Taveuni Dive Resort is Sustainably Designed and Operated
When we began to design our resort, we spent a lot of time trying to understand what values and features were important to us, living in such a special place, and our guests. One of those values was friendly, reliable service. Other features we found were important were things like plenty of electrical outlets and storage in the rooms. More and more of our guests are interested in sustainability and ways to minimize negative impacts on the environment. That sounded good to us, but we didn’t really want to be an “eco-resort” – our guests are accustomed to a certain level of comfort, and frankly, things like fuel for our boats seemed to run counter to that.
So the first thing we did was try and figure out what sustainability means to someone in our business. As you can imagine in a buzzword-filled internet world, that could be a real challenge. We finally found a definition that rings true. Can you believe it is from a World Bank report from back in the mid-1990’s:
Sustainable Development meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
We could get behind that definition. Taveuni and the Somosomo Strait are special, and our business thrives on sharing these special places with guests from around the world. Designing and operating our resort in a way consistent with the principles makes sense to us.
Taveuni Dive Resort is off the electrical grid, and we knew that we would have a solar power system backed up with a diesel generator. We knew the resort was going to have rooftop-rain harvesting as well as water supplied by local springs. What other things did we need to think about? It turns out there was a lot. After a lot of homework, we looked at two standards for guidance in designing, building, and operating a sustainable resort. Those standards were:
- Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design’s New Construction and Major Renovation Standard
- United States Department of Energy’s High-Performance Sustainable Building Standard
Both of these standards have lots of advice on how to build sustainable buildings, and were a treasure trove information that we considered during the Taveuni Dive Resort project. Learn more about our sustainable resort practices in the rest of this article.
Design & Construction
Our first decision to make when we constructed the resort was where to put it. We selected the location at Soqulu because there was an existing marina, it was near our home, and the local village was close enough to walk to the resort. It seems like a simple decision, but having our staff be able to walk to work is a big deal, and it ties into the social responsibility aspects of sustainable design. The location has added benefits such as a good source of spring water, and paved roads. Other benefits included the nice 9-hole golf course and tennis courts. The thing that sealed the deal for the location was the former use of the project site -- it turns out it was a former plant nursery, and had beautiful plantings we could use in the development of the property.
We new that we wanted separate bures, rather than a hotel building. We also wanted our guests to feel the authenticity of the Taveuni experience without compromising on luxury. In the early design effort, we thought that building wood houses made the most sense. Then as we considered the sustainability standards, we realized that concrete had the benefits of being a local material (aggregate was obtained on Taveuni, and the construction was incredibly robust. In the end, the Salty Fox Bar and Grill, as well as the bures were constructed of concrete. We are really glad we went with this construction –it looks beautiful, and we suffered only minor damage as a result of Cyclone Winston (a bent fan blade in the restaurant and missing tree leaves).
A benefit to building in a tropical paradise is landscaping. We don’t require irrigation, all of our plantings are native to the environment. We did not even need to install or plant grass. The local variety was growing on the grounds by the time construction had ended. Much of the table tops and shelving in the rooms was harvested and milled rain tree that was harvested from the project site, and collected from a storm-fallen tree near the property. The rain tree has a vivid and colorful grain. When a finish is applied, the wood is beautiful and durable.
There is no central power grid available at the Taveuni Dive Resort. Power is generated through an array of thirty solar panels located on the roof of the main building. A diesel generator provides backup power and additional load capacity for activities such as filling scuba tanks. Electricity generated by the solar panels or generator is stored in lead acid batteries. Prior to distribution throughout the resort, 24-volt electricity from the batteries is inverted from direct current to 240-volt alternating current.
In conformance with local electrical codes, all outlets include a power point off switch, so phantom power use by appliances may be eliminated. The eight bures have hot water provided by four solar water heaters located on every other bure. Each hot water heater has a backup electric element to boost reservoir temperature in inclement weather.
The overall design of the resort was developed to reduce energy consumption. Major effort was expended on ventilation management in order to eliminate the need for air-conditioning in a tropical climate (a significant electrical load). Material choice included poured concrete walls to serve as an insulator. Each bure was oriented with the rear facing up hill. During the afternoons, a breeze comes off the mountains towards the coastline. Windows in the rear of each bure catch this breeze, and the cooler mountain air sinks below the warmer air in the bure. The warmer air, with the help of ceiling fans, rises into the upper area of each bure and exhausts out the front of the bure through louvered windows.
