I’M PACKING FOR MY HONEYMOON. Sustainability just got sexy
How do seekers of stylish escapes find the greenest hotels? JULIET KINSMAN, co-founder of eco-hotel champion Bouteco, has all the answers
In goes another sweater, some waterproofs and old walking shoes. You’d think someone who was editor-in-chief of boutique hotel specialist Mr & Mrs Smith for more than 10 years might choose white-sand beaches and private cabanas for that special escape, but no, not me. ‘You’re going where?’ asked my Canadian father. ‘Yes, Dad, Newfoundland for three nights.’
I’d had my eye on the rugged, rocky coast of Canada’s easternmost island since Todd Saunders’ dramatic, stilted rectangular architecture came to fruition as Fogo Island Inn in 2013. Instead of dreaming about infinity pools and marble bathrooms, I was excited about hand-loomed artisanal rugs and foraged food in this environmentally conscious social enterprise. I’d read that to revive the struggling fishing village’s economy, boat-builders had been redeployed as the hotel’s furniture makers, and patchwork bedspreads had been made by hookers. ‘Wow, that is novel’, I thought, before discovering that’s the local nickname for quilters. What better adventure for a honeymoon?
A few years before, I’d heard Zita Cobb’s TED Talk about Fogo Island Inn. A Fogo Islander herself and the sixth of seven children born to an illiterate, cod-fishing family, Cobb left Fogo Island at 16 to study business, retiring in her late forties as one of Canada’s richest women thanks to a smart sale of fibre-optics stock. By setting up the Shorefast Foundation, Cobb revived Fogo’s fishing community before financing the inn – a stunning 29-suite hotel at the edge of the Atlantic.
‘Fogo Island Inn exists to be a servant of the nature and culture of this place,’ says Cobb. ‘How it was conceived and the way it is operated is the lens through which we make every decision about the positive impact on the natural and cultural environment.’
‘We believe that ecological sustainability follows from social sustainability — business is one of our best tools.’
I can attest that the inn is also high on comfort, charisma, style and good times. I experienced first-hand how satisfying it feels to stay in a place where profits go back into the immediate economy – from caribou sausages or pickled quail eggs in the award-winning restaurant to excursions with a local fisherman. The photos of my new husband and me in high-vis orange fishermen’s boiler suits, watching a pale-blue iceberg on its way down from the Arctic, are more Bear Grylls than clichéd honeymoon snap, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Another visionary who switched sectors to put purpose before profit is Wilbert Das, the brains behind Uxua Casa Hotel & Spa in Brazil. The creative director of Diesel for more than two decades, the Dutch native wanted to make up for his time in fast fashion by creating a hotel in harmony with its Bahian village setting, where international designers worked with local artisans using ancient methods and reclaimed materials.
‘We avoided invading the spectacular beachfront or rainforest and instead repurposed a handful of empty, 16th-century fishermen’s houses at the heart of old Trancoso, right beside local families,’ Das explains. ‘Love, care and appreciation for beauty and tradition were key ingredients of this successful collaboration, which has brought prosperity to Trancoso’s artisanal community, allowing many to continue traditional skills that might otherwise have been lost.’
Uxua now has a dedicated fashion following so, you see, green can be glamorous. And it is this kind of project that is helping to change hoteliers’ attitudes to the environment, which have come on leaps and bounds from the days of simply suggesting hotel guests use their towels and sheets more than once. Now, it’s all about reverse-osmosis-filtered water
(salts and impurities removed by a semi-permeable membrane) and organic roof gardens. Where eco-friendly escapes once threatened compostable loos and scratchy eco-cotton sheets, now – thanks to a new breed of drop-dead-gorgeous hotels-witha-conscience – it means more than just adding a few solar panels. From five-star city slickers to thatched jungle shacks, there is a new crop of life-enhancing places to stay that have one thing in common: consideration for their environment and their communities.
How do you work out if a place is a differencemaking do-gooder or a phoney? It’s a good sign if a hotel has strong messaging around how responsible it is, but you still need to scrutinise what they’re saying. Amazing pool shots or seductive, well-dressed bedrooms pull us in, then it’s up to us to dig deeper about what they’re up to behind the scenes. Do they keep the pool clean naturally or is it toxedup with nasty chemicals? Was that stylish furniture hand-made by a neighbour, or was it bulkbought from a Chinese factory? When guests grill hotels, the management takes sustainability more seriously.
This year, during the United Nations’ International Year of
FOGO ISLAND INN
FOGO ISLAND INN
GROOTBOS UXUA CASA HOTEL & SPA
UXUA CASA HOTEL & SPA PAPAYA PLAYA
PROJECT UXUA CASA HOTEL & SPA
(BELOW) AND BAMBU INDAH (LEFT)
THE MOUNTAINS BEHIND ARISTI MOUNTAIN RESORT PAPAYA PLAYA PROJECT