Tourist hotspots going green

For tourism properties participating in the Cayman Islands Environmental Project for the Tourism Sector, sometimes it’s lots of little things that can make a big difference.

The Department of Tourism took a media tour to a couple of those properties last week – Cobalt Coast Dive Resort in West Bay and national attraction the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park in North Side – to see just how they are progressing with their ‘greening’ initiative.

In fact, the Botanic Park stands to make a name for itself if it succeeds in getting Green Globe 21 Certification, the ultimate goal of the project, as it will be the first Botanic Park in the Caribbean to attain the title, explained Raquel Brown, the Department of Tourism’s Manager Tourism Development Services.

The environmental project is a joint initiative between the Departments of Tourism and Environment and the tourism private sector for improved environmental performance within the industry.

Proprietor of Cobalt Coast Arie Barendrecht explained how his property has been involved in the CEPTS challenge.

‘To be more concerned about the environment and making a difference is really doing a series of things, part making decisions about what to purchase and where and what price and how to change your purchasing habits, but, more importantly, working with the staff, convincing them that this is the new way to operate so they can understand the importance of the small steps and give them the opportunity to take the programme home.’

For instance, when the resort installed energy saving light bulbs, he also gave them to his staff to try out at home.

In the initial stages of the programme each property has environmental audits carried out and environmental management systems are then established. The audits review occupancy, water consumption, waste water generation and electricity consumption data and the property’s environmental performance is then compared with industry benchmarks.

Specific actions are then taken to improve the property’s environmental performance and improvements monitored, with the ultimate goal of having the properties achieve Green Globe 21 Certification.

Cobalt Coast has been implementing new environmental measures since last September as part of the programme.

While Mr. Barendrecht said the whole process has gone amazingly smooth so far, initially he wasn’t so sure about it.

‘I had my doubts at first, because what seems to make sense to us not always makes sense to staff members or guests. But I think with all the coverage at large out there in the world people have become very aware and are appreciative of the fact that they see a small operator like ourselves, Cobalt Coast, try to make a difference,’ he said.

The most difficult part initially was trying to source environmentally friendly products, but then a number of vendors began to provide for this, he said.

One of the helpful things at Cobalt Coast is that they have nine electricity metres, each for a separate department or floor, so it’s easier to track usage based on different areas, such as kitchen or laundry.

Mr. Barendrecht said that after a year of utilising the energy saving techniques they will compare to a year before, but they will obviously have to account for variables such as occupancy, fuel surcharges etc.

‘But overall I know that the additional cost of buying green products, if you will, will be far outweighed by the savings.’

Some of the best practices used at Cobalt Coast include a two-button toilet flushing system that allows users to choose the amount of water used in each flush; large bars of soap; 9-ounce bottles of shampoo replacing individually wrapped items in guest rooms; and re-useable hard plastic cups have replaced throwaway plastic cups. Divetech, the resorts diver operators, offers sports bottles and free bottled water from five-gallon jugs; bed linens are changed every three to four days; and detergents and cleaning chemicals are phosphate free.

For energy conservation some of the measures used include: liquefied petroleum gas to heat water; all lights in guest rooms are energy saving; outdoor lights are all on automatic timers; a new boat engine on Divetech’s dive boat gives more than a 50 per cent reduction in fossil fuel use; Divetech’s two air compressor engines have been replaced with state-of-the-art electric engines that reduce electricity consumption up to 40 per cent; and the resort’s air conditioning is shut down by room during low-occupancy periods.

As part of the resort’s solid waste management, 95 per cent of paper goods used are made from recycled materials; the restaurant uses cloth napkins; oil from compressors is re-cycled; used kitchen cooking oil is collected for recycling on-island to be used for bio-diesel fuel; and aluminium cans are collected for recycling.

At the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park, General Manager Andrew Guthrie explained that the environmental audits were only done last December on the attraction, so the park is relatively new to the programme.

He noted the audits found that water usage at the park was not that high, considering its large size. He said this is because so many of the plants are native and therefore don’t require much watering.

‘The gardens are primarily introduced species, but that is only five to six acres out of 64,’ he said.

He added that recently they hooked up to the public water supply and this has cut their water bill in half because three quarters of that bill was from trucks delivering water on-site and now virtually no trucks drive through the park.

Other water conservation measures include using existing cisterns to store back-up water and rainwater harvesting. In addition, all the park’s toilets are water-saving.

Another environmental plus is that none of their actual garden waste leaves the park. While they have to burn the large branches, the smaller matter simply gets pushed off the pathways and dead leaves are used as a form of mulch for plants.

Another solid waste management measure is that copy paper is recyclable and made from eucalyptus trees.

While the park currently uses mulch that is imported, Mr. Guthrie said it has been suggested that they produce their own. ‘But we’d need an industrial sized shredder for that and that’s not currently in our budget,’ he said. ‘If we could get the funding it’s something we’d like to do,’ he said.

Mr. Guthrie explained that mulch reduces water usage and manpower because you don’t have to weed or water plants as much.

The park is also looking into are getting solar power for the fountains and the pumps and getting solar pumps for back-up water, which would come in handy in the case of a hurricane.

Another environmental endeavour at the park is the Native Tree Nursery, which opened just a few weeks ago. This enables island residents to purchase native trees such as Mahogany, the West Indian Cedar, the Silver Thatch Palm or Smokewood, along with many more native species.

‘Native plants are adapted to this environment so they need less water and are hardier to pests and they provide food and shelter to native animals,’ explained Mr. Guthrie.

Energy conservation at the park includes these measures: most doors to the visitors’ centre are equipped with spring closers; the air conditioning in the visitors’ centre is programmed to maintain warmer temperatures when the centre is closed; and almost all the lighting on property is energy efficient.

According to the Department of Tourism, the first hotels to be benchmarked green tourism entities – based on set Green Globe 21 indicators -will be Cobalt Coast, Compass Point and Southern Cross Club along with the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park. Soon to follow will be Little Cayman Beach Resort and Pirates Point.

It is hoped the first four properties can then be certified by June.

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‘Overall I know that the additional cost of buying green products, if you will, will be far outweighed by the savings.’

– Cobalt Coast Proprietor Arie Barendrecht

Captions:

1

Mr. Barnendrecht and Ms Kym Martin talk about their best practices in laundry. Photos: Cliodhna Doherty

2

Andrew Guthrie at the Native Plants Nursery.

3

Mr. Barendrecht shows off the large soaps and shampoo bottles in his guest rooms.

4

Dead leaves can provide a natural type of mulch to plants and is good for the soil.

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