A greener paradise

A free week in the Caribbean. Yes, you read it right. Hard to say no to such a tempting offer. And no, not just because it comes as a gift to all members of a very “globalist yet exclusive” invite-only social network. Nor simply as it’s set in one of my favorite regions on the planet.

The main reason for its appeal to me rests in the fact that it takes place inside a green development. I remember joining an architectural firm in NYC mainly on the grounds that one of its partners had designed St. John’s (US Virgin Islands) Harmony, the first luxury resort in the world to operate on wind and sun power, a characteristic that earned it Condé Nast Traveler’s first annual Ecotourism Award. Therefore I cannot be but decidedly glad that, some years later, a new project of a similar kind is on its way to grace the slopes of St. Kitts.

Soaking in the bathtub, dreaming in the infinity pool or splashing in the Caribbean Sea?

As a matter of fact, while some jet-setting members of the aforementioned club may end up loving this island also for its investment, financial & citizenship opportunities, it’s the eco-aspect of it that I’d love to share with you here. Stretching over hundreds of acres of luscious farmland between the local tropical mount and the picture-perfect beach below, where the Caribbean Sea dances with the Atlantic, Kittitian Hill is a green-jewel under many respects.

The building complex boasts a unique set of private villas, cottages and suites, as well as cozy restaurants, bars and shops, all splendidly immersed in the surrounding greenery. But that’s not all. This West Indies development will also include an open-air cinema, a very appealing 18-hole “edible” golf course with breathtaking views of the nearby St. Barth and St. Martin and a spa set in an ancient mango grove with secluded natural pools, where you can enjoy soothing indigenous treatments with natural products or join a yoga session for a harmonious workout.

Local materials, vernacular-inspired design.

This dreamy vacation spot, producing its own organically-grown food and showcasing many architectural eco-features, will soon be powered by renewable energy while also offering electric cars and bicycles to its guests, for a carbon-neutral visit of the surroundings. Unless you fancy a more intimate approach to nature through fine walks and treks where you may witness a close encounter with the local wildlife, namely hummingbirds, curious monkeys and colorful butterflies, or dive into the past by exploring the island’s UNESCO listed historical fortification.

The fact is that Val Kempadoo, a consummate real estate developer with a passion for sustainability, is not just excited by the high level of comfort and relaxing experience that they can provide to temporary and permanent residents of this West Indies paradise (yes, you can actually own a villa, not just stay there on holiday), but also for the constructive and lasting effect this resort is having on the local people and economy as well as the world at large, through a careful conservation of natural resources.

This holistic project, designed by renowned architect Bill Bensley (whose work has been repeatedly awarded and mentioned in magazines such as Condé Nast Traveler, Architectural Digest, Time and Fast Company) is being brought to life through the combined efforts of international project managers and many local contractors and entrepreneurs, showcasing the highest standards of the island’s craftsmanship and vernacular building methods.

Eco-friendly materials, either local, therefore with a low carbon footprint, or from sustainable sources, take precedence. Traditional wooden shingles and carved decoration allow for the constructions to blend more seamlessly with the surrounding landscape. Stone & hardwood flooring are not just gorgeous but assure longevity and resistance. Water efficient sanitary ware, coupled with low flow taps and faucets keep an eye on this precious resource with no loss in performance. Finally, energy efficient appliances reduce electricity consumption to a minimum… but you can choose to dry your hair naturally, while laying on a chaise longue under one of the beautiful porches with a view!

Organic fruit & veggies fresh from the... golf course!

Organic fruit & veggies fresh from the… golf course!

The Ecological focus continues through the stewardship of the fertile landscape, where organic farming is not just self-sufficient but an actual producer, offering not just guests but islanders as well, delicious & fresh pesticide-free goodies. Native as well as rare and heirloom tropical fruit trees also provide the perfect habitat for insular wildlife, reduce the need for irrigation and maintain biodiversity. For anything else that can’t be produced on the property grounds, the resort management continues to work closely with suppliers who share their approach to sustainable fishing and farming.

Winston Lake, the nursery supervisor, will tell you “It’s exciting to know that we have 60 varieties of mangoes, 50 of bananas as well as of avocados, and many other plants – and I enjoy looking after them. I think our guests will be thrilled to find every morning a nice bowl of fresh fruit and veggies, which they can attribute to Kittitian hospitality”.

Yes, go for that ripe and juicy pineapple, or simply taste some jam or jelly made with it. And if that wasn’t enough, you can still pick some yourself in between golf shots. Just know that the deliciousness continues at night when, if you fancy a sweet drink, these local herbs and fruits become special ingredients for original cocktails in the hands of top mixologists from a bar sporting unique paraphernalia straight from an old sugar-cane refinery lab!

As George Lidicker, the hotelier of Sedona Resorts fame, puts it “We’re on a journey to blend sustainability with a world-class 5 star experience”. And yes, this is indeed eco luxury living at its best.

