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For 26 years, the Green Hotel Association has been advising that “Being green goes directly to your bottom line” — but few hotels open their books to demonstrate just how much “green” going green saves. So, when I got the opportunity to meet with Lyn Santos Rodriguez, Corporate Sustainability Senior Manager for Karisma Hotels & Resorts, while visiting Riviera Maya in Mexico this Spring, I was excited to find that she was willing to show the details and share the numbers.
Karisma operates several all-inclusive luxury and family-oriented resorts, including two Nickelodeon properties in the Dominican Republic and Mexico. Karisma has implemented both high-tech and low-tech green features and programs that go far beyond simply reminding guests to reuse towels to save water. Together, these innovations have significantly reduced the company’s environmental impact while saving money and earning their resorts coveted environmental certifications, including EarthCheck Silver, Green Globe and Travelife Gold. At Generations Riviera Maya (GRM), I saw ten of their go-green programs in action. All offered smart solutions without sacrificing guest comfort, and often improving the visitor’s experience.
- Key Card Light Controls
The electricity to every room at GRM is controlled at the entrance by inserting the room key card into a special panel. When guests leave their rooms, and remove the card, all of the lights are automatically shut off. These devices cost Karisma $50 -$200 USD per room to install, depending on the length of cables needed. According to Rodriguez, even though the rooms already have extremely efficient LED lights, this extra technology saves the resort approximately 1,200 watts per room per day. Plus the technology is great for guests as it makes losing their keys much less likely.
- Solar Water Heating Roof Panels
The roof of the resort has an array of solar panels that pre-heat shower and bath water. Heating water in this manner generates gas savings of 10-20% throughout the resort.
- Local Greenhouse
A crown jewel in Karisma’s sustainability efforts is a 70,000 sq. ft. hydroponic greenhouse built by GRM’s original owners. Today, the company grows 10 to 12 tons of produce each month, including tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers, as well as a selection of fresh herbs. Depending on the season, the hydroponic food covers 20% – 80% of the hotel’s demand, saving the company 5-10% of their food costs. The greenhouse tour is also a popular attraction for guests. Of course, it also helps reduce the company’s carbon footprint and makes the salsa and Mojitos taste amazing.
- Kitchen Waste Partnership
Generally, the single biggest source of resort food waste comes from the prep side, in the kitchens. Before they formed a partnership with a local hog farm, the resort was generating 15 tons of kitchen waste per month. Now, the farmer comes on-site several times a week to pick up all the scraps, which feed 55 animals.
- Leaf Waste To Mulch
Keeping the grounds immaculate is essential for any luxury resort, and the resort staff trims 200 m3 of leaves and other vegetation each month to keep the gardens pristine. They invested in an on-site mulcher, and now they can recycle the mulch back into the landscape. As the company never purchases mulch directly, they do not have an accurate cost comparison, but commercial bags of mulch at Home Depot in Mexico cost about $9 per m3.
Not only is creating and using their own mulch sustainable, it is economical.
- Straw-Free Beverages
As part of an ongoing effort to reduce plastic waste, Karisma properties have replaced the 350,000 plastic straws they were using per month with 80,000 biodegradable compostable straws. At GRM, they no longer offer straws unless a patron asks for one, which will reduce the number of straws used even further this year.
- Water Conservation
Generating pure water for American and European tourists is a big issue for resorts all over the globe. Karisma has an in-house purification system, which uses reverse-osmoses and UV light to treat the well water onsite. They have also installed meters on many of the buildings to monitor water use. This allows them to detect leaks right away. Rodriguez notes that one of the Karisma hotels lowered its water consumption from 2.4 m3 per occupied room to 1.5 m3 per occupied room simply by identifying and fixing water leaks. To further reduce water waste, Rodriguez hopes to install bottle refilling stations for guests, to significantly decrease the number of bottles used on premises and save the resort 10% -30% in these costs over the next few years.
- Planting Mangroves
In 2005, the natural mangrove forest area near the GRM resort sustained significant damage from Hurricane Wilma. The resort worked with the Mexican Government over five years to cut away dead branches, dig water canals, and plant small red mangrove seeds. Now, the mangroves have fully recovered and are providing a crucial habitat for many species that guests enjoy as they walk or bike along the resort paths. Mangroves also help stabilize the shore and protect it from storms, which is essential for a beach-based vacation experience.
- Faux Reef
In 2013-14, the original owner of the resort built the largest artificial reef along the coast, to help protect the white sand beach and to provide habitat for fish and marine species of all kinds,. “Kan-Kanán” was constructed using over 1,000 hollow pyramids made from concrete and micro-silica. The artificial reef is visually striking and dramatically improves the bio-diversity of the resort’s waters.
- Saving Turtles
The property has two sea turtle “camps” authorized by the Environmental Agency in Mexico. Both camps are bird-excluding enclosures, which are operated in partnership with Universidad Tecnológica de Nayarit and Universidad Javeriana de Colombia. The Universities send student interns to help rescue turtles during peak hatching months. In exchange, the hotels offer the students free room and board. By moving eggs into the safe spaces, and helping baby turtles make it safely to the sea, this program has saved nearly 1,200 turtles in just the last four years. Resorts along with Florida coast (another critical turtle habitat area) should take note of this innovative partnership!
As I walked around the resort, I was impressed by how skillfully GRM signals guests about their many efforts to “go green.” There are signs that explain their conservation efforts and all the trash cans have three bins — trash, recycling and compost. They also have educated their staff about what they are doing to protect the environment. This has instilled a sense of pride that encourages staffers to share their work and spread the word. On Mondays, for example, the staff all decorate their faces with a bit of colorful paint. When guests ask what the occasion is, they explain that it’s in honor of the greenhouse and other green efforts on-site. Their Kids Program features “Eko Chef”events, where children learn how to prepare healthy foods. In addition, the company also participates in special cleanup days, and sponsors contests for which departments can make the biggest green strides.
By weaving “go green” efforts into every day living on the property, GRM fosters a sense of stewardship among its staff and its guests. And while I did not find anyone who had selected GRM specifically for its green practices, everyone I spoke with said they had noticed and appreciated these efforts. It seems that when you’re luxuriating in a Bali bed by the sea, knowing the snacks are locally-grown and the property is sustainably managed adds to your pleasure and, according to dozens of TripAdvisor reviewers, makes it more likely that you will return the next year.
April 30, 2019 at 03:15PM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs