In Antigua, Resorts Are Leading The Charge For Sustainability. Will Everyone Follow?

The content originally appeared on: Antigua News Room
Brian Murphy, general manager of the Carlisle Bay Antigua, is leading the hotel’s charge toward sustainability.CARLISLE BAY

SOURCE: FORBES-Like it or not, Carlisle Bay Antigua is driving toward sustainability. At least that’s what Brian Murphy, the resort’s general manager, will tell you.

The island may not be fully on board yet. Guests may not be clamoring for a sustainable resort, either.

But no matter. It’s happening.

“We have a mindset that everything we touch is a resource that can be depleted,” he says. “And we don’t want to deplete it.”

It is easy to get distracted at a place like Carlisle Bay, with its turquoise waters, postcard-perfect beaches and luxury amenities. It’s also easy to forget that all of these resources — the beach, the water you drink, the air you breathe — are finite. But for Carlisle Bay and many others on this island, sustainability is something worth thinking about every day, even if it’s a goal that they may never reach.

The story of sustainability in Antigua is common throughout the Caribbean. Like other islands, its efforts to go green range from recycling to renewable energy to supporting local businesses.

Adelle A. C. Blair, who leads the Antigua Ministry of Tourism’s sustainability initiatives, says the island has spent the last few years building its sustainability programs.

“But there is much work to be done as it relates to valuing and protecting the natural assets upon which tourism depends,” she adds.

It’s particularly challenging now, with tourism booming. It’s tempting for these initiatives to take a back seat while the island enjoys a post-pandemic bump in visitors. Still, some hotels are doubling down on their commitment to sustainability.

Antigua loves to talk about sustainability. Seven years ago, it created a green corridor along its rocky southwestern coast. It’s a place where businesses, mostly involved in tourism, agree to a set of principles based on respect for local culture and environmental stewardship. The Antiguan government actively promoted these green corridor businesses, hoping to turn them into a model for sustainability. But Hurricane Irma, which hit the island in 2017, slowed progress, and it ground to a halt during the pandemic.

Officials in Antigua say they’re committed to the goal of deriving most of their electricity from renewable sources by 2030. This spring, the island completed a $50 million solar farm capable of powering nearly 1,000 homes. The move supports cleaner electricity generation and lowers carbon emissions linked to conventional power plants.

Blair says the government has also declared several marine protected areas around the island, which has protected the fragile underwater ecosystem and helped sustainability.

“However, it has fallen short as it relates to development within some of these protected areas,” she notes.

A significant part of Antigua’s sustainability leadership comes from hotels like Carlisle Bay and others. Hermitage Bay, a high-end resort on the western coast of Antigua, has one of the most developed sustainability programs, which addresses everything from renewable energy to waste management. And Keyonna Beach Resort, an all-inclusive resort with an impressive white sandy beach, has everything from bottled water stations to a program that locally sources its food.

But behind the scenes, these programs are pricey and they sometimes fit awkwardly into a tourism ecosystem designed to attract and retain new visitors.

Sailboats at Carlisle Bay in Antigua. On a clear day, you can see Montserrat from the beach.CHRISTOPHER ELLIOTT

It’s hard to wrap your head around one hotel sustainability program, let alone understand all of them in Antigua. At Carlisle Bay, the tally of sustainability initiatives is longer than the wine list on its dinner menu.

Every guest room has reusable water bottles, which you can refill from water stations on the property. That eliminates landfill-clogging single-use bottles.
There’s a reverse osmosis plant that produces 50,000 gallons of drinking water daily, and there are plans to spend another $200,000 on a new system.
The resort supports local pig farmers by donating leftovers. That takes care of most food waste.
There are a variety of energy-saving initiatives, including timer-controlled LED lights, pathway lighting and sprinklers. The groundskeepers also use recycled gray water to irrigate their gardens.

Carlisle Bay has teamed up with a nonprofit called Adopt a Coastline to clear trash from the beach. It supported efforts to install a beach bin made from landfill-salvaged tires. And it planted coconut palm trees. The resort has earned a Green Globe certification in recognition of its commitment to sustainability, too.

Murphy, who also serves as the first vice chair of the Antigua and Barbuda Hotels and Tourism Association, says being in the middle of Antigua’s green corridor has illuminated a path to sustainability.

“This part of Antigua is all about hiking and nature and general wellness,” he says. “So we feel like we have a responsibility to be sustainable.”

Darius Christmas, a gardener at Carlisle Bay, with General Manager Brian Murphy, in the resort’s … [+]CHRISTOPHER ELLIOTT

So what’s the challenge to sustainability in a place like Antigua? One is the island itself. Despite professing its commitment to sustainability, and despite recent initiatives such as the new solar plant, Antigua still has a long way to go.

The island doesn’t have a recycling program for household waste. (A nonprofit organization, the Antigua & Barbuda Waste Recycling Corporation, handles some removal of nonbiodegradable materials from the island.) And locals will tell you that financial interests almost always come before the environment, and that almost none of these initiatives would be happening unless there was a financial reason.

Blair says Antigua is doing its best despite its limited resources.

“I’d like visitors to leave with the impression that Antigua and Barbuda respects the natural environment and is doing all in its power with limited resources to ensure that development is managed in a manner that they can return to this destination again and again,” she says.

Resorts like Carlisle Bay, which do have the resources to make a difference, want the same thing. In fact, Murphy is about to spend $60,000 on a machine that will crush glass into a fine powder for recycling.

Whether sustainability sticks in Antigua may come down to the visitors. Although some guests select resorts like Carlisle Bay because of its sustainability program — it’s part of a vacation checklist for them, says Murphy — most care only about relaxing on the beach with a drink. Some guests are unhappy when they don’t get their bottled water or single-use soap. They’re spending a lot of money on a vacation and want to have all the amenities they’re used to.

Murphy says educating guests on the importance of sustainability is one of the hardest parts about being green in a place like Antigua. But he says most guests understand that hotels can’t continue consuming precious natural resources without consequences. Explaining sustainability to customers takes time and patience, but it has its rewards.

“It’s knowing that you went on vacation and that you did it in a less impactful way,” he says.

It’s also knowing that, thanks to the resort’s sustainability efforts, the hotel will be here next year when you want to come back.

Murphy says people often think of sustainability as a destination. There are goals like recycling or carbon neutrality or getting off the grid. It’s something measurable, and when you cross the finish line, you are sustainable. But that’s not how he sees it.

“For us,” he says, “sustainability is more of a journey.”

The Carlisle’s experience raises questions. For sustainability to work, who should be driving it? The government? Or private companies, like hotels or tour operators? Or should it be visitors?

If you talk to government officials, they’ll tell you that they can and should take a leadership role on sustainability. And likewise, if you ask hotel owners in the Caribbean, they’ll tell you that they can bring about the necessary change.

They’re half right. Yes, government and private businesses have a key role to play in sustainability. But unless they get buy-in from residents and visitors who demand sustainability, it’s unlikely to succeed.

In Antigua, apparently that’s the struggle. There are simply not enough people pushing sustainability yet. Visitors just want a carefree beach vacation instead of worrying about recycling or climate change. Antigua is relatively prosperous compared to other Caribbean islands, and people seem more concerned with ensuring a steady flow of tourists than environmental preservation, at least for now.

Change is happening, but it’s slow.

And Murphy is right. When it comes to sustainability, it’s not a destination. It’s a journey.

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