Divi Resorts is greening up its act with a series of environmental initiatives begun more than two years ago at its 10 Caribbean resorts on five islands.
"This has taken a while," said E.J. Schanfarber, president. "Things move slowly in the Caribbean, but Divi feels a strong sense of responsibility to maintain ecosystems where we operate and to educate our staff and our guests in these areas."
Divi has gone way beyond the tent cards in guestrooms, which give guests the option of having fresh towels and sheets or not each day as part of an effort to conserve water and electricity and prevent detergents from entering the ocean.
"These are so commonplace now that I think many guests disregard them," he said.
Many resorts, in addition to Divi, have in-room air-conditioning systems that shut down when no motion is detected in the room.
"What we decided when we embarked on the path to sustainability was to educate our staff on our environmental measures so that they could understand why and what Divi is doing and be better able to inform our guests," Schanfarber said.
During 10-hour training sessions each month, staff members are given talking points on new programs, "so they know what to say and how to say it," according to Schanfarber.
Employee/guest communication message points aim to enlist hotel guests in preserving the fragile local environments.
Eco-initiatives and environmental improvements don't come cheap. "It's taken a lot of effort and capital, but this is a conscientious commitment on Divi's part. Launching green initiatives is not a cost-saving measure, it's simply the right thing to do," Schanfarber said.
He initiated a number of sustainable measures when he arrived at Divi in 2007, but they proved a hard sell to employees.
He regrouped, waited for a more opportune moment, and 2012 proved to be the right time to redouble efforts and invest heavily in changes.
Schanfarber's changes this year: 50,000 LED light bulbs in Divi's five resorts in Aruba; sensors, timers and high-efficiency toilets (Divi Aruba Phoenix Beach); a desalination plant (Divi Little Bay Beach Resort, St. Maarten); solar water heaters (St. Maarten and Aruba); wind turbines (Aruba); and sustainable laundry operations for all properties.
"These items cut expensive utility bills and reduce dependence on unreliable and over-capacity utility systems on the islands," he said.
Divi is also constructing a greenhouse in Barbados to grow landscaping plants for 16.5 acres of gardens as well as herbs and vegetables for the restaurant and employee kitchen at Divi Southwinds.
Keen to clean
Divi Flamingo Beach Resort on Bonaire has reef reclamation programs; beach grooming and cleanup programs are in effect at all of the resorts, "and our guests really get off on these programs, helping our staff get rid of garbage and seaweed on the sand," according to Schanfarber, adding that beach cleanup programs garner the highest amount of guest cooperation and participation.
Divi's Bonaire and St. Maarten resorts also produce their own domestic water.
Close to 100% of guest comments regarding sustainable practices at the resorts are favorable.
"They see us in action," he said. "They appreciate what we're doing and let us know that we have their support."
Schanfarber hopes that guests adopt some of the sustainable practices when they return home.
"We are stewards of the land. This is one of our beliefs," he said.
Divi is a firm believer in renewable energy, according to Schanfarber.
"It would be far less expensive if we could eliminate food waste by installing giant turbines that would also produce power at the same time, but we are competing with local utility companies in certain destinations. Some governments are more cooperative in these matters than others," Schanfarber said.
To discourage use of plastic water bottles, each Divi guest is handed a reusable water bottle at check-in, which can be refilled at water stations at the resorts.
"We do what we can do," Schanfarber said. "These islands are so fragile. All we have is the destination, which must be preserved."
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