Out of the jungle and into the hustle-bustle: a look at Africa’s greenest hotel.

The hotel industry is the canary in the coal mine for the building industry. And although the canary is still breathing, its voice is hoarse and its lungs are full of carbon. A sweeping statement, perhaps, but in the past few years, hotels have increasingly come under fire for the massive amounts of resources used in the industry- especially relating to climate change.

Typically, hotels use 180 litres of water per day per room. Additionally, energy usage adds up to approximately R33 billion per year.

All of these areas provide opportunities for hotels to reduce their impact on the environment, and become the benchmark for the rest of the hospitality industry.

Recently, South Africa has been making headlines as Cape Town’s Hotel Verde, aimed to be the greenest hotel on the African continent, is taking shape.

With 145 rooms, a restaurant, fitness centre, conference facilities and much more, the full-service hotel is LEED registered and pursuing a gold rating, which, once successful, will certify it as the greenest hotel in Africa.

Gold digger
The LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Green Building Rating System is designed and managed by the non-profit US Green Building Council. This system is relevant for certification of all types of buildings, including hotels.

As an internationally recognized standard for the design, construction and operation of green buildings, LEED sets benchmarks in five areas: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection, and indoor environmental quality.
In practice, a building can be certified at one of four levels: certificate, silver, gold, or platinum.

Currently, the highest rated hotel in the US is the LEED Gold-certified Gaia Napa Valley Hotel and Spa in Northern California. Hotel Verde is LEED registered and pursuing gold rating which, once successful, will certify it as the greenest hotel in Africa.

The Green Machine
Construction on Hotel Verde, which is operated by the recently launched BON Hotels group, began over a year ago just outside Cape Town International Airport, with a team of contractors and experts dedicated to finding the alternative.

The goal is to reduce the hotel’s waste-to-landfill to zero, as well as to operate on self-generated electricity. From locally sourced suppliers, to sustainable practices from the ground up, they seem to be doing just that. According to Mario and Annemarie Delicio of Dematech, the owner of Hotel Verde: “We have a responsibility as a company, as an employer and as a visitor on this planet to live as sustainably as possible. This is the only way we can survive long-term and hand over to our children in a responsible manner.”
What started as an opportunistic business proposal has become a showcase for some of the world’s most advanced environmentally conscious technological installations, as well as construction and operation practices, in the world.

Trained mechanical engineer and sustainability manager, Andre Harms from Ecolution Consulting, is the brain behind Hotel Verde’s technical aspects, “We have looked at different ways of doing everything right from the word go.”

The building blocks
Indeed, everything has been done differently.

The first, most obvious energy-efficient system to be considered was Photovoltaic (PV) panels, which aims to provide shade while generating power. The PV panels are mounted on the north façade and roof of the building to generate electricity and create shading for the windows that get the most sun.

To dramatically reduce the amount of concrete required on the project, the Cobiax void formers were used in construction. They displace the concrete, saving approximately 1, 284 tonnes of concrete, while maintaining the structural integrity.

Cobiax void formers are recycled plastic balls placed strategically within the concrete slabs.

Hotel Verde also boasts its own greywater recycling plant, which will contribute towards a 37% reduction of potable water use. There will also be a rainwater filtering and capture system to provide water for the car wash and irrigation.

Additionally, Hotel Verde’s elevators will run on a regenerative drive, which will allow for about 30% of the energy to be recaptured and fed back into the building.

Double-glazed windows with spectrally selective glass will filter out hot rays, so less heat enters the building, reducing the need for air conditioning. To bypass the need for standard air-conditioning systems, Hotel Verde will use ground-source heat pumps coupled to 100 holes drilled about 76m into the ground, where the temperature is a consistent 19°C.

German supplier AGO Energy will install a complex network of piping and equipment specifically designed for Hotel Verde that uses the earth as a heat source in winter and “heat sink” in summer, boosting efficiency and dramatically reducing operational costs.

Apart from excellent energy savings, double-glazing offers a host of other benefits such as:

  • Acoustic insulation: Double-glazing provides first-rate acoustic insulation and reduces outside noise levels. Noise pollution can be a real problem if your home is located in a highly populated area, near to a busy road or in a very windy area for example. However, double-glazing can go a long way to protect your home from the disturbance of noise pollution. It will also contain noise levels within your home, so you won’t have to worry about disturbing your neighbours.
  • Added security: When glazing with 6.38 safety or intruder-proof glass, double-glazing provides excellent security for your home because its composition and design makes it very difficult to break through.
  • Reducing condensation: By installing quality double-glazed windows, the problem of condensation is greatly reduced as heat is reflected back into the room and the inner pane is warmer.
  • Draught-proofing: Quality double-glazed windows should boast all-round rubber seals in the frames to ensure that when closed, no draughts can get through, even in very windy areas

“There is no other hotel in Africa that has gone to the extent that we are hoping to achieve. But going green is not just about the building, it’s about every aspect of the operation,” says Delicio. The hotel will offer guests incentives to save energy and water, such as credit notes and bar tabs for those who don’t use the air-conditioning, for example.

Guy Stehlik, founder of BON Hotels, which will manage and operate Hotel Verde, says it’s an invaluable experience to be involved in a project of this nature, and he expects the lessons learned to benefit future hotels. “The three cornerstones of BON Hotels are good people, good thinking and good feeling. Hotel Verde and the philosophy behind it is where the good thinking lies. This is definitely one of the most innovative hotels in the country” says Stehlik.

Hotel Verde will make use of, among others, the following water- and energy-efficient equipment:

  • Indel B (K40 Plus) guestroom mini bar fridges – with energy savings of approximately 27 000 kWh per annum.
  • Energy efficient, LED lighting is used throughout the building.
  • Miele washing machines – the virtually uncontaminated water from the final rinse cycle is captured and re-used for the pre-wash of the next load.
  • Energy Star rated office equipment, e.g. screens, computers, printers, copiers, etc.
  • Energy Star dishwashers.
  • Each guestroom has a main power cut-off switch. When the room key card is removed from its designated slot, power to that room is cut. (With the exception of plugs for charging and the bar fridge).
  • Water-saving taps, shower heads and waterless urinals in toilets.
  • Drip irrigation system.
  • Carbon monoxide sensors switching on the basement ventilation system only when required.
  • Occupancy sensors that switch lights and air-conditioning or ventilation off in spaces like offices, passages, fitness centre, store rooms etc, when they are unoccupied.

View from the top
According to Guy Stehlik, CEO of BON Hotels, “the prospect of implementing ‘green’ practices into every facet of this hotel’s operation is a challenge, which we are relishing. This gives us the opportunity to revolutionise many conventional ways of managing our hotels.”

Hotel Verde’s green properties don’t stop at the hotel itself, but extends to its surroundings, opting for a greener environment overall.

The flat concrete roof installed over the reception and lobby area boasts a vegetated green roof. The indigenous vegetation thermally insulates the areas below, while being aesthetically pleasing at the same time.

Additionally, a jogging trail will be created and joggers can make use of this facility whilst enjoying the natural surroundings and of the landscaped municipal retention pond.

On Hotel Verde’s mission to set the example of what could be achieved in the industry, Harms concludes: “We might have the slogan ‘Africa’s Greenest Hotel’ right now, but we hope it won’t be for long. We want to show the continent what can be done. We want to challenge the industry as a whole.”

Full thanks and acknowledgement given to BON Hotel Group, Hotel Verde and Adverb Public Relations for the information given to write this article.