Verde perfect – By SUNDAY TIMES, Lifestyle Magazine

Welcome to Africa’s greenest hotel, where saving energy might earn you a free drink.

The ultimate contemporary green building is the stuff of sci-fi — it generates its own water and electricity, recycles all its own waste, sucks up carbon and pumps oxygen back into the atmosphere like an authentic, breathing organism. Now a R150-million hotel, managed by Bon Hotels, is to incorporate many of the features that personify a fantasy green building. Set just 400m from Cape Town International Airport, Hotel Verde (‘verde’ means ‘green’ in Italian) aims to be Africa’s greenest hotel when it opens its doors in June.

“We’re pursuing gold certification through the world’s most recognised rating body for green buildings, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design,” says project engineer Andre Harms. Built by private investors, Constantia-based Mario and Annemarie Delicio, the super-green Hotel Verde has been in development since November 2011. The roof structure, plus all six levels of what will be a 145-room, full-service hotel, are up.

Concrete is an energy-intensive material to produce, but its use in the building has been slashed considerably thanks to voidforming recycled plastic balls developed by the Swiss-based Cobiax Group. These were incorporated into each concrete slab to save 1284 tons of concrete, while maintaining structural integrity.

“We used as many recycled materials as possible: the concrete was partly recycled, we only used bricks with recycled content, and we’ve recycled all recyclable waste. This philosophy will also be applied in hotel operations,” says Harms, a mechanical engineer who managed SANAE IV, SA’s off-the-grid science outpost in Antarctica, between December 2oo9 and March 2011.

“We’ve also saved municipal tap water by harvesting the groundwater table, which penetrated to build the basement.” Another innovative eco-technology, ground-source heat pumps, will be harnessed to minimise energy used for heating and cooling. Rather than sucking air from the atmosphere, and then having to cool or heat it, the pumps will draw on a groundwater supply that maintains a year-round temperature of 19.4oC. This water is pumped from 100 holes that have been drilled 70m into the earth and is then distributed through the building’s heating and cooling systems.

North-facing windows will be fitted with a series of solar panels with a capacity of 55kW, which will provide sun protection as well as generating electricity. All windows will be insulated with double glazing, and treated to block out the hottest rays.

The hotel’s interiors will also be a showcase of earth-friendly features — locally sourced and recycled furnishings, non-toxic glues and paints, low-flow toilets and bathroom fixtures, energyefficient mini-bar fridges, and low-energy lights. Energy will also be saved through savvy appliances like energy-efficient washing machines, a lift that uses just 70% of the energy needed by conventional models, and occupancy sensors that switch off lights when a space is not in use. An electric shuttle service will ferry guests between the airport, hotel and major city attractions.

A greywater recycling plant will purify bath and shower water for reuse in toilet and irrigation systems; and a 40 000-litre rainwater harvester will collect water for maintenance tasks such as cleaning.

The hotel will conserve and beautify the neglected wetland next door, and build a jogging trail around it. A 250m2 roof garden will provide a burst of green in the lacklustre industria of airport land.

Harms stresses that comfort is the priority, but guests will have to make do without certain water-hungry luxuries. The hotel has only eight baths, and no swimming pool. “We want guests to become as passionate about these issues as we are,” he says. “If they don’t use any air conditioning, for example, they’ll be rewarded with incentives like bar vouchers!

The hotel will have three wind turbines of 3kW each, and some of the equipment in the gym will create electricity when used by guests.

Mario Delicio is hopeful Hotel Verde will transcend the traditional airport hotel, the kind of place most of us check into only because we don’t want to spend the night on our luggage: “We’re not just an airport hotel. We’re going to be Africa’s greenest hotel. We hope this in itself will be a drawcard.”

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