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If you followed the lead of the innovators behind Hotel Verde in Cape Town, South Africa, you might be able to.
The hotel was built with sustainability in mind from the ground up. It’s literally in the walls since the construction includes Cobiax void formers – recycled plastic balls placed strategically within the concrete slabs that are required for the various floors. They dramatically reduce the amount of concrete required, saving approximately 535m3 or 1284 ton while maintaining the structural integrity.
Andre Harms, Sustainability Manager and founder of Ecolution Consulting, is a trained mechanical engineer and the expertise behind some of the more technical aspects of the building. He says. “We have looked at different ways of doing everything right from the word go.”
As well as photovoltaic panels and wind turbines (which contribute about 7,700 kWh annually) for power, Hotel Verde also boasts a sophisticated grey water recycling plant that contributes towards a 37% reduction of potable water use. “We have run a network of pipes through the building in order to reticulate the grey water, collect it and supply it to the toilets,” Harms explains. They also utilise a rainwater filtering and capture system to provide water for the car wash and irrigation. The elevators run on a regenerative drive to allow for about 30% of the input energy to be recaptured and fed back into the building, and double-glazed windows with spectrally selective glass filter out hot rays, so less heat enters the building reducing the need for air-conditioning.
In order to bypass the need for standard air-conditioning systems - traditionally one of the biggest energy consumers – the hotel uses ground source heat pumps made by 100 holes drilled about 76 metres into the ground, where the temperature is a consistent 19 degrees centigrade. They can therefore use the earth as a heat source in winter and heat sink in summer, boosting efficiency and dramatically reducing operational costs.
Owners Mario and Annemarie Delicio have deliberately set out to create Africa’s greenest hotel and used it to create a showcase for some of the most advanced environmentally conscious technological installations as well as construction and operation practices in the world.
“If you look at what can be done from a green angle you look at energy, water and waste reduction,” Delicio explains. “You then take each of these areas and work out how to implement alternatives, generating your own electricity for example. Then you need to explore the extent to which you can go.
“There is no other hotel in Africa that has gone to the extent that we are hoping to achieve,” Delicio says. “But going green is not just about the building, it’s about every aspect of the operation; zero waste to landfill for example.”
The couple are determined to involve customers in their activities as well, with rewards for more sustainable behavior, and in fact gym-users work out on power-generating equipment which shows how much energy they’re pushing back into the hotel.
Guy Stehlik, founder of BON Hotels, who will manage and operate Hotel Verde, says that the value of being involved in a project of this nature, plus its learning in terms of future hotels, is invaluable. “The three cornerstones of BON Hotels are Good people. Good thinking. Good feeling. Hotel Verde and the philosophy behind it is where the Good thinking lies. This is definitely one of the most innovative hotels in the country and we are thrilled to be involved in a project of this nature.”
The hotel is located very close to Cape Town airport, and near the city and business districts. It has 145 rooms and additionally sources seasonal and locally produced food with a focus on health and wellness, with lots of raw and organic dishes. There is also an outdoor gym and eco-trail for guests to enjoy.
Mario and Annemarie have also funded a project at several local schools which culminated in several art students decorating the walls of their hotel.
The project sees 45 grade 11 students from various schools within the airport vicinity researching environmental responsibility, conceptualising and producing artworks in a variety of media which form part of the hotel’s art collection. Annemarie’s passion for art and social upliftment is what initiated the project. She says, “Our thought behind this project was to help these students, who have limited, if any, access to art studies at their schools by giving them the best tools, teachers and facilities available to do what they love and what they are good at.”
All these concerted efforts have won Hotel Verde – amongst other things – an Eco-Logic Water Conservation Award.
“This award is recognition of the years of work and dedication of the entire professional team who have made Hotel Verde, Africa’s greenest hotel” said Mario on acceptance of the award. “However, our work is not done and every employee at Hotel Verde continues to be eco-conscious wherever they can, because we simply owe it to our environment”
As well as the grey-water system, the hotel’s other water saving measures include:
Leslie Hoy, Manager of Environmental Management Services at Rand Water, sponsor of the award explained that the judges looked for both theoretical as well as practical examples of what the nominees have achieved.
“I wanted to see that savings were quantified and not merely explained or spoken about. We had to see that the nominated person or organisation had looked at the matter holistically and set processes in motion that will go into the future, and not just for the next day.”
Despite the fact that Hotel Verde is the first of its kind, the team doesn’t want it to be a secret; they want to share their convictions with anyone who’ll listen. “We might have the slogan ‘Africa’s Greenest Hotel’ right now, but we hope it won’t be for long,” says Harms. “We want to show the continent what can be done. We want to challenge the industry as a whole.”
Here’s a summary of Mario and Annemarie’s achievements and some tips from Mario.
Enviropedia eco-logic: Winner - Water Conservation award.
Enviropedia eco-logic: Certificate of Commendation
Eskom Energy Efficiency Form: Energy efficiency for commercial building.
Greening the future: Energy efficiency and carbon management award
110% Green Campaign (Western Cape Government initiative)
GH: What have been the main benefits of implementing these green initiatives?
MD: We have considerably lower running costs to conventional hotels. Our energy and water saving practises are a great help to the running costs.
Additionally, educating and inspiring guests to support the green initiative. It has been a pleasure to note the interest in our sustainability operations and practises. The gym for instance is a good example of guest involvement.
Our concept is welcomed by all sectors of our community and the press exposure has been very positive for our Hotel.
GH: Do you have plans to expand on green initiatives in the future?
MD: Operating a green hotel always requires pioneering and out of the box thinking. To implement skills which have not been seen before is a challenge. Operating with a business as usual attitude is not good enough.
We constantly increase the reach of our OMMP (Operating Materials Management Plan) aimed at reducing negative impacts of goods and services of suppliers to key consumables to Hotel Verde which, embracing resources and materials assist an efficient zero waste to landfill strategy. Elements of the OMMP include sustainable procurement criteria in the form of specially designed supplier scorecards and the creating of custom made products for Hotel Verde.
The in-house currency is another example where we hope to expand. It is aimed at creating awareness with the guests around all possible take-home green initiatives. We are reinforcing good green behaviour by passing this cost saving on to the guest. Equally as much as encouraging a healthy lifestyle such as using the jogging trail or gym and also separating their waste in the rooms.
In support of Earth Hour initiatives, Hotel Verde has decided to make it a weekly event, so between 19h00 and 20h00, on a weekly basis, all non-essential lights and equipment is switched off. Guests are encouraged to order dishes that require short or little cooking times, to reduce the use of electricity, and to enjoy a pizza from the wood-fired pizza oven, in a beautiful candle-lit setting.
GH: What would be your top three pieces of advice to hotels looking to do the same?
MD: Go green, because this is the right decision for the future of our planet. We have a responsibility as a company and as individuals towards our future generations.
Don’t be afraid to question the status quo of the industry and come up with innovative ideas. You will be surprised, what can be achieved. Sustainable building definitely offers better return in the long term. Accept the higher initial capital outlay in favour of these future benefits.
And finally, it’s not only about building green, in order to support a green building, you need to manage the property in gound-breaking sustainable operating procedures which will define and set you apart from other hotels.