Welcome to Hotel Verde – Africa’s greenest hotel March 20, 2013 Against a backdrop of airliners silhouetted against the Cape’s blue skyline, domestic and international travellers will soon be able to check into the greenest hotel on the continent. Constantia-based private investors Mario and Annemarie Delicio and project engineer Andre Harms of Mowbray talk to Nelia Vivier about Hotel Verde, which rolls out its green carpet in August.
Set just outside Cape Town International Airport, Hotel Verde ( verde meaning green in Italian) is the heady tale of spontaneous combustion. It’s what happens on the green edge of hotel construction when clever minds, passionate hearts and sustainable development on the continent of Africa are thrown together into a concrete mixer. We’re talking German ingenuity and engineering and Italian ‘fire in the belly’ and creative vision. Italian-born Mario Delicio, who grew up in Germany, and his German wife Annemarie of local developers Dematech are the owners of Hotel Verde – Africa’s greenest hotel. Dedicated and passionate about sustainability, they’ve transformed what was initially just a sensible business proposition into a showcase for some of the most advanced environmentally conscious technological installations as well as construction and operation practices in the world. “The idea that this airport, its flight movement often underestimated, needed an upmarket hotel with a good restaurant came to me about two years ago,” recalls Mario. “I’ve built a small hotel before, in Ethiopia, but with this one, it was going to be different.”Representing German companies all over Africa has taught him two lessons that proved invaluable. “As a travelling business man, not as an hotelier, I was looking from the outside in, identifying what guests really want.” A harsher note was his growing awareness about “how much harm was done to nature and the environment all over the continent. There is such a careless handling of construction in Africa, for instance on the drive to Lagos in Nigeria, you see kilometres of oil slick, dead wastelands. It induces a physical hurt in me just to observe it.”
So when it came to Hotel Verde, managed by Bon Hotels, he wanted to create a green showcase for Africa, on an unprecedented scale. He did his research all over the world, little knowing that in the end, his team at Hotel Verde would also pioneer creative new ways of looking at green issues and help develop products. “We always knew that I would be hands-on with Hotel Verde, so I began looking for someone else to take over some of my other projects.” Enter Andre Harms, Sustainability Manager and founder of Ecolution Consulting, a mechanical engineer, who promptly said “No thanks” to that specific job offer. “Having just spent 15 months at the South African Research Centre in Antarctica, where I learned to value everyday resources, not a single thing going to waste, I’ve gained a different perspective on life,” explains Andre. Soon his expertise would be put to good use on the technical matters at Hotel Verde. Everyone brought something unique to the project. “Andre brings calmness, accuracy and responsibility, but also the pedantry of an engineer,” Mario reckons. “Annemarie has the innate gift to visualise the big picture, how all our ideas at the end of the day must provide a home-away-from-home for guests.” He, the other two retort, is the visionary, but also the slave driver. “He challenges the whole team, doesn’t take no for an answer, which at the time is not always easy to appreciate,” Andre comments. What they all agree on is that Hotel Verde as a project has changed their entire lives, the way they now view their own lifestyle, how they purchase things. They’ve learned the truth about ‘green washing’ and true ethics. “We now have a responsibility as a company, as an employer and as a visitor on this planet to live as sustainably as possible,” says Annemarie. “This is the only way we can survive long-term and hand over to our children in a responsible manner.” “Looking at energy, water and waste reduction,” Andre adds, we work out how to implement alternatives, explore the extent to which we could go.” And the team at Hotel Verde have gone to the greatest extent yet seen on the continent – from locally sourced suppliers to sustainable practices on the building site to multiple ways in which they can generate their own electricity and reduce waste to almost zero.
