by Kaylee Hultgren | March 01, 2008

Alila Ubud resort in Bali, Indonesia


Eco with an edge:
The dazzling infinity-edge
pool at the Alila Ubud
resort in Bali, Indonesia

According to Hitesh Mehta, award-winning landscape architect and one of the world’s leading authorities on ecotourism, “The word eco has been hijacked.” Indeed, the tiny word (actually just a prefix) has become ubiquitous, in the hospitality and travel industries as elsewhere, yet what does it actually signify? An “ecotour” could simply mean a nature walk; an “eco-hotel” might indicate the presence of recycling bins on site, and nothing more. When a uniformly accepted vocabulary on such matters is lacking, how can planners discern which properties are embracing green practices, and which are freeloaders riding the eco-bandwagon?

“One solution is to ask questions,” says Kelly Bricker, director of The International Ecotourism Society (TIES), based in Washington, D.C., which defines ecotourism as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and sustains the well-being of the local people.” Among those questions: What is green about your facility? How have you benefited the local community? “If they use environmentally sustainable practices, they’ll most likely make it known,” Bricker adds.

Bricker also recommends considering whether the property has achieved some type of ecotourism certification. Hundreds of such programs exist, and TIES is in the process of establishing a set of criteria to which it believes certification programs should conform.

Planners leaning in a green direction likely would find eco-lodges and eco-resorts of particular interest. Mehta, a TIES board member, says there is a notable difference between the two. Eco-lodges must meet specific criteria, such as conserving the surrounding flora and fauna and engaging in educational programs about the local environment, and they generally have few frills and fewer than 75 rooms.

Eco-resorts are more loosely defined. “They implement some ecotourist practices, but they also feature amenities such as spa treatments and golf, and they generally have more than 75 rooms,” says Mehta.

The increasing popularity of ecotoursim in recent years has led to the proliferation of sustainable travel beyond typical destinations like Costa Rica, Ken-ya and parts of South America. Properties in Asia and Europe, for example, are beginning to exemplify ecotourist practices. The following are a handful of resorts off the beaten “eco” path, yet entirely committed to being green.

The Alila Ubud hotel

Hillside haven:
The Alila Ubud hotel,
in the Balinese village of Payangan,
offers open-air dining
amid coconut palmwood
pillars and a traditional
thatched roof.

Alila Ubud
Bali, Indonesia
(011) 62-361-975-963

The 56-room, eight-villa Alila Ubud, set in the Balinese hillside village of Payangan, didn’t deliberately set out to be “eco” when it was built 10 years ago. In recent years, however, the hotel has made sweeping efforts to minimize its environmental impact and aid the surrounding community in the process.

In May 2007, Alila Ubud became Green Globe-certified, meaning it follows criteria established at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development. A “Green Team” of 12 staffers is responsible for upholding the program’s requirements (audited annually by a Green Globe assessor), though general manager Amanda J. Pummer notes that all of the hotel’s workers are extensively trained in maintaining the resort’s sustainability.

The property excels in energy conservation and practices sustainable waste recycling with its use of organic composting and the recycling of 80 percent of the water it consumes. In fact, thanks to various initiatives, water consumption fell from 5,038 gallons per room per day in 2006 to 1,392 gallons in 2007.

Another of the hotel’s goals for 2007 was to reduce paper consumption by 50 percent. “We managed to reduce it by approximately 22 percent,” says Pummer. “The good news is, though, we are now using 100 percent recycled paper for all our in-house commercial printing.” The resort also encouraged the paper distributor to create a carbon-neutral tree-planting program in order to offset the energy used to ship the paper from Denmark.

In addition, Alila Ubud makes it a practice to support the surrounding community by hiring most employees from local areas, and management is creating special tours that will focus on traditional Balinese textiles, which will introduce the products to guests and help preserve local business and culture.

Future green practices at the property will involve research and further attempts at carbon offsetting. Pummer intends to conduct studies on the community’s flora and fauna. To reduce carbon emissions, a proposal is in the works to change the mode of staff transport from motorbikes to biofuel-powered shuttle buses. And in the cultural realm, “We will be introducing new experiences for guests involving local Balinese healers,” says Pummer.

Meeting facilities consist of a modest room for up to 30 attendees on the ground floor of the hotel’s central courtyard. Ubud, an artists’ center known for its galleries, museums and other cultural activities, is just three miles down the road.

Room at the Alila Ubud hotel


Vista vision:
All of Alila Ubud’s
rooms have views
of the surrounding
Ayung River valley.