TAKK Interview: The Luxury Hotel Sustainability Manager

Travel
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We have been lucky enough to have two trips to Six Senses Laamu and it was here that the first idea of TAKK came about when we realised that this beautiful place might be destroyed forever by global warming. The entire resort is so mindful of its impact on the environment and yet still manages to maintain a luxury experience. Schedules meant that we didn’t get the chance to meet in person with Megan, Six Senses’ Sustainability Manager, so we caught up with her over email to discuss the challenges facing the hotel.

Tell us about yourself and your role at Six Senses?

  • My name is Megan O’Beirne and I am Six Senses Laamu’s Sustainability Manager. In this role, I oversee our resort environmental initiatives, including energy and water conservation, zero waste and recycling in our Earth Lab, our organic garden, and chicken farm; as well as Maldives Underwater Initiative (MUI), our team of ten marine biologists from the resort and our three partner NGOs, Manta Trust, Blue Marine Foundation, and Olive Ridley Project; and work with our Community Outreach Manager to carry out all of our CSR, education programs, and relationships with Laamu’s eleven local islands. Please see MUI’s 2018 annual report to learn more about the work of the sustainability team at Six Senses Laamu.

Six Senses is seen as leading the way in sustainable luxury travel - what do you feel they are doing over and above other resorts?

  • Six Senses differentiates itself on two main pillars: wellness and sustainability. There are other resorts in the world focused on wellness, but sustainability being at the forefront of all decisions made by the company is very unique. Just the fact that we have a Vice President of Sustainability in the executive committee, as well as Sustainability Managers at all properties, shows the company’s investment in sustainability in terms of staffing. Six Senses Laamu in particular strives for marine conservation, which is driven by our General Manager, Ms. Marteyne van Well, who is an avid scuba diver and underwater videographer and is passionate about protecting the beautiful, but fragile marine environment.
  • MUI not only drives sustainability and environmental awareness among the resort’s guests and staff, but also in the local community. Our Eku Eky Program (which means “together” in the local language of Dhivehi) encapsulates all of our community outreach and education work in the eleven local islands in Laamu. We raise awareness among students, community members, fishermen, and island councils about marine life, ecosystem health, environmentally friendly living, and how conservation can be a tool for sustainable development. Our annual ‘Turtles in Laamu - Safe and Protected’ festival is now in its fourth year, and brings together over 1,000 community members from 11 islands and 13 schools across the atoll to celebrate not only turtle conservation, but also habitat protection, and the uniqueness of Laamu Atoll.
  • We have won numerous awards for our CSR (corporate social responsibility) work, including Stelliers CSR Hotelier of the Year 2019, Green Hotelier Community Award 2018, and Maldives Travel Awards Leading CSR Program 2017.

We certainly found that the ‘eco’ element of Six Senses added to our enjoyment of the resort but what are the big conflicts you find between achieving sustainability and providing a luxury hotel experience?

  • The main difficulty in the Maldives is that it is so isolated and there is not much produced in the country, so a lot has to be imported. If a resort were to be truly sustainable and use only Maldivian products, we would be very limited to tuna, other fish and seafood, coconuts, chilies, a few tropical fruits and vegetables, braided coconut coir rope, woven coconut leaf roofing, and wooden or coral stone (now illegal, as it is protected) buildings. This is definitely where running a luxury resort and operating sustainably come into balance; in order to meet the demand of high-paying guests, we must provide the luxury amenities, some of which need special permission from the government because it is a Muslim country, such as alcohol and pork.
  • Traditionally, the majority of living spaces were open air as the hot and humid climate made it unbearable to be enclosed by four walls. Villas were designed in this way, but of course to maximize guest comfort, ours are also fitted with air conditioners, which are the biggest energy-users in the whole resort. Electricity and water use are unavoidable, so the best way to reduce these are educate our guests about conserving these resources, and also move towards more sustainable methods, such as rainwater collection and solar energy.

How hard is it to find sustainable and ‘green’ suppliers for a remote resort?

  • Six Senses Hotels Resorts Spas as a global company has an ambitious goal to be Plastic-Free by 2022. We have sent out letters to all of our current suppliers to explain this initiative and ask for their support, as well as ways they will help us to achieve it. Many of our suppliers are aware of the worldwide trend towards environmentally-friendly production, shipping, and consumption, so are willing to take our lead and eliminate plastic packaging or ship to us in bulk. There are many green suppliers out there as well, for example, one of our food suppliers that has invented biodegradable food shipping materials, such as replacements for styrofoam boxes, garbage bags, cling film, etc.

Final thoughts

Our interview with Megan was hugely insightful and hopefully highlights the conflicts there are when trying to be environmentally responsible whilst still providing a luxury experience for customers. Six Senses truly leads the way by integrating social responsibility at leadership level throughout the company from the top down.

One of the things this interview flagged up for us was, given the choice, would every guest demand air conditioning? If we, as guests, were informed of the environmental impact of permanent aircon, water and electricity would we be willing to compromise? If we could make the facts more available to holidaymakers then perhaps we can give everyone a choice. I certainly would have no problem with a ceiling fan and water/electricity off between 10pm & 5am if it meant protecting the beautiful Maldives.

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