Aruba: An Island with a Goal of Sustainability

Earlier this year, Aruba announced its goal of becoming completely fossil fuel-free by 2020. Last spring our staff member, Fred Realbuto, visited this island that is well on its way to becoming the first sustainable island on earth

by Fred Realbuto, Chief of Operations

Over the last six years, in my role managing Audubon International’s Green Lodging Program, I have visited hundreds of inns, bed-and-breakfasts, hotels, and resorts throughout the world, from the Hawaiian Islands to Palm Desert California to historic Boston to the bustle of the Big Apple. I’ve experienced the charm of Hilton Head Island and the captivating beauty of southern Florida. With all these site visits, I have had the opportunity to relish and contemplate the uniqueness of each destination.

Last Spring, I traveled to the beautiful island nation of Aruba, a former colony of the Dutch and one of the ABC islands of Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao. This Dutch Caribbean island has taken major steps in its effort to lead the world in carbon footprint reductions and to be an international example for sustainability. Its long term sustainability plan aims to become 100 percent free of fossil fuels by 2020.

The purpose of my visit to this sustainable island was to provide site visit verification of two Marriott Vacation Clubs: Marriott’s Aruba Ocean Club and Marriott’s Aruba Surf Club (both Silver Certified Green Lodging Properties). Both are located on the northwestern part of the island known as Palm Coast, and both are enrolled in Audubon International’s Green Lodging Program. The trip turned out to be so much more of an experience than I had ever imagined.

Had it not been for my host on the island, Marciano Geerman, this trip would have been business as usual. However, Marciano made sure that was not the case. He was an amazing host and tour-guide. His official title is Chief Engineer at the Marriott Surf Club, but his true designation was Ambassador of Aruba. Marciano is a native Aruban. He is one of five children of a part-time carpenter/full-time fisherman father. As an accomplished sailor, Marciano served the queen of Netherlands in the Dutch Navy and later served the Prime Minister of Aruba. He has captained ships from Africa to the Caribbean and across the Atlantic to ports-of-call in the US as well as Panama.

Marciano, not only an accomplished sailor and engineer, has an innate understanding of the concept of sustainability and the special fragility that an island nation faces. He made it his mission to share not only what the Marriott is doing, but to show me firsthand the efforts that Aruba has undertaken as a country to become more sustainable. Some of these efforts are truly remarkable.

In anticipation of my arrival he scheduled visits to the desalinization plant, the electrical generation facility, and the gasification plant. As a result I was able to see firsthand where every drop of drinking water in the country is produced, almost every kilowatt of energy is produced, and a groundbreaking gasification plant that is taking solid waste out of the landfill and creating a methanol-like product that is then used 100% to operate turbines creating electricity for the island. These facilities were an amazing highlight of my trip and demonstrated a country embracing the idea of sustainability.

The prime minister of Aruba has committed to a 2020 plan whereby the nation is free of fossil fuel dependence completely by the year 2020. This is a lofty goal and may not become a reality but they are nonetheless striving to make it so. In addition, this year Aruba’s government signed a contract with the local utility service company ELMAR NV to convert all of the island’s public-road lighting to energy-efficient, light-emitting diodes (LED) by 2017, which will reduce energy consumption and lower maintenance costs.

If they are able to, they will become a model for island nations throughout the world. The gasification plant is already generating intense interest from all around the globe.

Audubon International hopes to work with not only the Marriott but other resorts on Aruba and with the Aruban government itself to assist them in realizing their environmental goals now and in the future. This trip, in no small way, may very well pave a path in forging new relationships and amazing opportunity.

As Marciano taught me, Papimento “Ayoo” for now…and much more to come!

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