Sunday, 30 March 2008

eco-hotel of the month

This month Shireen and Barbara, Innkeepers at Hotel Mocking Bird Hill in Jamaica, explain their motivation to set up an eco-friendly hotel and talk about their future plans:

Since opening almost 14 years ago, Hotel Mocking Bird Hill has gained credibility as a leader in sustainable tourism development in the Caribbean. Twice Green Globe certified we are often asked why observing sustainable practices is important to us and what do we undertake to claim we are environmentally friendly.

One of the motivating reasons is that we have grown up in developing and then, later, in first world countries and seen the disparities between the two, as well as the negative impacts of so called “development”. This has influenced us a great deal. We have seen how communities were without water while the water available was directed to the large luxury resorts. We also lived in Germany for a long time and were very active in the “Green” movement in the late 70’s and early 80’s. We actively separated our waste, discarded unnecessary packaging at the supermarket counters, joined a group of friends who would collectively buy local seasonal food from the farmer and take it in turns to drive out there and pick it up for the group.

People living in abject poverty usually do not have the luxury to care about natural resources, as they worry instead about their next meal and obtaining their most basic needs. In the worst cases, their destitution leads to destruction of their environment. At the same time, however, our ability to create wealth and the economic resources that might enable those people to escape poverty will require that we use our natural resources as wisely as possible. Hence we have the doubly challenging task of making prudent use of land, air, water, forests and oceans while trying to meet the demands of an increasing number of impoverished people. We recognise the critical role that tourism can play in addressing these demands and set out to therefore operate our business along sustainable guidelines and demonstrate that even small business can make a positive contribution.

We started toying with the idea of developing an intimate inn / boutique hotel along sustainable guidelines and started by touring the country to select our location. We therefore consciously sought out Port Antonio, the least developed tourist region of Jamaica and set out from the start to plan and develop our business along responsible and sustainable principles. In doing so we sought to identify actions, resources and partners necessary to encourage the provision of products and services, which enhance rather than destroy the environment and culture.

Size is an important aspect that affects operations and costs. Much of what we do is possible because the hotel is small. It would not be feasible for a large resort to dry their clothes in the sun, to do their baking in sun ovens and so on. So in such instances the smaller scale of operations is an asset. It’s like nature, which is not mass-produced. Hence, environmentally friendly operations are ideal for small hotels as it does not require enormous capital outlays and it keeps operating costs under control.

We are constantly working to increase the efficiency of our systems as this is the main area of improving our performance. We install an awning to provide shade and keep our storerooms cooler which in turn lowers the demand on the cooling units (freezers and fridges).

Rather than trying to find solutions to our problems, such as recycling the plastic, we focus on avoiding the issue from the start so that we do not have to worry about the recycling. When considering how to invest money and effort and time for the sake of environmental benefits, choosing the most effective actions, though not terribly difficult, requires a bit of thought and homework.

Our future plans include adding more solar panels and using renewable energy to operate pool and water pumps as well as for outside lighting and guttering the roof of a building which has not been guttered as yet and increasing our storage capacities for harvesting rain water.

Our best moments are when staff who left our services return saying they realise how much they appreciated working with us after they left and that they are so used to our standards that they are not happy working elsewhere and above all they recognise how much they have learnt working with us. This acknowledgement makes our work worthwhile and brings home the fact that our work is not in vain and that we are achieving our goals gradually. Of course positive guest feedback brings moments of quiet satisfaction and a motivation to continue and keep improving.

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