Today I find myself back in the Maldives a year after I first met the nation’s President Nasheed– since dubbed “The Green President” for his steadfast efforts to lead this small island nation to become the world’s first carbon neutral country by 2020 (yes, fossil fuel free in eight years.) I’m sitting with a handful of sustainability leaders and visionaries on Soneva Fushi, a tiny, island resort. We are gathered for the SLOW LIFE Symposium, organized by Six Senses, a luxury resort company that has made sustainable tourism principles and practices its core mission. If Slow Life catches on the way the Slow Food movement has, we may be able to redefine luxury travel.
I ask Sonu Shivdasani, founder of Six Senses, to explain his ambitious goal for the travel industry to embrace a top-to-bottom approach to sustainable operations:
“SLOW LIFE stands for Sustainable, Local, Organic, Wellness, Learning, Inspiring, Fun, Experiences,” Shivdasani told me over a glass of bottled mineral water, which he purifies through a filtration system on site that also includes rock crystals and classical music to give it a spiritual cleansing, too.
Before you raise your eyebrows and laugh, consider that unlike most resorts in the world, Six Senses bans plastic water bottles. The result has been a savings, not only to the environment by reducing plastics, but also to his business. A quarter of a million dollars so far has been saved and donated to support access to clean drinking water, which has impacted more than 200,000 people a year.
Shivdasani cites Paul Hawken’s book, The Ecology of Commerce as one of his inspirations and believes, “the promise of business is to increase the general well-being of humankind through service.”
“At Six Senses, yes, we are trying to create the most luxurious guest experience in the world, but offering it in a sustainable way. This is what we call Intelligent Luxury. Making money on its own is totally meaningless. As a company, we want to be a force for good rather than just profit,” he adds.
As a travel experience, Shivdasani’s resorts are hard to beat– at one of his resorts, guests hang-glide to the reception area. The restaurants are located in organic gardens, solar power is being maximized (Shivdasani’s goal is to also go completely fossil-free in all of his resorts by 2020,) composting is the norm, amenities are biodegradable, and the staff are not “staff,” rather the majority are locals, and they call themselves “hosts,” since they really are hosting you in their country– a point Six Senses repeatedly likes to make.
Fifteen years ago, sustainable travel tended to be about budget backpackers jungle trekking in Costa Rica. These days, sustainability in the tourism world is increasingly being driven by high-end travel companies like Six Senses. But although a stay at Six Senses could put you back some $800 a night to live out a Robinson Crusoe fantasy beside a sparkling blue lagoon, you’re also supporting an alternative energy future and an emerging global green economy.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Which brings me back to Intelligent Luxury: although we might not all be able to stay at a Six Senses resort, that those with wealth are beginning to commit themselves to protecting the planet for future generations is a good sign that this top-down movement is gaining momentum. Can luxury really be intelligent? Sonu Shivdasani is certainly convinced that it can be, but more importantly, that it should be.
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Costas Christ is an Editor at Large for National Geographic Traveler magazine.