Looking to stay at an eco-friendly resort when visiting the Caribbean? This region is one of the most environmentally fragile regions in the world. Most of the things we love about island life -- the beaches, crystal-clear waters, rain forests, reefs, fish -- are at high risk from global warming and pollution. Tourism contributes greatly to the stress on the Caribbean environment, and it's not a stretch to say that these islands are in danger of being loved to death.
Fortunately, the Caribbean also is home to some visionary leaders who recognize both the peril and potential for the tourism industry to be good stewards of the environment. The Caribbean Alliance for Sustainable Tourism, created in 1997 by the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association, is tasked with promoting responsible environmental and social management of natural and heritage resources within the hotel and tourism sector. CAST also publishes an up-to-date list of the 50-plus Green Globe certified hotels in the region.
Aruba's Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort owner Ewald Biemans is among the pioneers in adopting environmental best practices: in 2003, the hotel was the first in the Americas to receive ISO 14001 Environmental Certification. Biemans offers a great series of questions travelers should ask to ensure that their hotel or resort is truly committed to preserving the environment, not just providing "greenwash" for the benefit of unsuspecting travelers:
- Guest Participation: Are guests informed of and invited to be involved in resort-wide environmental activities? Are guests given the opportunity and encouraged to diminish their environmental footprint by purchasing carbon credits? Guests at Bucuti & Tara, for example, can participate in recycled crafts contests, island-wide clean ups, educational seminars, and “back of the house” tours to meet Bucuti & Tara's Green Team and learn about the technology and best practices involved in the resort’s environmental policy.
- Staff Training: Does the hotel or resort have a strong company culture where all associates are involved in implementing green practices? Every Bucuti & Tara employee plays an important role in implementing sustainable and environmentally friendly practices from their first day on the job. Working with the maintenance department, Green Team representatives take part in quality control. The team documents consumption, system checks and supports the company culture throughout the resort.
- Stewardship: How does the hotel or resort promote environmental preservation within their community? Does it set the example by proactively and publically educating the community? All members of the Green Team, including Biemans, take time to share best practices through education in schools and local organizations as well as participation in community events. Biemans is often asked to present to local and international service clubs, associations and government entities on the subject of environmental practices.
- Native Environment: Does the resort help promote and protect local culture, fauna and flora? Does the resort sponsor and actively pursue preservation of historical and cultural architecture, national parks and traditions? Some resorts support native animal protection programs or are located within land preserves - for example in Aruba, Bucuti & Tara supports the Donkey Sanctuary; Turtugaruba, which supports of the protection of giant sea turtle nesting sites; and Animal Rights Aruba. Bucuti & Tara also offers local cuisine in its restaurant, promotes local musicians in the bar, introduces the local language, Papiamento, in the Web site and on property, and indentifies the indigenous plants around the resort with signage. The gift shop is stocked with local products such as Aruba Aloe and crafts from local artisans.
- Eco-Recognition: Has the resort achieved internationally recognized certification for its policies and standards in environmental protection such as ISO 14001 or Green Globe 21? Has the resort received green awards from hotel associations and leading travel publications for its exemplary practices?
- Renewable Resources: Does the resort harness solar, hydro and/or wind power? Depending on where travelers are vacationing, various natural resources can be used.
- Waste Reduction: Does the hotel track and measure the use of water, electricity and other resources? Are bulk dispensers used throughout the resort to reduce waste? Does the resort use reusable glassware and utensils as opposed to throwaway plastic materials? Are low-flow toilets, faucets and showers in place? Does the resort exclusively use natural cleaning and biodegradable products?
- Transportation: Does the resort support local transportation systems that use alternative fuel sources like bio fuels or electrical-powered vehicles to mitigate emissions? Does the resort support use of public transportation and encourage employees to carpool?
- Construction: Is the hotel structure designed to allow for breezy, open-air areas to reduce energy consumption by using natural lighting and not running air conditioners? Are the rooms designed to be energy efficient? Does the facility use natural wood from a sustainable farm and local building materials and labor?
- Safety and Quality: Are quality control systems such as HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point) in place for food safety? Resorts like Bucuti & Tara have adopted disinfection systems for fluids and surfaces that are based on advanced ultraviolet light technology; all water intake travels through this sophisticated pipe system. These advanced systems complement the daily routine of the maintenance department in monitoring and flushing water lines.
- Future Green Technology: Is the resort at the forefront of green advances and following industry trends like using the latest energy-saving equipment to mitigate consumption? Are there in-room sensors (for air conditioners, power sources, etc.) to determine if electricity can be conserved in an empty room?