St. John, Eco Island
By Vincent Alonzo
June 5, 2012
No one would ever put the Caribbean on the list of
'usual suspects' when it comes to contributing to global
warming, but that hasn't stopped the islands in the region from
implementing aggressive sustainability programs. In fact, since
2000, the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) has been hosting
the Annual Caribbean Conference on Sustainable Tourism
Development to make the islands more eco-friendly.
Over the years, the conference has established three criteria
for sustainable tourism in the region: environmentally friendly
operations, support for cultural and natural heritages, and
direct, tangible social and economic benefits to local people.
At the conclusion of this year's conference, held in Guyana in
April, all 33 member states of the CTO were urged by the
organization's secretary general, Hugh Riley, to continue to
put a strong focus on safeguarding the sustainable use of
resources in the Caribbean Basin.
Though there are numerous examples of great initiatives in
sustainable tourism throughout the islands, perhaps the most
impressive is the hotbed of sustainable activity occurring on
the island of St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Tiny St.
John is a shining example of how to create exciting and
sustainable travel experiences fit for incentive groups.
An American Paradise
St. John is just 20 square miles in size. Villas perfect for
small incentive groups are sprinkled among the hillsides-one of
which also serves as one of the island's most interesting
Eco Serendib Villa and Spa, an eight-suite eco-friendly, luxury
villa, opened on St. John last summer. It is the brainchild of
Harith Wickrema, president of the Philadelphia-based event
production company Harith Productions, and an incentive planner
who has won numerous Site Crystal Awards for his programs.
He has created a luxury environment with a minimal carbon
footprint by incorporating sustainable practices, while also
providing an educational experience for guests. "The villa
demonstrates that it isn't necessary to sacrifice luxury and
modern conveniences to live a greener existence," Wickrema
Wickrema put together a team of environment-conscious vendors
to create the resort. One partner, ESA Renewables, installed
Suniva rooftop solar panels, which significantly reduce the
villa's carbon emissions and energy costs. Eco Serendib also
features three 20,000-gallon cisterns to collect rainwater, a
saltwater resort pool, and outdoor furniture produced using
sustainable plantation management systems. Further sustainable
practices include energy-efficient kitchen appliances,
water-conserving bath products, and a gray water irrigation
This spring, Wickrema launched the Eco Serendib Beach
Restoration Project to re-introduce indigenous trees and
shrubs, such as sea grape, at beaches throughout the island.
The program is also maintaining one tree per day of each
reservation in the name of guests. Villa guests have the
opportunity to become involved hands-on with the green project
and may also contribute directly to the Friends of the Virgin
Islands National Park fund.
There isn't room for mega-resorts on St. John. Much to the
credit of the development community, most of the island's
acreage is devoted to national parks that feature some of the
most beautiful beaches and inspiring snorkeling experiences in
But there are three resorts: the 166-room Caneel Bay Resort,
the 60-room Gallows Point Resort, and the Westin St. John
Resort & Villas, which has 175 rooms and 146 villas. The
Westin's efforts illustrate how this class of accommodation is
approaching sustainability. The resort has a three-pronged
approach to going green: reducing impact, developing
sustainable products and services, and creating a culture of
sustainability. All rooms, suites, and villas have low-flow
showerheads. Green transportation options are available and the
resort offers paperless check-in and paperless meetings.
The Westin also participates in programs that help groups
staying at the hotel to get offsite into the countryside to
work with the community to help maintain the eco-system and
restore indigenous ruins.
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