Back to Basics

Visiting a slightly less “developed” country last week was a great reminder that most of the sustainability strategies that we use today have been around for a very long time. While in Jamaica last week for my honeymoon, I couldn’t help but take notice of the abundant examples.

Eating locally grown produce and locally raised livestock may be all the rage now for the sake of sustainability (amongst other reasons), but it wasn’t that long ago that people, even in the US, ate local crops and livestock out of shear necessity. The Jamaicans we talked to quickly confirmed that even in the resorts nearly all of the meat and produce comes from the island; the one notable exception that was mentioned was apples- a local favorite that won’t grow in Jamaica.

Indigenous building materials are another example of local availability shaping customs. Our raft guide on the Rio Grande (pictured below) explained that (for better or worse) the building industry regularly dredges some of the islands larger rivers to collect the black sand that they have found to be the best aggregate for their concrete mixes. Looking at the local construction techniques it is quickly apparent that concrete is used in the construction of nearly all of the commercial buildings and homes. Back to the rafting on the Rio Grande for a moment- these rafts are made almost entirely of bamboo. Since the rafts only last a few months before a new one needs to be made, the rafters use bamboo which is a readily available material that grows several inches a day so that there is no concern that they will run out of bamboo from overuse.

The final example to mention is the widespread use of both rainwater collection and solar hot water heating. Nearly every home we saw had at least a black plastic tank for heating potable or collected rainwater for use for showering, cleaning and/or cooking. Many of these tanks were located on the home’s roof so the water could be gravity fed into the home. Some of the newer developments had the more technologically advanced solar hot water heating units that have started to catch on in the US, but I would imagine that in a hot, tropical climate with lots of available sun, a simple blank tank would be nearly as efficient.

In addition to the sustainable practices that have been carried on in Jamaica for centuries, the resorts are also taking a look at how to make their operations more sustainable for eco-conscious tourists as well. First of all, most of the resorts themselves are designed to take maximum advantage of natural ventilation and the relatively cool tropical nights and employee the typical water saving strategies for their operations. Some resorts like the Sandals Resort where we stayed are going a step further and achieving certifications such as the Green Globe 21 Certification, which is a worldwide sustainability certification specifically for the travel and tourism industry.

To sum it all up- sustainable design and practices are all around us and pervasive amongst all cultures- all we have to do is take notice!

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