Luxury hospitality brands that want to be taken seriously on the environmental stage have had to step up their efforts to be sustainable, as consumers are becoming more green-savvy. Forty-five per cent of wealthy consumers surveyed by the Luxury Institute in a 2012 report revealed that they actively seek out brands with strong ethical values.
In the world of travel, a number of international resorts are now making a true commitment to sustainability without compromising on service, exclusivity and comfort.
Eight years after opening on the shores of Lake Garda in the Riviera dei Limoni region of Italy, the Lefay Resort and Spa believes more than ever that luxury hospitality cannot afford to neglect environmental impact and that "space, nature, silence, time and discrete service with attention to detail" defines the new world of luxury. The resort received the prestigious Green Globe certification, the first resort in southern Europe to do so, and for good reason. Rather than going for one large single building, the resort chose individual units integrated on the hillside with thick vegetation roofs to minimise visual impact. Local olive wood has been used in the parquet floors, walnut for furniture and local red marble in the bathrooms.
Textiles are chemical-free natural cotton fibre, as are the water paints for interior walls. A power plant sits at the back of the property and features a biomass plant, microturbines and an absorption cooling system which combined significantly reduce carbon emissions and create renewable efficient energy.
Together with an impressive solar panel system, the resort produces 100 per cent of its own energy for heating and cooling. Excess water on the property is also collected and recycled for irrigation. But it doesn't stop there. The resort uses recycled and ecological paper, glass instead of plastic bottles, and works with commercial partners that share the same values. In addition, they provide staff with 4,000 hours a year of training, comfortable quarters and a restaurant.
Today, it is certainly this high level of commitment to environmental best practice that is required to keep eco-minded, wealthy consumers happy. A local chocolate at turn-down and a paperless check-in doesn't cut it anymore. While consumers want to connect with brands that give back to the environment, it shouldn't come at the cost of service and quality. Those must still come first.
In the Bahamas, for example, discerning travellers will find an environmentally friendly haven designed for the individual prepared to pay from US$54,000 a night. Over Yonder Cay is a private island in the Exumas archipelago, accessible by sea plane or boat and set up to accommodate a mere two to 28 guests who book the island out exclusively. Owned and managed by the Bosarge family - major shareholders in Quantlab Financial - Over Yonder Cay shares the crystal-blue waters with neighbouring islands owned by the likes of the Aga Khan, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, Johnny Depp and David Copperfield.
Guests bed down in four stunning villas near endless waters in which to play and with intuitive staff on permanent call. But behind all this barefoot luxury is an island shrine to sustainable design which harnesses solar and wind power to meet 96 per cent of its energy needs - the only hybrid system of its kind in the world. Three wind turbines feed directly to the AC grid, and 1,400 photovoltaic panels create a solar energy field producing 400MWh per year. There are future plans for the cay to harness tidal power to bring natural energy sources to 100 per cent.
But for now, guests can play golf on the nine-hole course made of environmentally friendly Tour Greens synthetic turf, settle in for a private screening in the 12-seat cinema, and sail, snorkel or scuba dive in the surrounding waters.
Active travellers are traditionally more in tune with the environment than the more sedentary kind, as the founders of Aro Ha Wellness Retreat in Glenorchy, New Zealand, know. They also know that if your business is based on holistic health, then it is important to walk the talk. These guys don't just walk it, they run it.
The 8.5-hectare zen-style retreat harnesses solar and hydro power from a stream on-site to sustain a "no fossil fuel" philosophy.
"We care about our health and health starts with the planet," says Damian Chaparro, co-founder of Aro Ha who, together with his business partner, American financier Chris Madison, has created a sustainable retreat targeted at the wealthy individual in need of serious detox time.
The purpose-built Aro Ha opened in January this year. The team installed solar panels to provide enough power for the remote resort to exist on battery power alone for four days if needed.
A hydroelectric system also collects water from an on-site natural stream for hydro power for the power grid. Vegetable gardens and a greenhouse provide organic produce that is stored in cellars refrigerated by the earth.
All this is served up with loom-woven, natural-dyed blankets, organic cotton linen and natural latex mattresses in rooms that sleep up to 16 guests looking for a week-long retreat dedicated to improvement of oneself as well as the planet.
For a more urban setting, guests at the Bulgari Hotel in London - opened in 2012 - get more than they bargained for at the five-star accommodation. Those who book in for the Bulgari name alone may be surprised to learn that the first purpose-built luxury hotel in London for 40 years harnesses geothermal energy as its main source of power. The hotel uses best practice advised by BREEAM, an international environmental assessment method.
Ground-source heat pumps for geothermal energy were installed within the diaphragm wall of the hotel for super energy efficiency. The hotel also harvests rainwater from the roof of the building, boasts interlock switches for guest room fan coil units that automatically suspend the heating or cooling when a window is opened, has electric car charge outlets and offers Bulgari bicycles for guest use.
As with Lefay and Over Yonder Cay, the hotel ensures that sustainability and luxury go hand-in-hand. Guests have access to a private 46-seat, state-of-the-art private screening room, Alain Ducasse cuisine, an underground private pool and spa paradise complete with gold-leaf vitality pool, an Edward Sahakian cigar merchant with private sampling room and personal cigar ageing, and 85 spacious guest rooms and suites with an exclusive Knightsbridge address.
For extra-conscious travellers, many airlines have been offering carbon offset programmes for flyers to make contributions to when purchasing their flights. Combined with these sustainable luxury resorts and others in the market, it would seem it is actually possible to have your luxury cake and eat it too - without harming the planet.
Hospitality brands aren’t the only ones combining luxury and sustainability. Residential developers are also looking for new ways to bring environmental consciousness home. Emerald Bluffs, on the shores of Lake Wanaka on New Zealand’s South Island, is a nonprofit development with seven housing sites spread across 85 hectares of carefully restored land. Buyers can design their own luxury home – with an emphasis on sustainability – or choose the award-winning C3 concept home that uses fully recyclable materials, has a zero carbon footprint and blends into the surrounding landscape. Profits from the sale of the sites, of which five remain, will be used for local environmental projects.
Domaine de Manville golf course, France
The boutique resort’s eco-certified 18-hole golf course is designed by Thierry Sprecher in tune with the natural environment. It is embedded in the rocky setting of Les Baux and seamlessly blends with the landscape. Utilising natural resources, the course boasts local species alongside pine, oak and olive trees.
Post Ranch Inn, Big Sur, California, United States
The private cliff-top oasis on the California coastline features bio-structure architecture using glass, wood and steel, earth-sheltered guesthouses, a hybrid Lexus for guest transport, water pumped on-site, and a 990- panel solar array – the largest in California.
Emirates Wolgan Valley Resort and Spa, Lithgow, Australia
Wolgan Valley was the first hotel to be certified carbon-neutral by CarboNZero greenhouse gas reduction programme. Not a single tree was destroyed when building the resort that sits on 1,619 hectares close to the Blue Mountains World Heritage Site. The resort has won numerous awards, including the Travel + Leisure Global Vision Award for Sustainability.