Alila’s Green Bank Program and the Balinese Way

Story by Peta Kaplan and Ben Sandzer-Bell

Bali is a universe unto itself. Due to its idiosyncratic and all pervasive Hindu culture, Bali can provide some management concepts worth emulating, the world over. Specifically, I refer to the three-tiered concept of Trihitakarana which dictates harmony around the themes of human respect to God, human respect to other humans and human respect for the environment.

Running a modern business leads one increasingly to think in terms of measurable Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), so it is with great interest that I sit down to have a conversation with Sena Susenayasa, General Manager of Alila Manggis and Ni ketut Suseni, Director of Human Resources for the hotel. While I don’t feel qualified to even begin to address the more complex issues of man’s relationship to God, or man’s relationship to other humans, I do hope to tackle the concept of humans’ relationship to the environment. Mr Susenayasa discusses the hotel’s environmental practices, which are extensive, and which are addressed under the aegis of “the Green Bank”.

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As an active environmentalist and co founder of a climate adaptation-focused bamboo housing business, I am eager to understand how the hotel sees and addresses its environmental priorities. The Green Bank, I learn, has two broad pillars – the first focuses on “environmental practices”. This is captured through an Earth Check Certification that guides Alila Manggis through a regimen of data capture and process improvement steps that address trends in consumption.

Ultimately, such certifications seek to establish a best of class standard with regard to energy consumption, such as water and electricity. But the Earth Check certification goes much further ~ it includes such measurement as the amount of material which the hotel contributes to the local landfill. Obviously, the lesser, the better.

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We discuss practical steps taken to achieve the milestones that earned the hotel the coveted certification three years ago. The restaurant has developed a well honed relationship with a third party garbage collector partner, whom the hotel challenged to run a full cycle composting center. While Alila Manggis separates wet and dry recyclables, it is the third party partner which manages a composting site, returning rich compost to Alila’s organic garden.

Another third party arrangement concerns the water provider. The objective of reducing landfill led Alila management to offer guests in room recyclable glass water bottles. When one considers an average of 4 bottles of water per day, times 55 rooms at full capacity, it is easy to see how this single practice of eliminating plastic bottles from the Alila Manggis ecosystem contributes meaningfully to meeting the environmental KPI.

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Regarding energy, the hotel does the now common practice of allowing guests to re-use their towels rather than systematically replacing towels with new ones daily. While guests still tend to prioritize comfort over environmental consciousness, the hotel sends their guests a preferred options questionnaire before arrival, giving them a number of behavior options. Those who chose to opt for a more environmentally responsible path, have indeed the choice to do so, one re-used towel at a time.

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Alila Manggis has a notable policy with regards the use of air conditioning. While the design favors a relatively low use of a/c due to an easily achieved cross-wind, thanks to the design of the bedrooms, some guests will culturally turn to using air conditioning. For this a/c happy crowd, the hotel has drawn the line at a very comfortable 23 degrees. Of course, there is always a minority of clients who would prefer to default to a Siberian 17 degree temperature, but most are quite content to live above the 23 degree line. By this simple act, the hotel goes a long way toward eliminating excesses in the use of air conditioning. Still, as a committed a/c detractor, I wanted to see if I had the possibility to “opt out”. I asked the front desk if I could be provided with a regular fan for the room. Having lived in a tropical climate, in Nicaragua, Central America, for the past 5 years, and having hardly ever resorted to a/c, I have become a big fan (excuse the pun) of fans. Within minutes a fan was delivered to my room – yet again, the hotel had given me the tool to opt for the lower carbon footprint.

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Discussing the topic of hospitality industry trainees, fresh out of school, doing a practicum for 6 months in the hotel, Suseni observes that while the hospitality industry students get a cursory introduction to the concept of environmentally sound practices, this is one of the areas where practical experience in Alila Manggis can help these future hospitality industry workers get a handle on what that means, practically, on a daily basis.

Training tomorrow’s environmentalists does not stop there. The hotel actively works with the community to teach environmental basics to children. Alila Manggis’ hope is that if they succeed in raising the bar on environmental consciousness with the children of the community, the entire community will in turn start exhibiting improved practices. For now, the focus is on a war against plastic, reducing the use of and recycling of plastics as much as possible.

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So this is the first pillar of the Green Bank. The second is even more commendable. It refers to the hotel’s budding initiative to tackle errors of the past in the community with regard to the now highly damaged local coral reefs. Not so far from Manggis, there is a region where the coral reefs thrive.

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Why the coral reef still thrives there but not here in Manggis is not totally clear. One possible explanation is that a few decades back, in the 1970s, cement was not readily available for construction. As hard as it may seem in today’s more environmentally conscious world, locals apparently defaulted to the next best thing, namely coral, which they smashed into powder and reused as a building material. A horrific and naïve act of self-destruction, this is clearly a case of hindsight as 20/20. Be that as it may, coral reefs now destroyed, Alila Manggis management has decided to launch a sustained initiative to try to reverse the trend. An honorable initiative indeed.

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So, first things first, the General Manager decided to get his diving license.   His motivation was purely functional – as GM, he would seek to tackle the coral reef problem in the vicinity of his hotel and for this, he would have to go 100m out and 20 meter down to status the problem. Diagnostic complete, he engaged with an Indonesian NGO, LINI, known for its successful coral restoration projects elsewhere.

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It is still early days in what promises to be a 15-20 year project. Still, after a mere 6 months, the hotel has managed to deploy some 72 structures ~fish domes ~ which are expected to provide the infrastructure on which healthy corals will grow back. To speed up the process, the hotel is in parallel harvesting different types of corals and, once they reached sufficient size, they will be “replanted” onto and into the fish domes. This is a marathon, not a sprint. It will require diligent and sustained support for the initiative to yield a once again thriving reef. By then, the young General Manager might have moved on, but he places his hope on training a broader hotel staff population to take on the mission of restoring the reef.

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Thanks to an extremely low rate of attrition, the hotel’s staff is remarkably stable. While this clearly has value in terms of the hotel’s culture and economics, it has a corollary value when it comes to executing long-term projects such as coral restoration. To this end, the hotel aims to train a few of its current staff to learn how to dive and to get to the point of having in house master-diving certification. The fish domes will require monthly “check ups” and monitoring and Alila Manggis firmly intends to proudly look back in 2030 at the visionary decisions taken by the management team way back, in 2013 and 2014.

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Clearly, the coral restoration project is not one dictated by the Earth Check Certification process. Neither is it driven by a short term marketing objective to appeal to customers today, as the percentage of today’s clientele diving around Manggis in the short run is virtually nill. No, what it is is the Bali KPI at work. Man’s relationship to the Environment – this is one of the three tenets of Bali’s Hindu traditions and one that the current 120 person strong team of Balinese hosts hope to share with the hotel’s clientele.

And we thank you for that.

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