Sonu Shivdasani is Chairman and CEO of the Six Senses Group which has a collection of 17 luxury resorts and a number of spas around the world. Combining eco sensitivity with cutting edge design, Six Senses resorts are paving the way for environmentally sustainable travel.
You are creating the world’s first decarbonising resort – what has inspired you to do this and why is the concept important to you?
The project to decarbonise Soneva Fushi is incredibly important not just for us, but also to the Maldives and the whole of the resort industry. Quite simply, no one has tried to make a luxury resort decarbonising before. There is no road map or manual for us to follow. But what is absolutely clear is that tourism is a force for good in the world – but that the industry must move much faster to reduce its impact on the environment. President Nasheed of the Maldives wants to make his country carbon neutral by 2020. I am giving his vision all the support Six Senses can muster.
How will you implement it?
It is a mammoth project. At a very small level, all the straws in our drinks are made from biodegradable, recycled material. There is no plastic on Soneva Fushi and all glass bottles are ground down and used in cement on the island. We have an energy efficient system on our desalination unit and other energy saving initiatives such as LED light bulbs.
In the future further energy saving will come from better roof installation and more efficient air conditioning units.We installed a test solar bed two years ago and results have been positive. We hope to install another 1MW of solar panels in the first half of 2012. This will make us self sufficient on renewables during most of the daylight hours.
In summary, about three years ago we were using 120,000 litres of diesel per month. We are now down to about 80,ooo litres per month. Battery storage technology is rapidly improving, so I would hope that in the next 18 months we can generate all our energy from renewables. If it all goes well, the resort will be decarbonising by 2013, without compromising in any way the experience enjoyed by our guests. And we will happily share our experiences with anyone who wants to implement the solutions we are developing.
Sustainable luxury is a concept you feel passionately about, how do you combine the best of high-end with a social and environmental conscious?
To start with, the perception that luxury is about conspicuous consumption is simply wrong. In the Maldives, “luxury” means staying at a wonderful resort and enjoying an untarnished natural environment. So “luxury” has to become synonymous with “sustainable” in a very real sense.
We know you feel that sustainable luxury is the future, can you tell us a little more about why you think this and how you see the luxury sector adapting to become more sustainable in the long-term?
Without building a sustainable tourism industry, you won’t be able to enjoy a luxury experience within a generation or two.
To me luxury is swimming on a pristine reef. But fragile eco-systems are being damaged and destroyed by irresponsible tourism as well as pollution and climate change. So unless the industry as a whole changes rapidly, the future for luxury tourism looks pretty short.