But sustainability efforts don’t stop there. Val explains “We believe that the physical environment is only one of 4 elements of sustainable development”, where Art & Culture follow next in the line, as “they give people a sense of who they are, a sense of purpose” with various programs in the works, ranging from a residency for artists to film, literary & culinary festivals.

These, alongside the architectural efforts respectful of the Caribbean heritage, provide for the other two element, the Economic & Social fabric. This business model is financially sustainable and based on fair trade principles as well as an academy to train people in hospitality with active participation. The builders bring their expertise and knowledge of local materials into constructing the resort. Leighton, one of the 30 contractors smiles and states “It’s a nice feeling to know that you’re part of what’s happening here, in our native country”.

Good actions though don’t end at the resort’s boundaries: sponsoring other island farmers towards the creation of more ethically-produced crops and livestock as well as helping St. Kitts to reduce the need of imported fruit and vegetables, is another effort taking place. Val cares to point out that “We’re not just designing buildings and landscapes. It is a place to belong, a community where belonging inherently brings purpose”. I wanted to find out more about this project so I asked Val a few questions.

...and the goodness continues at the beach...

…and the goodness continues at the beach…

A golf course is usually a challenge when it comes to sustainability: how did you face it?
There are typically three main sustainability challenges that face golf course designers and they concern the deployment of resources: Fertilizer and Pesticide: while some other golf courses have reduced the use of such chemicals, we are aspiring to be the first fully organic tropical golf course in the world, to avoid polluting the surrounding environment. Water: the average golf course can use up to 1 million gallons of fresh water for irrigation per day.  We are addressing this by both reducing the irrigated area to a minimum (“target irrigation”) and using also the resort’s treated waste water for such task. This significantly reduces the amount of additional irrigation water required by the course. Arable land: a golf course typically occupies 200 acres of what could be arable land but produces no food or other net output. By organically farming a large part of it we are creating the “world’s first farmable course”. Rather than diverting the water back up to the farm, we moved the farm to the golf course, which in turn reduces evaporation from the course. We also relied mostly on the landscape’s natural features to create the game’s obstacles thus allowing us to relocate only about 30% of the soil which is normally used in creating a golf course. Finally, our project partner has been very supportive of transferring skills to our local employees, increasing their employment opportunities.

The resort also showcases a few collective swimming pools and various private infinity-edge pools in the villas. How is the water managed in these instances?
Water supply is a significant issue in much of the Caribbean as any rain that falls is absorbed quickly into the soil.  Fortunately St Kitts is better served than many islands. The pools at KH are filled/maintained by rainwater which is harvested from the roof of each building.  In addition, rainwater is used for flushing toilets and supplementing well water. The pools use the less burdensome salt-water system, and have timers and demand management systems on the pumps, reducing power load. 

What other ecological features are there in the buildings?
On the ecological front, aside from all that was previously mentioned in the article when describing the constructions in the resort, we’ve taken a lesson from history and designed buildings with high ceilings to absorb the heat and to maximize natural cross ventilation, relying on the cooling breeze which we get at an altitude of 300m, thus reducing the need for air conditioning.

... a green and blue view.

… a green and blue view.

Which types of renewable energy will be used to power the resort?
There are solar panels built into the design of the guesthouses and suites to provide domestic hot water and reduce the draw on the grid. While the construction phase has been supported by conventional power and the opening phase of the hotel will also use this as well, we are fully committed to ensuring that within five years of opening KH, 100% of all the energy consumed will be from renewable sources. To achieve this we are developing biomass, wind and solar energy sources on and off site.  In the longer term we are working with the Government of St. Kitts to promote the development of geothermal energy, which means that not only KH, but the entire island’s electrical requirements will be met from this renewable source.

Saint Kitts is one of the countries eligible for LEED Earth promotion. Given also this financial incentive, would you consider getting this certification (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)?
Unfortunately we weren’t able to find a satisfactory way to bridge the expectations of the LEED methodologies and our broader approach to sustainability. The bigger challenge is finding a system which is more in keeping with a small developing economy and the unique issues which face our society.

Which one was the biggest challenge in terms of sustainability and what are you most proud of?
Our major challenge is promoting the use of local skills and materials, while being realistic about what is possible to source on a small island of 50,000 people. For example St Kitts relies extensively on food imports, so we built our own fruit and vegetable farm into the plan. I’m proud that this is a Caribbean project, built by local Kittitians and our vision for sustainability is one that encompasses social, economic and environmental elements recognizing that in developing countries it is the socio-economic issues that are often the most urgent and important. In many cases, without solving these, the environmental ones cannot be sustainably addressed.  Environmentally, I am proud that we constructed the buildings around the trees (where we couldn’t find another way, we moved the trees) – there are bigger environmental issues to be dealt with, but somehow retaining the trees that we found on site was a symbolic act for the philosophy we wanted to follow.

…. And after this interesting extra information from the developer, it is with the hotelier’s wish that I’d like to end: “We want somebody to leave Kittitian Hill feeling more fully alive and energized than they did when they arrived”. Here’s to yet another great reason to visit. The countdown starts now!


© Cool Green Lifestyle 2013

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