TREADING SOFTLY

Dawie Meiring, chief systems and sustainability officer, Verde Hotels

Q: Verde Hotels achieved the highest-scoring GBCSA 6-star Green Star Existing Building Performance Pilot certification for Hotel Verde Cape Town Airport. When constructing or refurbishing a hotel to green standards, what are your considerations?
A: One of the most important considerations is that, naturally, hotels are heavily reliant on water and electricity resources, translating into the need for a strategy that must lower consumption without compromising guest comfort and experience. Green technology results in savings that easily accelerate return on investment (ROI) by lowering a hotel’s operational expenses. We see this play out in two ways.

Firstly, passive: items that require less initial capital outlay but do not produce resources for consumption by the property (low-flow water fittings and automated pressure control devices; and in the case of electricity, occupancy and CO2 sensors). Secondly, active: generally these items require a greater capital outlay during design and construction, and likely produce resources for the property.

We pride ourselves in understanding the balance needed between active and passive technology to provide a shortened ROI period, and being able to deliver optimal operational savings to the hotel owners or investors.

Q: On what basis does Verde Hotels select a site or existing building in Africa?
A: We align ourselves with like-minded individuals, such as investors who truly believe in making a positive sustainable change in the hospitality sector. Once we have those relationships in place, the project can be scrutinised for feasibility, both from a financial and environmental perspective.

Q: How do you monitor the performance/operational success of a sustainable hotel, from a building and occupation rate?
A: Through the use of smart-building technology, including building management systems (BMS) and computerised maintenance management systems, we can then collect (in real-time) actual performance data. Items such as smart meters are invaluable for measuring resource consumption. The allied collection, analytics and verifications are compared to a number of benchmarks that are vital for managing our properties sustainably.

A good example is Hotel Verde Cape Town Airport where we have experienced water use as low as 82 litres per guest per night, and electricity intensity of below 90 kWh/m²/per annum. This roughly translates to between 60% and 65% fewer resources consumed than the standard benchmarking values for a 4-star-rated Tourism Grading Council of South Africa hotel.

We are able to calculate all our resource use back to either cover (a term used for restaurant patrons) or guest nights (the number of guests in the hotel). We have been very successful in having our guest experience exceed the 4-star requirements, determined by great guest reviews, both on their sustainable experience and enjoyment.

Q: What international green standards are applied to Verde Hotel buildings?
A: We have employed a philosophy of supporting the GBCSA as much as possible, since we were involved in the original hotel certification tool with the GBCSA. However, if the country we are working in does not yet have an existing GBCSA-certification process, we will pursue LEED from the US Green Building Council.

The level of certification we apply for is project specific and relies heavily on the resources available in that country. We also aspire to certify all our properties, not only for certification during construction but also operational certification – something we believe, in some cases, carries more weight and impact in mitigating the effect on the environment.

Q: How do you translate and communicate the concept of ‘green’ into quality for guests?
A: All Verde hotels embrace carbon offsetting through the purchase of CO2 credits from the Kariba REDD+ Project in Zimbabwe. Analytics determine the carbon offset per room/night, and certificates can then be issued to our guests or corporate businesses that stay in our African hotels. Currently we issue carbon certificates at roughly 23g per room/night.

All our hotels also feature ‘green cards’, an initiative whereby we inform our guests of the technology we employ, inclusive of public areas. In addition, we have our own in-room television ‘green channels’ from which guests can view live data collected by our BMS, such as the consumption and saving of resources.

Q: What do you think guests’ perceptions and expectations are of a green hotel?
A: The uptake of travellers embracing the sustainable travel initiative has been slow, but since Hotel Verde’s inception in 2013, it has seen a steady increase. Booking.com, for example, has recently added a special link to sustainable travel destinations on its booking website, showcasing all its registered ‘green key’-certified properties.

Hotel Verde guest comments indicate that they are pleasantly surprised by the excellent accommodation standards, removing the stigma that sustainable hotels offer sub-standard comfort. Being sustainable need not mean compromising guest experience. It is our belief that sustainable travel will continue to grow substantially over the next five years, with the industry responding to choices that travellers dictate and expect.

By Kerry Dimmer
Illustration: Janine Petzer

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