With its grand colonial architecture and opulent rooms, how Polana Serena in Mozambique embraces sustainability

Sustainability is – thankfully – becoming better understood by many travellers who are, in turn, demanding better responsible practices from the hotels they visit. As a result, hotels are placing more importance on sustainability and working hard to improve their eco-credentials.

For new properties with large budgets, these types of considerations might just add a layer of complexity to plans. But, for established hotels in historic properties – particularly those in poor countries – it involves far more than just a few tweaks to their processes. To find out more about the challenges faced in trying to become more sustainable, I visited the Polana Serena Hotel in Maputo, Mozambique.

Polana Serena mozambique Mar View - 1024 x 523

Polana Serena Mar View

The Polana Serena

As soon as I glimpsed the historic, 96 year-old property with its cream, colonial architecture and fountain in the driveway, a few words came to mind: grand, imposing, luxurious. Sustainable? Probably not my first impression.

Built in 1922, the Polana Serena Hotel oozes opulence. Flanked by palm trees, the majestic 153-room hotel and spa overlooks the Indian Ocean and attracts affluent business travellers. Yet, this magnificent building is situated in Mozambique: the world’s second poorest country where eco-friendly supplies (and suppliers!) can be much harder to source than in developed countries.

Polana Serena mozambique Main Pool view - 1024 x 605

Polana Serena Main Pool view

Sustainable Development Goals

Staff from the Serena explained that the hotel is dedicated to ensuring responsible business practices are integrated in its daily operations as well as supporting local communities around the property. They are working to align their programmes with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), have brought in an external environmental hygiene company called SIOAS to help them improve their environmental processes.

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Polana Serena Maisha pool

Finding reliable suppliers 

The Serena is currently in the process of moving from plastic to paper straws as a way of reducing its use of plastic. For hotels and restaurants in developed cities, changing from plastic to paper straws is relatively simple: find a supplier of paper straws and make the switch.

For the Serena this is made more complicated by the fact that the hotel tries, wherever possible, to use local suppliers. For straws (both plastic and paper), the closest suppliers are mainly based in the larger South African cities. To put that in perspective, Johannesburg is over 500 km from Maputo. This means the hotel not only has to find someone who can make the large quantities needed but can also organise quick delivery from neighbouring South Africa into Mozambique.

What’s more, these suppliers need to be reliable – some companies might be able to provide paper straws but keeping up with the hotel’s required quantities and tight turnaround can be tough. For example, if the hotel suddenly receives a last-minute request to book out 120 rooms for the next day (which has been the case!), their suppliers need to be able to cope with this demand – being able to supply this quantity of straws in two weeks just won’t be good enough.

However, making the switch will be well worth the effort: with 153 rooms in the hotel, moving from plastic to paper straws will significantly reduce the property’s plastic waste.

Main Building Executive Suite bedroom Polana Serena mozambique - 1024 x 683

Main Building Executive Suite

Waste not, want not

The hotel is careful to avoid unnecessary waste wherever possible. This includes work to reduce their paper usage and plans to move from plastic containers for amenities to glass containers which can be washed and refilled. All wastewater is treated and re-used for irrigation and a waste management company has been employed to ensure waste is separated and recycled correctly. Cooking oils are re-used and given to a company for soap manufacturing while food waste is given to Maputo Zoo each morning to feed the animals.

As you might imagine, due to the size of the hotel, they go through large amounts of products such as soap, towels and blankets. Rather than throw these away, things like towels, curtains, blankets and the ends of soap are donated when they can no longer be used by the hotel (imagine how much soap would be wasted if opened, used once or twice by a guest and then binned!). In the first instance, these types of supplies are offered to the housekeepers and hotel workers to help provide for their families. Anything left over is then given to Maputo’s central hospital, mental hospital and orphanages across the city.

LED Lights

Eco-friendly LED lights, which consume less energy and reduce costs, are being implemented across the hotel. This has already been completed in the Polana Mar (the newer development within the hotel complex) and the hotel lobby. It will be more challenging to replace the lights across the main hotel building because the LED lights will need to give out the same yellow light as the current lights, each of which has a different specification.

Again, finding a suitable supplier who can provide the required range of LED lights is made more challenging by the fact that Mozambique is a less developed country.

Engaging hotel staff 

As well as striving to reduce its ecological footprint as much as they can, the Polana Serena is also focused on educating and educating its workers on the importance of sustainability and runs training sessions for hotel workers. Staff also take part in bi-monthly beach cleanups in partnership with several other hotels. A large focus is broken glass, which is one of the biggest problems on Maputo’s beaches and causes many accidents particularly with joggers and children.

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Polana Serena lobby

Dealing with traditional materials

The hotel is hoping to move to solar power for all its external lights and hot water. While these plans are currently being revised, it could take around two years to finalise the project. Because of the age of the hotel, a lot of restructuring will need to be done to existing buildings to allow for solar power. The materials used to build the property are the main constraint; the hard bricks are resistant and difficult to break. This means, just making a tiny hole in the wall for rewiring requires lots of equipment and labour. The eight brand new villas which are going to be built next year don’t have these constraints so implementing solar power in these buildings will be much easier.

Polana Mar Executive Family Room Bedroom Polana Serena mozambique - 1024 x 683

Polana Mar Executive Family Room

What do the customers want?

One of the staff members also explained how the wishes of the guests play a big part in updating their processes. Like many hotels, each room has white bath towels, face towels and floor mats which have to be bleached each time they are washed.

A big lesson was when a guest recently asked not to have his towels changed because he was concerned about the chemicals used in the washing process. It sounds obvious perhaps to an eco-minded audience but this was something that had never previously been requested by the Serena’s guests.

Being a high end hotel, many guests do expect several fluffy towels which are changed each day so there was a concern about disappointing expectations by reducing the number of towels in each room or changing them less frequently. However, the Serena is now designing cards explaining how many chemicals are used in the washing process and encouraging guests not to ask for replacement towels every day if they are staying for longer periods of time. A reminder that, as guests, we can make a difference by speaking up and asking for more environmentally friendly practices! 

Melissa stayed at Serena Polana Maputo. For more information visit the hotel’s website.

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