Growing Africa’s greenest hotel

Verde Hotels, the group that brought Africa its first truly “green” hotel, Hotel Verde, in the industrial precinct of Cape Town International airport, has launched a new management and expansion programme.

Unveiled at last week’s World Travel Market Africa in Cape Town, the programme will see the Hotel Verde model branch out into Africa and take on retrofits as well as new builds.

An official project of Cape Town World Design Capital 2014, Hotel Verde is one of the most innovative on the continent in terms of its green practices and has transformed the patch of land on which it is located.

While many hotels worldwide pay mere lip service to environmentally conscious trends, genuinely “going green” is an ambitious, often costly undertaking. From construction methods and materials to operational technology and processes, to suppliers and products, the award-winning 145-room hotel, located 400m from Cape Town International Airport’s terminal buildings, lives up to its ambitious slogan as “Africa’s greenest”. 

“The new management programme is aimed at training staff to get the very best, optimum performance out of a green hotel and is based on the learning curve experienced at Hotel Verde, where everything that could be done to keep the hotel carbon neutral has been considered,” says the hotel’s GM Samantha Annandale.

A green vegetative roof regulates the temperature of the reception area. LED bulbs are used throughout the facility, while occupancy sensors ensure no air conditioning is used unnecessarily in rooms or public areas. All hotel appliances (such as washing machines, driers, dish washers and office equipment) are energy-savers. 

“Bath water is sterilised and filtered by a state of the art grey water plant and used to flush toilets, while a 40 000 litre tank collects rainwater and subsoil drainage water for irrigation,” says Annandale. 

“Three wind turbines and photovoltaic panels are used to generate electricity and elevators are fitted with special regenerative drives that harness 30% of input energy, which is then fed back into the grid.”

Cobiax void formers, plastic spheres made from 100% recycled polyethylene, were used wherever possible in the building design, saving almost 1 300 tonnes of concrete. Another intriguing innovation is Hotel Verde’s ground source geothermal field, an intricate system involving 100 boreholes drilled underneath the hotel basement floor, into which high-density polyethylene pipes are inserted and through which water is circulated. The pipes are connected to a number of ground-source heat pumps, acting as a heat sink in summer and a source of heat in winter.

The hotel also encourages all its local suppliers to support initiatives by minimising unnecessary packaging. Recycling takes place wherever possible, with zero waste to landfill being the goal.

Wherever you go as a guest at the hotel, you are subtly encouraged to “do your bit”. 

“The hotel encourages visitors towards more eco-friendly habits through a novel incentives system,” explains Annandale. “Recycle waste, reuse towels, refrain from using aircon, or use power-generating gym equipment and you’ll be awarded ‘Verdino’ coins – to be redeemed at the 24 hour deli or hotel bar.”

Not only do double-glazed windows keep rooms soundproof (there is not a hint of aircraft noise throughout the hotel), but spectrally selective glass also filters out the sun’s hot rays, significantly reducing the hotel’s reliance on conventional air conditioning. Toiletries and detergents are 100% bio-friendly.

The hotel kitchen, which produces high quality meals starting with a red-eye commuter’s dream – a breakfast buffet served from 4.30am onwards – grows its own herbs and vegetables, buying in all other supplies from as close to source as possible. A lush “living wall” cum vertical garden separates the hotel lounge from the bar and dining area, purifying the air and creating a sense of serenity.

Corridors on all four hotel floors are decorated with art inspired by themes from nature and created by local school children, crafters and artists. Outside, beyond the dining patio, a reclaimed wetland and endemic fynbos garden sits alongside a natural, eco-friendly swimming pool.

In recognition of its accomplishments, Hotel Verde was awarded a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (Leed) platinum certificate for new construction. Leed is the United States Green Building Council’s programme and uses a stringent set of tools and guidelines to assess green buildings, recognising best-in-class practices. Platinum is the highest level awarded.

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