Soneva: The luxury resort operator pioneers environmental schemes worldwide!

Soneva is a pioneering family of hospitality properties, offering holistic encounters in luxurious and inspiring environments – from world-class resorts to outstanding natural locations.  Soneva Fushi, Soneva Jani and Soneva in Aqua in the Maldives and Soneva Kiri in Thailand rebuke the traditional concept of luxury and instead promise the luxury of time, purity and solitude. Every day, guests are encouraged to discover sandy feet, inspired minds and full hearts. Combining luxury with a conscientious approach to sustainability and the environment, and proactively changing the nature of hospitality, it delivers intuitive service and meaningful experiences to the guests.

Soneva is celebrating the success of world-leading environmental projects spanning 25 years. These have included subsidizing low-carbon cookstoves, mangrove conservation, seagrass restoration, and hosting international sustainability dialogues on fisheries and marine plastics. The combined investment of close to USD10 million has positively impacted over a million people and saved over half a million tons of carbon dioxide emissions, the equivalent of taking over 100,000 cars off the road for a whole year.

2019 Achievements

  1. Soneva generated USD 553,000 in value across its resorts from the upcycling of waste through the Waste to Wealth initiative.
  2. 65,250 paper straws were used last year, which could have easily been
    plastic straws had Soneva not banned them in 1998.
  3. Soneva sold 71,400 litres of water in reusable glass bottles, preventing the manufacture of 47,600 single-use plastic bottles.
  4. 900 kg of aluminium cans were compacted and sent for recycling.
  5. 2,400 square metres of Styrofoam was repurposed and used in building Soneva’s villas.
  6. 9,000 kg of charcoal (worth USD 14,400) was made at Soneva Fushi’s Eco Centro.
  7. 20,000 kg of compost was made each month at Soneva Fushi’s Eco Centro from daily waste food and organic matter.
  8. 70 Maldivian school children learnt how to swim through Soneva’s Learn to Swim programme.
  9. Four lifeguards were trained from Maldivian communities by Soneva Hosts.
  10. Around 30 litres of coconut oil were made (from approximately 675 coconuts) each month from the coconut trees at Soneva Fushi.

Each Soneva resort has its own Waste-to-Wealth facility, recycling 90 per cent of its waste through an innovative waste management strategy. Food left over from the resorts’ restaurants is composted to make nutritious soil for the islands’ vegetable and herb gardens, all of which are organic and provide much of the produce used in the kitchens at each resort. Styrofoam packing is used to make lightweight construction blocks or as insulation within villa walls. Soneva is aiming for 100 per cent of its waste to avoid ending up in landfills by 2030. Currently, 12 per cent of Soneva’s total energy usage at the three resorts is from renewable sources. Soneva aims to increase this to 50 per cent, and by 2025 it aims to be using 100 per cent renewable energy.

Another aspect of the Waste to Wealth initiative is Soneva Fushi’s Art and Glass Studio, the only hot glass studio in the Maldives. Here, approximately 1,200 used glass bottles from Soneva Fushi, Soneva Jani, and neighbouring resorts in the Baa Atoll are crushed and melted down each year to be upcycled. Then using techniques such as glass blowing, casting, and slumping, the Soneva glass team creates functional pieces as well as one of a kind glass sculptures, which can be bought from the Art and Glass Studio.

For an island nation like the Maldives, which relies on its natural scenery for tourism and with fish as the main food staple, waste is a massive problem. This is why Soneva started the Soneva Maker Programme at Soneva Fushi. This programme sees Soneva join the grass-roots Precious Plastic global initiative to become the first company in the Maldives to recycle plastic into new products, using open-source machines made from locally available, low-cost materials.

  1. Soneva banned imported bottled water in 2008 and filters, mineralises, alkalises and bottles its water on-site.
  2. Soneva has averted the production of 1,500,000 plastic bottles in the last 10 years by using reusable glass bottles.
  3. A percentage of revenues from Soneva Water funds over 500 clean water projects in more than 50 countries.
  4. It provides clean water to over 750,000 via charities such as Water Charity and Thirst Aid. Soneva Namoona
  5. In 2019, Soneva launched Soneva Namoona, a partnership between three Maldivian islands (Maalhos, Dharavandhoo and Kihaadhoo), Soneva, marine plastic foundation Common Seas, and the government of the Maldives to change the way the island nation manages waste.
  6. In February 2020, the island of Maalhos inaugurated the opening of its Eco Centro and water bottling plant; and marked the end of open burning on the island.
  7. Under Soneva Namoona, Soneva Water provides drinking water to
    households and guesthouses on the local island of Maalhos in reusable glass bottles, reducing the need for single-use plastic water bottles on the island.
  8. A new Soneva-sponsored Eco Centro ‘waste-to-wealth’ centre enables composting and recycling of waste on Maalhos.
  9. In 2020, Soneva Namoona will extend to local islands Dharavandhoo and Kihaadhoo. Following meetings and workshops hosted by Soneva Fushi in 2019, President Solih of the Maldives made a pledge at the United Nations General Assembly for the country to become single-use plastic-free by 2023. Soneva Namoona will continue working with the national government to broaden this pioneering approach out to the
    whole of the Maldives.

    Soneva Namoona centres around the three pillars of Reduce, Recycle, Inspire. Reduce is a radical reduction in the volume of plastic arriving on the islands. Soneva assisted in the establishment of a water bottling plant on the island of Maalhos to desalinate and mineralise sea water, which is distributed in reusable glass bottles, eliminating the need for water bottled in plastic. Recycling and responsible disposal of waste forms the second strand of the programme. Maalhos is the first island to open a Soneva-sponsored Eco Centro with machinery that will include a wood chipper and a glass crusher. The third component is to Inspire a love of the ocean and the environment. The belief is that through water sports, education and festivities that children will lose their fear of the ocean and learn to love it, and thus protect it.

    Sonu Shivdasani, CEO and Founder of Soneva, says: “If we work together, we are sure we can create the right environment for the Maldives to be the world’s most progressive country on single-use plastic. If we project forwards just a few years, we can see that all islands will have thriving waste-to-wealth centres; there will be no plastic bags; no plastic straws; islands will have their own water bottling plants; no guesthouses or resorts will serve water in single-use bottles.”

Ongoing Initiatives
At the start of the last decade, Soneva partnered with PATT Foundation in Thailand to plant over 500,000 trees covering 300 acres in the Chiang Mai region of northern Thailand. The plantations, covering three main sites, use a Framework Species Methodology, with guidance from Forest Restoration Research Unit of Chiang Mai University. 90 species of trees were planted in 2011-12 and since then, seed-disbursing birds have increased the number of species further to create a rich biodiverse forest. Over 40 years, the project will mitigate an estimated 255,000 tons of CO 2 .

Neighbouring Myanmar has one of the fastest rates of deforestation in the world with most of the wood used for domestic cooking. Pollution from indoor cooking on open fires leads to the premature deaths of over four million people a year, mostly women and children, which is more than HIV/AIDS and malaria combined.

Soneva has subsidised the distribution of fuel-efficient cook stoves to around 150,000 people through the Myanmar Stoves Campaign. Each stove saves 2.5 tonnes of wood per year and reduces air pollution by 80 per cent, improving the health and safety of the whole community.
Sonu Shivdasani says: “At Soneva we believe that luxury and sustainability don’t compete; they complement each other. I have always believed that businesses must be a positive force for change, so if you support businesses that create jobs in their communities and protect the environments in which they operate, this can be very beneficial.

For more details on Soneva’s sustainability initiatives and the Host
Changemakers series, click here.

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