Other traditional design considerations for tropical climates were adopted in the resort design. Examples include the open air restaurant, louvered windows to promote ventilation.
Water at Taveuni Dive Resort is supplied in two ways. First, captured spring water from the upper reaches of Taveuni island is supplied from Taveuni Estates and distributed throughout the development via underground feeder pipes. For redundancy, the resort is served from two separate water tanks on this central supply system. The second means of water supply is through rooftop capture on the main building. Water from both sources is stored in a series of above ground storage tanks. These tanks provide operating pressure throughout the resort. A reverse osmosis system is installed and operated in the main building to provide potable drinking water for guests. Frequent maintenance assures untreated water is suitable for bathing and washing in guest rooms.
In summary, designing for the environment, making smart selections for where are materials came from, and building in a way to reduce maintenance costs were big factors that contributed to our sustainable design and construction. We should also talk about aesthetics – Muriel, Carl, and the contractor spent many, many hours making sure that the resort fit the surrounding. One of the biggest compliments we have received from our guests is regarding how naturally the resort reflects what is special about Taveuni.
As we said before, designing and constructing a resort according to sustainable design principles was a natural fit for building off the grid in a developing country. It turns out that operating the resort is pretty natural, but requires a little more thought. When you are operating a resort, the big environmental impacts are fuel, water, and waste. We monitor our consumption of water, fuel and the waste we generate, and compare it against a baseline we established in our first two years of operation. We established goals for reducing fuel and water use in our Sustainability Plan – that’s our tool for monitoring our performance. Some of those goals include:
- solar versus generator usage
- fuel consumption
- rain capture versus spring water use
Waste disposed versus waste recycled
We track those data each month, and monitor how we progress on each of those goals. Other measures we take to assure the sustainability of our resort operations include things like inspecting each of the faucets to assure they aren’t leaking, and having a tool and linen reuse program. You’ve probably seen one of these at other resorts you have stayed at. The fact is they save hundreds of gallons of water each year. One of the newest initiatives we started was providing scooters for our management team. Seems silly at first, but it turns out, they spend a lot of time running paperwork around and checking on how are staff is doing. By providing scooters, they’ve significantly reduced the amount of time they drive the resort trucks. That saves wear on the expensive trucks, and reduces the amount of fuel we consume.
Even the restaurant contributes to sustainable operations. Some ingredients must be sourced from off-island, but we obtain as much of our food from local growers as possible. We’re also building a large truck garden ourselves to furnish more organically, locally grown ingredients to the restaurant. In fact, as you walk the resort grounds you will notice pineapples, bananas, mangos, and other fruit growing as decorative landscaping.
Even our dive operations are influenced by sustainability principles. For instance, we have four boats at the dive operation, two 12 diver boats, and 8 diver boat, and a 6 diver boat. By using the right boat for the right sized party (that means not taking a 12-diver boat out when we have only one diver), it significantly limits the amount of fuel consumed each dive trip. We use a 3-phase compressor to fill tanks; it’s bigger, older, but way more efficient that a single phase compressor. For our resort, implementing sustainability practices means looking at each job we do, and try and make it efficient as possible, minimizing our impact on local communities and the environment.
As the resort went through design, then construction, and started operations, we realized it was important to seek recognition for our hard work. Typically, this is done by seeking certification under a sustainability program. We evaluated several programs, but found that many were very expensive, and others didn’t seem worth the paper they were printed on. What were we to do? That all changed when we met representatives with the Ocean First Institute, and their new partnership with Sustainable Travel International. In those discussions, they introduced Blue Certified. Blue Certified is a program designed for resorts and dive operations just like us. The program was adaptable to our unique environment without compromising the end goal of continuous improvement. One of the benefits of their program, is that it forced us to address social impacts, something that we could easily overlook in our operations. It turns out that even though we had not focused on the social impacts like equity in hiring, our supply chain management, and working with local communities, it’s good to know we were actually doing this.
In September 2016, we received our Blue Certification, and we are proud to let everyone know about our hard work. If you have any questions about our sustainability program, feel free to contact our sustainability officer, Fred Biebesheimer.