Town International airport to help curb its carbon footprint.
According to News24, Acsa met with the portfolio committee on environmental affairs and development planning on Tuesday, 10 May, to discuss its environmental protection plan and air traffic operational improvements following an increase in arrivals, and says that strategies will be implemented to ensure that the areas surrounding the airport are protected from gases emitted by aircraft.
Green accommodation transformation
The Department of Economic Development and Tourism in the Western Cape says it will aim more intensely to assist hospitality industries in greening their establishments going forward.
Western Cape Department of Economic Development and Tourism’s briefing on Economic Opportunities spokesperson, Fernel Abrahams told Traveller24 at a green economies update briefing on Wednesday morning, 11 May, the department will launch a specific programme towards the second half of 2016, focused on raising awareness and engaging companies in sustainable tourism.
Abrahams says hospitality industries are aware of the green initiatives available, but have been slow in implementing radical change.
The Department’s programme will hence focus on helping establishments to engage in sustainable practices.
Robben Island will go solar
During his annual Tourism budget speech Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom told that solar powered initiatives will be launches at 6 iconic SA attractions, in a bid to step off the grid.
Robben Island off the coast of Cape Town will be one of the destinations were this pilot programme is first introduces. Robben Island currently depends entirely on diesel generated electricity, but contractors have already been appointed to install renewable energy on the island, the minister said.
There are not a lot of hotels near Cape Town International Airport. Most business and leisure travellers are in a hurry to get to Cape Town, or reluctant to leave, and understandably so, given the city’s many attractions.
That’s why the 145-room Hotel Verde, located about a three-minute drive to Cape Town International Airport, feels like such a game changer. I stayed there my last night of a recent trip to Cape Town and it felt like a glimpse into the future of the hotel industry.
Hotel Verde claims to be Africa’s greenest hotel, built from the ground up according to eco-friendly principles. Staying there, you are practicing conscious, sustainable tourism. It’s the first hotel in Africa to offer a carbon-neutral stay, meaning you know exactly how much or how little your stay impacted the environment, and that makes it an amazingly feel-good experience.
Being accountable for its footprint is the guiding principle behind this hotel, which opened in August, 2013. South Africa’s green building certification wasn’t sophisticated enough for Hotel Verde, said General Manager Samantha Annandale, so they applied for — and got – LEED certification by the U.S. Green Building Council.
Annandale reckons the hotel got about 30 million rand (2.57 million USD) in free publicity just for being green.
Pulling up to the hotel, I knew it was going to be unlike anything I’d ever experienced when I saw the massive wind turbines spinning in the parking lot. But as big as they appear to be, they aren’t big enough, Annandale said. Though these are the most visible signs of green technology at the hotel, the wind turbines turned out to be probably its least productive investment.
“Return on investment (of wind turbines) is 20 years,” Annandale said. “We’d need to build (the wind turbines) bigger to make it worth it. We’ve learned from our mistakes. But they make a huge statement.”
Annandale spent a lot more time talking to me about the hotel’s eco pool, which uses plants and natural soil filtration to balance bacteria without chlorine. Water is clean and clear, but nothing like the hotel swimming pool international guests are used to, and some find it a bit weird, Annandale said.
Getting used to it requires a new mindset. “We cannot build hotels the way we used to build them,” she said.
Hotel Verde owners Mario and Annemarie Delicio have a 10-year lease on the wetland adjacent to the hotel where they built the eco pool. They took what amounted to a rat-infested swamp and turned it into an outdoor gym, with plants that attract birds and bees, owl houses and beehives that the hotel harvests. Kids staying at the hotel can go on a treasure hunt there.
Born in Italy and raised in Germany, Mario is a longtime South African resident and the shareholder in another hotel in Ethiopia.
One of Mario’s goals at Hotel Verde was to have zero waste to landfill. “We wanted to revolutionize that,” Annandale said. So far, the hotel manages to divert an 91-to-94 percent of waste from the landfill and they do that by recycling. The hotel has a composting room. Packaging is returned to suppliers. “One thing you can never control is what guests bring in,” Annandale said.
About 30 percent of the hotel staff’s time is spent educating school children, guests, tours and site inspectors.
Hotel Verde construction cost about 240 million rand ($20.5 million) and building it green cost about 20 million rand ($1.7 million) more than an ordinary hotel would have cost, Annandale estimates. It will take three to five years to see a return on the investment, she said.
Annandale is particularly proud of the room where gray water from guest showers is recycled. It’s fed into tanks, filtered by ultraviolet light, and then piped back up into the building to flush guest toilets.
The hotel also has a 40,000-liter rainwater harvesting tank for car washing, irrigation and cleaning.
To save energy on water heating, a geothermal loop system 90 feet beneath the surface of the hotel taps into the natural water in the earth, acting as a heat sink for the hotel water.
Engineers from the University of Cape Town visit the hotel, which serves as a model for the Stellenbosch municipality.
Art designed by local school children and South African artists is used to decorate the hotel. School children in the nearby townships don’t get art education, according to Annandale. Mario agreed to fund an art education project on condition the children learn about sustainability. In return, they created the designs for stunning tapestries that decorate the common areas on the floor I my room was on.
Using Recycled Products
One wall in the lobby was textured with recycled glass. The hotel’s carpet runners are made of recycled plastic. On the outside of the hotel, a five-story mosaic art installation was designed by Svenja, Mario’s youngest daughter.
There is free unlimited Wi-Fi and sensor lighting throughout Hotel Verde, and my room was paperless, in that all hotel information was on the TV.
One of my favorite places in the hotel was in the basement garage, where graffiti artists had been invited to come in and paint. This turned out to be a moneymaker for the hotel. Guests loved the basement art and some have paid to have banquets there, Annandale said.
But you probably want to hear about the rooms. I loved that the butter cookies I found on the coffee tray in my room were made by a local woman in Mitchell’s Plain, one of South Africa’s largest townships.
“We helped her become compliant in food preparation and now she employs two people,” Annandale said.
When you check out of Hotel Verde, you have the option to offset your carbon footprint and you can track where and how it was offset. Just knowing that made me feel good.