When I was traipsing across rural Africa as a journalist, I made it a point to stay in a luxury hotel at least once a month – powerful hot showers, buffet breakfasts, clean sheets… the works.
I’ve just spent a marvelous week touring Sri Lanka on a budget, sleeping in mostly spartan lodgings so when Jetwing Hotels offered me a room for two nights at the Jetwing Lighthouse in Galle along the coast, I leapt at the chance.
It was worth it for the indulgence, of course but even more so for the surprise. I had no idea I was walking into a sustainable development adventure.
This isn’t your run-of-the-mill hotel. Of course it does have all the amenities, the two pools, the three restaurants, the heartstopping view…
…but it has something I didn’t expect: a strict environmental code designed to conserve energy, recycle as much as possible, and leave as small a footprint as it can. This isn’t common among large resort hotels so I asked to see more.
“It’s good for the hotel, for the customers, and for the environment,” explained Anoma Alagiyawadu, the in-house Naturalist (yes, on staff). He walked me around the property and proudly showed me the sprinklers (using water recycled from waste), the biodegradable packaging for coffee bags and toilet paper, the composting, the energy-efficient lightbulbs, the hotel’s own organically grown vegetables but to me the pièce de resistance was the boiler.
Rather than use diesel fuel the hotel’s water is heated with cinnamon wood, easily obtained from cinnamon farmers seeking to dispose of the waste.
“In the past four months we used the diesel generator for only one day, while the biomass generator was shut down for maintenance,” Mr Alagiyawadu explained. “That’s an 80% savings in diesel fuel.” And as we know, using fuel releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and precipitates climate change.
The restaurant adheres to similar environmentally-friendly rules: it makes sure supplies are local and are delivered in reusable containers or recyclable packages.
Not much here is artificial: fruit baskets are made from natural materials, shampoos and conditioners are herbal, and plastic bags are banned.
What makes this particularly interesting is first, that it is in Sri Lanka, a developing country barely a decade out of a devastating tsunami that killed more than 30,000 people along these very shores and second, this is a major hotel chain which would traditionally be more concerned with profit than preservation.
That conservation takes a front seat is the work of Jetwing’s Chairman, Hiran Cooray. An ecologist and avid birdwatcher, he has fought hard – often against the travel industry mainstream – to green his properties and make them as sustainable as possible.
Here in Galle that mindset stretches beyond the hotel to several local initiatives that work to educate both students and the local community on conservation issues.
The building itself is worth an aside. The Jetwing Lighthouse was designed by Geoffrey Bawa, Sri Lanka’s premier architect until his death in 2003. The extraordinary entrance stairway was sculpted in bronze and copper by his friend, artist Lucky Senanayake, and depicts the repulsion of the Portuguese by the Sinhala king, a veritable work of art.
And then there was this.