Vadivazhagan Paneer Selvam – not your everyday eco-activist
Vadivazhagan ‘Vadi’ Paneer Selvam is the Earth Lab Supervisor at the Six Senses Laamu – a pilot project which raises the bar on eco-education and sustainability. The Earth Lab programme has since expanded into all 11 Six Senses properties and each lab serves as an accountability tool to produce locally, reduce consumption and support nearby communities and ecosystems.
Vadi is not your everyday eco-activist. He is, however, a well-recognised ecologist in the neighbouring Laamu Atoll’s community, and is well prepared to educate guests, students and community members about an overall zero-waste philosophy. He is an experienced environmentalist with a range of expertise in non-traditional food growing technologies, aquaponics and recycling on site.
“I have worked at Six Senses Laamu since its inception. I believe more and more guests are choosing Six Senses Laamu for our sustainability initiatives,” says Vadi.“At the beginning, we were similar to most other resorts in the Maldives. We’ve come a long way since then, employing an Earth Lab Supervisor and Sustainability Manager, and encouraging guests to learn about what we are doing as a responsible business.”Each of the Six Senses facilities represents the seriousness we place on sustainability and the prominence of working with guests and nearby communities to respect Mother Nature and tread lightly on the environment.
“I am running the Earth Lab here at Six Senses Laamu,” Vadi told Hotelier Maldives. “Every Six Senses property now has an Earth Lab – each unique in what it produces and teaches. Our main roles include education, and our hosts can learn how to make their lives a bit more sustainable.Guests can come to learn about how to grow fresh herbs and vegetables, produce organic compost and effective microorganisms. They can set up their own compost bin and recycle their food waste into the soil for gardening. They can learn how to grow plants and produce traditionally in the soil, or using innovative technologies such as hydroponics or aquaponics.”Research shows that waste management is one of the biggest issues Maldivians face, as single-use of plastics is encouraged. Due to the high-numbers of plastic pollution in the ocean, the effect on both marine life and human health is prevalent. At the moment, plastics and metals are sent to a recycling company in Male, where they are then exported to India. This requires a lot of emissions from transport and can be avoided by “closing the loop”.
“We crush glass and recycle it into cement products such as flower pots and bricks and we upcycle everything from towels to wine corks into fun and quirky crafts with the intention of reducing the need to transport recyclables out of Maldives.We replace some of the cement with crushed glass and we also reduce the amount of this material which requires a very energy intensive process. The process is called “waste-to-wealth” – turning something that would otherwise be waste into something useful,” he explained.Six Senses has always been keen to provide the metrics on its Earth Lab activities to its guests. It offers guests its unique Back-of-House Tour, where they showcase working towards self-sufficiency and zero-waste. The tour includes a stop by the Earth Lab and a sustainability presentation is held one evening per week with a trivia quiz game to test guests’ knowledge of Six Senses sustainability. Videos are also made for social media to showcase our sustainability efforts and teach people how to ‘do-it-yourself.’While being eco-centric in a native manner, at least in theory, became routine across much of the hospitality industry, Six Senses has always been an early leader and aggressive adopter of sustainability programmes. And because of its many unique locations, such as the Maldives, the zero-waste philosophy is not only good for the environment, it helps businesses to further succeed.“It is not up to me to judge others and all I hope is that people and organizations talk-the-talk and walk-the-walk. If “green” is merely trendy, we are not contributing to making our world a better place. We want to incorporate sustainability into all parts of our operations, starting from purchasing, ending with waste management, and every department in between.
Sustainable housekeeping means using eco-friendly cleaning supplies and conserving water. Sustainable food and beverage means sourcing locally and reducing wastage. Sustainable engineering means efficient appliances and smart architecture. Sustainability is part of everyone’s job at Six Senses Laamu,” he said.Earth Lab at Laamu, which has been operational since 2011, is a part of the Six Senses Laamu’s commitments to development and sustainable operations as outlined by Agenda 21 and Green Globe benchmarking. The resort received the BlueGreen360 Resort of the Year Award at the recently concluded Asia Dive Expo (ADEX) in Singapore.Vadi places great seriousness on long-term conservation strategies. This is a part of his work at the Earth Lab programme. Vadi works closely with guests and with the local communities, especially students from the neighbouring islands of Maamendhoo and Hithaadhoo by teaching them about the importance of long-term conservation and sustainability goals.
“The short-term answer may be in favour of economics, but the long-term solution will always lean towards sustainability. In order to continue living on this planet with healthy air to breathe and healthy water to drink, we must value the environment over money. Our children and all future generations depend on it.”
Vadi believes that the establishment of the Earth-Lab company at all the Six Senses properties gives guests the opportunity to see how the properties give back to the local communities.Because many of the Six Senses locations, such as Six Senses Laamu in the Maldives and Con Dao in Vietnam, are quite remote they have a chance of enabling local communities to develop via adoption of sustainability programmes. In fact, Six Senses Laamu is the only resort located in the Laamu Atoll, which lies in the southern part of the Maldives.“Before, only a few Six Senses properties had an Earth Lab, but 2017 marked the official launch of Earth Lab company-wide. Now, every property guests visit will have a place where they can go to see what is produced on site, what is recycled, upcycled and repurposed, and how the property gives back to the local community. Thus the vision of having a greater capacity to produce things at the Six Senses resorts has materialized,” he said, revealing how Six Senses is a pioneer and global leader on luxury, eco-education and sustainability.