EAGLE BEACH, ARUBA—For the first time in its history, a hotel has won the Global United Nations 2020 Climate Action Award for Climate Neutral Now.
But the Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort has made sustainability the centerpiece of its operations since its founding 33 years ago. “Winning the Global United Nations 2020 Climate Action Award for Climate Neutral Now is an amazing honor on the world stage for our little spot in Aruba, and it is further validation of the sustainable culture we’ve developed over 33 years,” said Ewald Biemans, CEO/founder of the resort. “This UN award is a testament to our worldwide guests, staff, vendors and partners who have actively committed to being a part of a responsible travel experience. We were told years ago it would be impossible to achieve carbon neutrality. Well, not only have we achieved it, we are now excelling towards carbon negativity.”
When Biemans first moved to Aruba 50 years ago, he say that development was changing the landscape of the island. “I always say, we are not in the tourism business, we are in the nature business,” he said. “People come from all over the world to experience the natural beauty of Aruba, especially our powdery white sand beaches and turquoise clear water. I moved here 50 years ago. As I saw the pristine coastline become dotted with construction cranes reaching up to the sky to build mega-resorts, I witnessed our natural resources becoming depleted faster than could be sustained.”
He added, “In small Aruba, 90% of our GDP is now tourism related. We have to protect what’s entrusted to us. The Caribbean was not a major contributor to climate change, but we are on the front lines at sea level. If climate change isn’t curbed, in 20-30 years, the waves will be lapping at the backdoor of Bucuti & Tara and our guests will need to snorkel to see our beach!”
Like every sustainability journey, Bucuti’s earliest days included its tangible first step. A German guest was bewildered that the hotel was pouring cans and bottles of beer into disposable plastic cups. That left a significant impression and shortly after, Bucuti began with banning single-use plastic and Styrofoam, long before it was ever discussed in mainstream media.
Soon, every resort project was more carefully viewed, and a full-time sustainability and certifications manager was added to the staff. Biemans soon sought eco-certifications viewing them as a management structure providing the framework of the platform to build and grow a successful program that continues providing a safe setting for guests and staff, while protecting the environment for generations to come. Through the years, the resort has earned certifications for LEED Gold, ISO 14001 and 9001, Travelife Gold, Green Globe Platinum with this year marking the first perfect score in Green Globe’s history.
Achieving climate neutrality required a careful examination of every standard operating procedure at the resort, both direct and indirect for emissions, such as energy smart appliances to business travel. While the resort is home to the largest solar panel project in the island’s private sector, climate neutrality required far beyond the obvious such as fossil-fuel dependency. Some aspects include:
- Gifting every guest with a refillable water canteen, which avoids the potential of 290,000single-use plastic water bottles being destined for Aruba’s landfill
- Gray water is sanitized and used for irrigation.
- Healthy Portions sensibly sized meals reduced plated food waste by 30%.
- Eco-fitness treadmills and bicycles let guests burn calories while simultaneously generating kilowatts that are sent directly to the resort’s power grid.
- Streamlined procurement and transportation reduce unnecessary shipments and local purchasing is key.
- Staff are incentivized to take public transportation or carpool.
- Ozone-based laundry equipment requires shorter cycles to wash, less water and less hot water
- In-room energy management system and sensors triggered by motion and doors to regulate energy consumption and limit temperature range. Average savings: 32-38%.
- Waste 62% diverted from landfill by donating all food waste to pig farmers, recycling glass and cardboard, repurposing/donating linen/towels.
- Sustainable cooling system. Variable Refrigerant Flow A/C installed allowing system use only as needed.
In August 2018, it became the Caribbean’s first carbon-neutral hotel and remains the only one to this day. The resort does not see this as crossing the finish line, rather the very day after it was certified carbon neutral, it began its pursuit of carbon negative.
Bucuti & Tara’s sustainability success is one Biemans openly invites others to use as a resource. The property routinely hosts professors, students and researchers, as well as foreign dignitaries and industry associates seeking knowledge for implementing eco-friendly initiatives.
“For everyone to do our part moving forward towards combating climate change, it is helpful to have a model or a playbook to follow and we are delighted for Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort to be a resource,” said Biemans. “It is not about one winner; rather, every single one of us around the world must do our part because that is the only way to win. If not, the loss will be devastating for all. We routinely host researchers, students, delegates from other places so they can learn about our initiatives and how they can apply them where they are.”
He believes that any property can follow these same initiatives. “The United Nations recognized Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort’s sustainability success because it is highly replicable and scalable,” he said. “We have long invited others to use us as a resource. Bucuti & Tara’s initiatives are relatable. This is what it will take for others to join in—it needs to be easy to understand and implement, otherwise, it’s too tempting for many to keep going in the wrong direction. We live by the motto of only taking what we can return, and I think this award reflects this.”