Sustainable Mixed-Use Resorts - Reality or 'Greenwash'?
By Miguel Ruano
Thursday, 2nd December 2010
A truly sustainable mix-use resort must address the triple bottom line: economic, social, environmental – and always take into account the specificities of the development's location. 

Most development branded as ‘sustainable' tends to focus on either the environmental aspects or the social ones (i.e, community-orientated).  Typically, no matter how good the intentions at the onset, there is no proper balance between the three components of sustainability. 

And only private sector developers seem to be truly concerned about the economic sustainability of the development – as most projects supported by public funds tend to adopt a ‘prototypical' character that does little to demonstrate how environmental and social sustainability principles can be introduced in projects while keeping, or even enhancing, their economic viability. 

Legislation versus commercial gain

Legislation (encouraged by media pressure which fuels and is itself fuelled by public concern) will be a key driver of environmental sustainability in the medium and the long term, particularly in the EU and in other developed economies (Japan, Australia and most likely, the USA). 

However smart developers are already taking advantage of the market trend to use sustainability to differentiate their projects from their competitors –  thus gaining a commercial edge and often, also reaping a sales price premium. All these factors interplay in this continuously evolving scene and it all leads in the same direction: more and deeper environmental sustainability. 

The push for low carbon

Forthcoming legislation is likely to continue to focus on carbon reduction, with the ultimate aim of achieving  zero carbon developments. The ability to develop self-standing zero carbon mix-use resorts will depend on a number of factors; such as location, climate, available technology, population density, public transport and many others. 

To make a resort into a zero carbon project is probably in itself a contradiction, as visitors will have to use some form of transport to get there –generating carbon dioxide in the process – unless all transport of people and goods is done via zero carbon transport or it is offset by other means (albeit some people claim that offsetting is ‘cheating'). Therefore, to achieve true carbon neutrality, the resort will actually have to be ‘carbon negative' in order to compensate for the transport to and from. 

And, even in such a hypothetical case, reliance on the national grid and on regional renewable energy sources is likely to be required to achieve total carbon neutrality.

The sustainability value chain

To build sustainably, developers face challenges from financial and technological, to practical (i.e, the lack of suitably skilled tradespeople). 

The most important factor is probably the lack of a complete and well structured value chain that can put sustainable products in the market at a price the consumers can and will pay.  While the value chain for ‘conventional' construction has been developed over centuries, even millennia, the new sustainable building value chain is still incipient, and in most countries no more than five years old. 

A fully formed value chain includes not only all the ‘links' (from research and development, education, design and production to delivery and usage), but also all components (from people and resources to technology and regulation). This includes, most crucially, an interested and willing consumer at the end of the chain.  All this takes time to develop, but it is happening fast, because pressure from legislators, media, public, and consumers is encouraging it to happen.

Rewards for entrepreneurs and consumers

Regardless of the external pressures, the rewards for forward thinking businesses are clear: if they get the product right, they will sell better, faster and at higher prices than competitors with non-sustainable products.

At the other end, for users and consumers, the rewards typically come in the form of long-term energy savings (providing adequate energy policies are in place), healthier buildings, a better quality of life, a sense of community and hopefully a higher resale value.

Retrofitting versus new build

But the challenge is not only about new developments. The retrofitting of existing resorts is not only desirable – it is essential. Existing resorts will be in the majority for decades to come and the carbon cuts that are required will not be achieved unless retrofitting takes place. 

Again, the problem is the current absence of a fully developed value chain that can provide these retrofitting services at a reasonable cost. However, many companies are already working on creating such value chains – to their commercial advantage. Legislation, regulation, fiscal and other incentives will also contribute strongly to this trend.

Eco-resorts, eco-tourism, eco-holidays – and consumers

In some countries, particularly in the west, consumers' interest in eco-holidays is high and has been for years. Typically, these consumers have a higher education and a keen interest in quality of life and are looking for sensible alternatives to the fast, ‘use and dispose', consumer society.  This segment is not easily fooled by ‘green-wash marketing', as they are quite knowledgeable regarding the principles and practices of sustainability and their eco-conscience is very high.

Arguably, not all consumers are like these ‘enlightened minority'. However, it has been proven that most consumers are generally motivated to buy ‘sustainable' products and if they were available for the same price as ‘normal' products, most (possibly all)  would choose the ‘eco' option. People want to feel good about how they live and what they purchase and social pressure is intensifying everywhere. This is no different for holiday decisions – nobody wants to feel guilty while on vacation.

Unfortunately, due to the absence of a fully functional value chain, the eco-products available on the market - whether homes, cars or produce - usually carry a price premium which makes them affordable only to a certain socio-economic strata.

However as the market develops and more products and technologies become available, economies of scale will start to have an impact and the entire market will eventually tip over, following the same pattern of products in the past like the automobile, the computer or the cellular phone. Pioneer users start trends that eventually became mainstream, while providing essential funding for the development of mass-market products.

The Hotel Solutions Partnership team of hotel consultants knows just how important it is to fully understand the challenges facing our clients. The Hotel Solutions Partnership offers specialist hotel consultancy services to hotel owners, operators, developers and investors, or those wishing to become involved in the hotel and hospitality industry.

It also aims to provide hotel consultancy with a very low carbon footprint. Our business model minimises the impact on the environment and, in respect of the travel necessary for an assignment, we buy an appropriate level of carbon offsets. Intelligent thinking, effective teaming and applied expertise form the foundation of the way we work with our clients, and the solutions we offer are tailored to meet the individual and special requirements of your hotel or hospitality business.

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