The above foyer is lit completely by natural light during the day via large windows, skylights, and white, reflective walls. At night, motion sensors are used. This mentality almost entirely translates into your room, minus the motion sensors. Skylights above my bathroom made it unnecessary to turn on a light before dark, and there was no place in the room I could stand without seeing a window. Even the top of the shower was a skylight.
The walkways between buildings at the Selva Verde Lodge are completely integrated with the surrounding rainforest.
A huge rule of thumb when it comes to being eco-friendly is to only landscape with native plants. You know what the best way to do that is? Leave the natural world as it is, and integrate the property with it. The Selva Verde Lodge, which also uses skylights and but passes on soap and shampoo dispensers, is a good example of how a property can coexist with its surroundings.
Selva Verde is located in the biological corridor of the Sarapiqui Rainforest Preservation Area, designated to help protect the almond tree and the macaws who nest in them. The walkways between buildings are literally a walk through the rainforest. Minus a five-foot wide concrete strip, the environment is otherwise left intact. Almost all the eco-lodges I visited had similar small, modest approaches to their facilities and footprint. If you're looking for one thing that shows it clearly, I found this most evident in the size of the pools.
The pools at most eco-lodges are small, and sustainability practices require they not be cleaned with chemicals.
The way a hotel treats its surroundings after the initial construction decisions are just as important to sustainability. Recycling cans were in every room, and many lodges had composting programs happening on site to be redistributed back into the wilderness. Or, into their on-site gardens, created to supply the kitchen.
A hotel's surroundings extend outside its physical limits and into the community where it resides. When you talk to the employees of true eco-lodges, you realize they live right nearby. There's no commuting in Costa Rica, not when it comes to sustainability. The belief is that both parties benefit - both the hotel and the employee - from contributing to one another so close to home. Sustainability practices also require that something other that jobs are given to the community, some other type of financial or humanitarian support. One example, as in the case of Rosa Finca Blanca, would be educating young kids on the importance of the environment's well being.
Whether it's a hiking trail, coffee plantation, butterfly garden, or recycling program, sustainable hotels look to engage and educate their guests
Setting up all these programs is the first step. The next part deals with ensuring that guests are motivated to participate. Okay, there's a hiking trail or a coffee plantation on sight, but does a hotel actively cultivate a guest's engagement and education? This is done through a variety of means, from site and sustainability tours to guided bird walks to animal seminars to coffee tastings, each hotel takes its own approach based on the cards it has been dealt.
[Photos: Will McGough]