Santa Bárbara's Sustainable Focused Luxury Resort

In this case study, we will discuss the steps hospitality businesses can take to become more sustainable.

In this case study, we will discuss the steps hospitality businesses can take to become more sustainable  and how this adds value to companies if it is implemented in the right way.

In this case study, we will discuss the steps hospitality businesses can take to become more sustainable  and how this adds value to companies if it is implemented in the right way.

In this case study, we will discuss the steps hospitality businesses can take to become more sustainable and how this adds value to companies if it is implemented in the right way. An example from Santa Bárbara in the Azores will be discussed as an example of good practice.

Santa Bárbara is a luxury beach resort on the northern coast of Sāo Miguel Island in the Azores, a Portuguese archipelago. The resort, which opened in 2015, was built with a strategic ambition to operate sustainably. A large emphasis was placed on carefully selecting sustainable materials, to harmonise buildings into the natural surroundings and reduce the carbon footprint.

Committing to Sustainability

Having a sustainable approach for hospitality businesses can be daunting as it may seem like added costs with no visible return on investment. However, Santa Bárbara pledged to become almost fully sustainable and showed how it could meet customer needs whilst maintaining luxury experiences. They developed a plan outlining the steps needed to reduce the resort's ecological footprint. These included reducing the carbon footprint of the resort, improving waste management, promoting the circular economy and increasing the percentage of local suppliers.

One example of how Santa Bárbara committed to becoming more sustainable was through its architecture and landscape. To minimise the landscape impact and volume of buildings they used harmonious integration alongside using sustainable materials, such as cork and bamboo, in their building processes. As a result, this promotes the circular economy because of the measures taken to upcycle such materials. Additionally, work was mainly carried out by local companies. This is a great example to show how sustainability and luxury can be interlinked and how using natural materials can still maintain luxury standards.

To maintain the building's energy efficiency, wood was used as the main material in both the interior of the resort and surrounding areas, which is committed towards the policy of developing a responsible sourcing plan. The entire resort's hot water is based on efficient heat pumps, all of the lighting uses LED technology and rooms are equipped with energy-saving technology, which automatically turns off appliances when not in use, aligning with the commitment to reduce the resort's energy and water footprint. To become even more hydro-efficient, rainwater is collected to be reused for watering plants in the garden.

Similarly, a social pledge was put in place to preserve the local area, focusing on the importance of beach cleaning. The small gesture aims to involve the local community and raise awareness of the need to remove waste from beaches. In 2019, 350kg of garbage and debris was collected.


Keeping with the theme of waste, Santa Bárbara set a gradual implementation to reduce waste generation, including promoting renewable packaging, a refined a la carte menu replacing the wasteful buffet style service and surplus vegetable garden produce given to staff.

The farm-to-table project is an ongoing initiative at the resort developing a farming project to grow produce in-house, acting as an extra selling point for exceeding guest expectations. The vision is to supply the resort's restaurants with local produce, developing ecologically and socially responsible consumption. This is done whilst still serving intricate cuisine at the various restaurants in the resort.

Keeping sustainability in mind at the farm, the agricultural technical plan includes soil correction, composting and crop rotation. From an economic standpoint, this contributes to lower costs and is more valuable regarding sustainable tourism.

Adopting a Sustainable Strategy

Changing the sustainable goals of a business can be difficult to implement. Organisations should consider the actions that can be taken as part of their new sustainability strategy across three timeframes: short, mid and long-term actions. These are the approaches we recommend companies to follow:

Short-Term Actions - Creating a Pledge Towards Sustainability

The goal in the short term is to establish the change your business wants to make and to create a plan of action to achieve these goals. There are also parallels to our Sustainability leadership programme which go hand in hand with some of these suggestions.

As a business, here's what you can do in the short term to implement this advice:

  1. Keep on brand - think of an idea which is suitable for your business, something on brand and adaptable to make you more competitive.
  2. Create a plan - targeting how you will make it work and what the overall aim is.
  3. Set long-term goals - plan for the future, these actions should be with the next few years in mind. Set an attainable timeframe but be patient in seeking the desired results.
  4. Dive straight in - alternatively, you can add your idea straight away, with a focus on making it marketable and something the consumer wants to see.

The SLP has useful insights to start acting on the advice:

  1. Explore the Motivations and Need for Leadership on Sustainability while Mapping Needs, Journeys and Stakeholders (Mainly parts 1.1, 1.2 and 5)
  2. Frame Your Destination's Sustainability Journey

Mid-Term Actions - Implementing Your Ideas

This should focus on starting the challenges your business has proposed. Here's a guide to follow when applying mid-term actions:

  1. Involve local partners/stakeholders - where relevant, involve your local stakeholders, whether it be local suppliers or employees. This provides jobs but keeps your business on trend because of the commitment to the surrounding area.
  2. Understand who your guests are - whether sustainability or becoming more digitalised is your goal, maintain a focus on your audience, making sure it is relevant to your guests and their interests.
  3. Monetise your initiative - find a way to monetise your initiatives/projects, for example, by creating content. Santa Bárbara did this through the website and by creating eye-catching photos and videos.

To implement your ideas for involving partners/stakeholders the following would be beneficial:

  1. Explore the Motivations and Need for Leadership on Sustainability while Mapping Needs, Journeys and Stakeholders (Mainly parts 2, 3 and 4)

Santa Bárbara sets a good example by emphasising their work with the local community through their beach cleaning project whilst working on a sustainable initiative. Initiatives like these allow businesses to promote their goodwill through their website or social media.

Long-Term Actions - Planning for Your Future

Long-term actions should be ambitious, for example, Santa Barbara's hydro efficiency programme of preserving and reusing all rainwater which is now in full swing but was a long-term project which needed planning and thoughtful design. This is what to do when planning for the future:

  1. Creative - be bold, start an initiative which is innovative, exciting and doesn't shy away from having an abstract idea.
  2. Go all in - if suitable, have multiple initiatives running at the same time, Santa Bárbara showed it is possible to rebuild your brand image by working on multiple projects simultaneously.
  3. Monitor performance - review your progress, keeping up to date with any issues and challenges.

With the following templates, the first template relates to being creative whilst the others should be useful for monitoring performance:

  1. Communication Techniques as an Effective Solution
  2. Conducting a Retrospective
  3. Exploring Our Sustainability Strategy
  4. Designing Our Data Journey

As a DMO or business, a long-term project like this can be used as a blueprint to create something similar with sustainability as the focus, for example, developing a feature on their website which gives a guide to the most carbon-neutral activities offered.

If you decide to make use of any of these templates, keep in mind that they were originally developed with DMOs in mind. Despite this, if you're a business, you can make use of them without problems - simply think about who your partners could be within the destination when we mention stakeholders.

Key Takeaways

  1. Sustainability and luxury can go hand in hand. Environmentally-friendly initiatives will not tarnish a business's reputation. Santa Bárbara is a great example that manages to keep a high price point but still has a constant flow of guests.
  2. The new era of users is more sustainable-focused, making it a great time to start an initiative.
  3. Working with the local community can be a great way of having a good reputation, whilst also improving the local economy.
  4. As a business, general actions can be taken with inspiration from the work of Santa Bárbara relating to being on brand with a sustainability approach and making brands more competitive.

Published on:
August 2023
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