Behind the Scenes in Paradise (Feb17)

I’m hoping that my eco-footprint, on our luxury holiday staying at the Six Senses Hotel, Zil Payson, in the Seychelles – is considerably less than other guests!

How so?  It comes mainly from my aversion to air conditioning.  Our residence was one of 30 beautiful villas nestled in the hills and rocks of Felicite Island.  We have an infinity plunge pool, a large veranda and even the bathroom has an extensive sea view.  Inevitably our rooms come equipped with super cooling air conditioning – the temperature here rarely, if ever, falls below 24C. 
I am supremely grateful that my husband is happy for us to forego all air conditioning and sleep with our sliding doors wide open to the warm sea breeze.  Air conditioning is the most significant energy guzzler in hotels of this sort.  I was told by the chief engineer, Maynard Tomagan, that when occupied, each of the villas will consume about 3% of the hotel’s energy (so 90% in total if they’re all occupied)- and very little of that will be the LED lighting – or even the wifi controlled smart loo, with inbuilt bidet features!  And a significant proportion of the remaining energy is used in the chiller for staff accommodation and the main buildings. 

One of the good features in the villas is that there’s an automated switch linked to the sliding doors, which means that the air conditioning will switch off, if they’re open, so energy is not being wasted trying to cool the outside space.  Also, the air conditioning is set at 27 degrees on arrival, so guests have to turn it down if they want to stay in fridge-like conditions. 


I was surprised to discover that pretty well all the energy for the hotel comes from vast diesel powered generators, using about 600,000 to 700,000 litres annually.  The exact amount is still not known because the hotel has only been opened for less than six months. And, it is expected that improvements will be made, which will bring down the amount of fuel needed.  Already, they have installed a heat recovery system, which removes heat from the generator for hot water that’s used in the main hotel and staff buildings, although not the villas because they’re too spread about.
What about solar power, I asked?  I’ve been looking out for solar panels, as it would seem to be such an ideal climate to maximise their use.  Apparently, solar collectors are used in the villas for hot water, but there aren’t any solar PV panels on site yet.  When I discussed this with Maynard, he said that there is a Six Senses Hotel being built in Fiji, which will be 100% solar powered.  Why not here too?  The answer appears to be do with the capital cost of installing solar panels along with batteries, when there are already generators on site.  But, the hotel’s general manager, Edouard, thought that this could be on the cards in the not too distant future. Sooner the better, in my view.
About two months before the hotel opened, they installed a state of the art desalination plant.  It’s capable of providing all the water needed for the site, but in reality it will provide about 30 – 50% of that’s used. The rest comes from deep wells and springs on the island – there’s a huge tank capacity. I had always thought that desalination was was quite an energy intensive operation, but apparently, the system is super-efficient and uses only about 3% of the site’s electricity.  Drinking water – either sparkling or flat – has extra filtration in the bottling plant.  This is offered to guests free of charge in re-usable glass bottles, which dramatically cuts the number of disposable plastic bottles to be disposed of. 
There’s not yet such a positive story to tell on other waste management issues. Cardboard and paper mainly gets incinerated – but with no energy recovery.  Some food and compostable waste goes for compost on the island, but most is shipped to the main Island Mahe, for disposal – presumably in landfill.  There are plans for a new composting system, which will be an improvement.  Recycling doesn’t appear to feature for any materials apart from glass which is broken up into cullet before joining the rest of the waste shipped back to Mahe.
So, where is there room for improvement?   Solar PV would probably be top of my list.  And why not use food waste for a biogas plant to further reduce the amount of diesel fuel used on the island?  On a more trivial front, I’m sure that the lights don’t turn off automatically in the ladies loo!
Then there’s the laundry.  Towels are abundant – swimming towels on every bench by the pool and in the villas.  But, I didn’t see any signs to tell you to hand up your towels if you want to re-use them and to leave them on the floor if you want them washed. However, Edouard says that there is a notice to guests on arrival about this, so I must have missed it.  And, he’s going to remind staff that many guests actually prefer to minimise their laundry, to save resources – many of the guests in this type of hotel are quite eco-minded. 
I’m worried about food waste too.  Let me start by saying that the food is exceptionally good here – imaginative, healthy, delicious and it looks beautiful too.  But, I’d like to be sure that when dishes go back uneaten, they’re not simply tossed in the bin…  
So back to my own footprint.  I’ve used more towels than I should – and perhaps I could have had less journeys in the electric buggies.  But, on the plus side, there’s the zero air conditioning policy, avoiding plastic bottled water, as much as possible when on expeditions and trying my best to finish the wonderful food dishes that come to our table, even if it means eating more than I want!  
But, perhaps my most important contribution is writing this blog and hopefully further encouraging the Six Senses Hotels – not just in the Seychelles – to lead the way in reducing their eco-footprint, just as they have in offering an all round brilliant holiday experience, appealing to all our senses…..  Here’s a link to the Zil Payson sustainability page.
I must add a footnote to this by saying that the staff at the hotel are exceptional, the food is out of this world, our villa is the most perfect place to relax and I’ve just come back from swimming eye to eye with a turtle!  Wow…  

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