Sustainable luxury?

I’ve always been more than a little wary of the contradiction of putting the words ‘luxury resort’ and ‘sustainability’ together but recently I met up with the team behind the 12 Blues Resort & Spa in the Maldives. They claim that this is “destined to become one of the world’s most desirable six star resort residence developments” and that it “offers a rare opportunity to acquire ownership in an exclusive private island hideaway where warm crystal blue lagoons shimmer in hues of blue surrounded by impeccable powder white beaches unlike any place on earth”.

Designed by award winning Singapore based architectural firm Eco-id, 12 Blues is a 40 minute seaplane journey north of Male, the capital of Maldives. Built on a 10 acre teardrop shaped coral island, there will be 33 water villas – inspired by Moroccan lanterns floating on water – and seven beach villas.

The media information for 12 Blues points out that “while no one would claim that international air travel to the Maldives is environmentally benign; denying the local economy the benefits of carefully structured, environmentally and socially sustainable tourism would be a harsh sentence to inflict on the people of the Maldives”.

I’m not going to get into a debate about air travel, I write about building related sustainability. Instead, I’m going to point you in the direction of a paragraph from Heat – how can we stop the planet burning, George Monbiot’s thought provoking book: “We have all mastered the art of beginning and ending a narrative at the points which suit us, and we are never more adept at this than when we travel. A holiday – and therefore its environmental impact – we choose to believe, begins upon arrival and ends upon departure”. Think about it.

When I asked the team at 12 Blues about the environmental impact of the development itself, they spoke with rare passion and knowledge.

The project is hugely complex and is clearly bringing to bear construction techniques and systems that are unusual in this part of the world. The team claim they are doing their best to minimise environmental disruption during construction and no trees will be cut down, although some may be transplanted. The villa foundations are being piled while, to minimise waste, transport and local environmental impact, parts of the buildings are being made off site. A key constituent of the walls and floors is fibrecrete.

Everything has to be built from scratch. A desalinisation plant will provide over 120 gallons of water per person per day. Rainwater will be harvested, funnelled from the roofs of the buildings into tanks, and as much water as possible will be recycled. A sewerage plant is being constructed which will ensure water is cleansed to an acceptable level for use in irrigation, thus saving the need for desalination.

Diesel fuel is the main energy source but on the roofs solar thermal panels hidden by parapets will assist with hot water production. There will be no photovoltaics (PVs) because of the problem of salt sea mists and neither will there be wind turbines due to aesthetic considerations. Wherever possible LED lighting is to be employed.

Air conditioning is always a big issue in such developments. Here a central chilling system is to be installed – the services run out through the pontoons to the water villas – and it is being specified to minimise the noise normally associated with such systems.

Other than golf buggies, no motorised vehicles are to be allowed while the staff to maintain the resort will live on another island. They and most supplies (a herb and vegetable garden is to be created) will come in daily via a rota of supply boats which then remove rubbish that cannot be recycled.

Whether all this means that 12 Blues is an idyl with environmental attributes that truly extend beyond aesthetics and location should perhaps be judged by comparison with other resorts. There are many, many such places where sustainability is an unrecognised word.

Image credit: 12 Blues

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