“We had an advantage because we were starting from scratch. We could go from choosing recycled bricks and insulation, to installing a geothermal field, coupled to ground-source heat pumps. When you build new you can plan much more than if you retrofit an existing building. But going green is not just about the building, it’s about every aspect of the operation; zero waste to landfill, for example. We might never reach that, but with the ideas we have in mind we will come pretty close.” The good news is that building green saves you big bucks. Right? Mario laughs before saying, “Are you kidding me? We added 16 per cent onto our normal construction cost. At R150 million, we’re laying out R19 million more than the cost of building a normal hotel. “Honestly, you have to be a bit crazy, extremely passionate, to get through this extraordinary journey. There were so many hurdles. For instance, if you go green right from the get-go, there are no rebates from Eskom. It feels like you get penalised for doing the right thing. We’re also not allowed to sell back power to the grid, as happens in overseas countries, to regain some investment.” Would they do it again? “In a heartbeat, well, maybe not the whole hog, but incorporating aspects,” states Mario. “Normally you wouldn’t put in equipment that would only pay for itself over 20 years, like the wind turbines. But it’s vital for the future to put a benchmark there. We’ve paid school fees this time round, it was a thousand times tougher that we thought it would be.” He takes a moment when they’re asked what their favourite project was (geothermal, being Andre’s choice, attention to small detail, such as using non-toxic glues and paints, Annemarie’s), before answering. “Right at the very beginning, that moment when my wife and three daughters said it was OK to invest in this. I know they were scared. I’m away from home so much that it would be an extra burden on the family. But they said yes. Now each one of us is so involved, it feels like this has become our life’s work.” Despite the fact that this is the first of its kind, the team want to share their convictions with anyone who’ll listen. “We might have the slogan ‘Africa’s Greenest Hotel’ right now, but we hope it won’t be for long,” Andre concludes. “We want to show the continent what can be done. We want to challenge the industry as a whole.” With the clock running down, watch Hotel Verde’s progress via webcam on www.hotelverde.com and also contact tel 021-385-1191, 5 Michigan Street, Airport Industria, follow Hotel-Verde on Facebook and visit www.bonhotels.co.za
Circulating hot and cold water through a geothermal field, the team bypass the need for standard air-conditioning systems, one of the biggest energy consumers. Coupling up ground source heat pumps to the 100 holes (vertical) via six headers (horizontal). Specifically designed for Hotel Verde, it uses the earth as a heat source in winter and ‘heat sink’ in summer , boosting efficiency and dramatically reducing operational costs.
Registered for the certification goal of Gold in the internationally recognised Leadership In Energy and Environmental Design (Leed) Green Building Rating System, here are some of Hotel Verde’s green achievements. Photovoltaic (solar) panels are positioned to provide shade as well as power. Mounted on the north façade, they generate electricity and create shading for windows getting the most sun. Double-glazed windows with spectrally selective glass filter out hot rays, so less heat enters the building, reducing the need for air-conditioning. Dramatically reducing the amount of concrete required , Cobiax void formers (hollow recycled plastic balls) were strategically placed within concrete floor slabs. Saving approx. 535 m 3 or 1284 ton, they maintain structural integrity. A sophisticated grey-water recycling plant contributes towards 37 per cent reduction of potable water use. A network of pipes running through the building reticulate grey water, collect it and supply it to toilets. A rainwater filtering and capture system (with a capacity of 40 000 litres) provides water for car wash and irrigation. Only nine rooms have bathtubs and all urinals in public toilets use a waterless system. Other measures include water-wise taps and shower heads, the kitchen and laundry are fitted with water- and energy-saving and -efficient, low-consumption appliances and some gym equipment generates energy when in use. Elevators run on a regenerative drive , allowing about 30 per cent of the input energy to be recaptured and fed back into the building. When an elevator travels in the ‘light’ direction, i.e. a full car going down, or an empty one going up, the motor acts as a generator and produces power. Three wind turbines contribute to on-site generated renewable energy. A 100 per cent electric shuttle service transports visitors to and from the airport. Various incentives will be offered to encourage guests to think green . Weekly, during ’Earth Hour’, non-essential lights will be turned off in public areas and wood-burn pizzas served by candlelight. Their food philosophy is based on healthy Italian cuisine, seasonal produce and sustainable product (SASSI, organic, Fair Trade) sourcing from and supporting producers in the community. Occupancy sensors monitor some areas and switch lights off and air conditioners if no-one is present. Each guestroom has a main power cut-off switch. When room key cards are removed, power to that room is cut, excluding plugs for charging and the bar fridge. The properties adjacent to Hotel Verde have been landscaped and beautified and a jogging trail will be created. The flat concrete roof over the reception and lobby area will be covered by an aesthetically pleasing , indigenous vegetated green roof, which creates a habitat for birdlife and thermally insulates the areas below.
The art of greening the community
Funded by the Delicio’s, an art project i s happening at the Frank Joubert Art Centre in Newlands. Researching environmental responsibility and conceptualising and producing artworks in a variety of media, a selection of the creative efforts of Grade 11 art students from schools within the airport vicinity will form part of the hotel’s art collection. Some of the finished works will be translated by local crafters and artists into mediums such as beading and mosaic.