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Sustainable Stays: Little Gem Resorts




A Conversation with Gwenn Snider of Little Gem Resorts

Evidence of businesses shifting their practices toward sustainability can be seen all over. Restaurants are eliminating single-use plastics, large companies are integrating more environmentally conscious policies in their day-to-day, and solar panels and other technologies are saving businesses money and reducing their carbon footprint. The hospitality industry is trying to jump into this trend; Little Gem Resorts is one luxury collection offering their guests a more sustainable stay.

Bluedot Living intern Dorje Dixey got a chance to speak with Gwenn Snider, owner of Little Gem Resorts, about some of the sustainability practices at their hotels.

“If you set that environmentally conscious example for your staff and your guests, you can hopefully get people to change their behaviors a bit.” 

Gwenn Snider

Dorje Dixey: Can you explain the inspiration behind Little Gem Resorts, and how sustainability became a core value of your company?

Gwenn Snider: Little Gem Resorts was born out of a love of travel and hotels.   My husband Mark and I have worked together our whole careers and have been in the hospitality business since we built the Winnetu Oceanside Resort in 2000. Before then, were not in the hotel business but we were in a service business; we owned a passenger railroad on Cape Cod but that is story for another time! We love adventures and going on them with our three children when they were young. When we built the Winnetu, we envisioned a place that families could experience quintessential Martha’s Vineyard and if you are on this island, you really have to be oblivious to not recognize that it is a precious community with stresses on its environment that range from transportation to waste management to erosion. Even back in 2000, it was important to think about how we take care of the land that the Winnetu occupies.  We are the only commercial property on the entire south coast of the island, so we feel a strong responsibility to do all we can to be sustainable and preserve this precious ecosystem.

When we began, Mark and I dreamed of having a little collection of hotels. We never imagined that we would be in this position of owning three incredible resorts.  Once we had three resorts, we thought of them like a string of jewels and came up with the name Little Gem Resorts.

We are careful not to call ourselves eco resorts. I think that all buzzwords in any business have incredible value, but they can also box you in. We are a company that is trying very hard to be a good steward of the land, and to find as many ways as possible a possible to inject a sense of responsibility to our environment in our company. Among the first things we did at the Winnetu was take away single-use plastic bottles. This feels old-school now, but at the time a lot of hotels weren’t taking that step. Everyone always wanted a bottle of water in their room, and we got rid of that a long time ago and started giving guests reusable bottles that they could fill up with beautiful tap water that we are lucky to have on Martha’s Vineyard. But obviously now, you don’t want to use any plastic bottles at all, so this year we shifted to providing a glass carafe in each room in all our resorts. Some people have complained- so we have reusable aluminum bottles for sale in our shops.

One of the other things we do is to work with IGA on composting our restaurant waste from the Dunes.  

Dorje: Are you taking any measures to reduce energy consumption or integrate renewable energy at your resorts?

Gwenn: Our greatest effort with renewable energy is at our new resort in the Caribbean, The Lovango Resort and Beach Club. Building from the ground up has given us a unique opportunity to create a sustainable ecosystem. We are completely off the grid, we make our own water with a reverse osmosis plant, we have wind and solar power, and have built very innovative buildings that are hopefully resistant to hurricanes. We have wood timber buildings that are produced in North Carolina, they are very strong and sturdy. The first 18 guest accommodations are luxury treehouses and glamping tents. The treehouses are designed with a concrete bathroom; after the season is over, we fold up all the furniture, we put it in the concrete bathroom, we open the windows so that the wind and rain can blow through and not damage the structures. The glamping tents, while luxurious , are designed to completely come down every season. This way we are not doing a huge amount of site clearance, and having a minimal impact on the land compared to if you were building foundations. We also have something called Evening Breeze over each bed; we really thought at this property we could get away from air-conditioning, but it does get hot! Evening Breeze is an air conditioning system that just cools the bed. It has a tube that inflates and there is a canopy above the bed that traps the cool air, so you are cooled while you sleep, but the rest of the room is not air conditioned. This saves energy but also keeps guests cool and comfortable. 

The Lovango Resort & Beach Club sports several sustainability features.

Also, on Lovango, we have a machine that takes all our glass bottles, crushes them into sand, and we use that sand in our concrete for when we are building around the island. We have also partnered with the University of the Virgin Islands to plant coral around Lovango. Being sustainable and environmentally conscious as a business owner can be very challenging and expensive but not doing so is worse and not an option for Little Gem.

Dorje: What are some unique or interesting initiatives that your company is working on that might surprise people?

Gwenn: We are working with a chef in the Caribbean who has created vodka out of the Breadfruit Tree. People might remember “Mutiny on the Bounty,” a tale of a crew that led a mutiny against their captain and the survivors landed   on an island called Pitcairn Island. The only food source on that island was Breadfruit, and they survived eating only this fruit. Todd Manley has created Mutiny Island Vodka out of the Breadfruit Tree but also has a larger social and environmental agenda. Working with the Trees That Feed Foundation he has helped to plant over a million trees across the Caribbean as it the tree that absorbs the most carbon dioxide on the planet. The Breadfruit tree also can sustain a family of four even if they have no other food source helping to fight poverty and hunger. We have planted four Breadfruit trees on Lovango and created our own liquor company, called Little Gem Spirits. We work with Mutiny Vodka to create Rum, Vodka and the Caribbeans only Whiskey from Breadfruit distilled with locally infused ingredients.

At the Winnetu, our General Manager, Matt Moore, has become a beekeeper and there is a new hive at the hotel and soon we will have our own Winnetu   honey.

Dorje: What challenges have you faced in implementing sustainable practices within the hospitality industry? What advice would you give to someone who wants to run a hotel in a more sustainable way? 

Gwenn: Learn how to take the steps you know you can implement and afford. I learn new things that we can do every year and, in this effort, to be sustainable a lot of little efforts can add up to big impact. If you set an environmentally conscious example for your staff and for your guests, you can hopefully get people to change their behaviors a bit.  One of the challenges is meeting the expectations of guests that come to a luxury resort while also implementing sustainable practices. I think guests appreciate what we do but I am careful in the language that I use. I talk about the practices that we implement, without advertising us as an eco- resort so not to set up unrealistic expectations. We are certainly sustainability-minded, and we are proud to take part in this movement and be responsible members of the communities we are in and hope to always be kind to the planet.

The Nantucket Hotel and Resort.

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Dorje Dixey
Dorje Dixey
Dorje Dixey is a freshman at Tulane University. While at Milton Academy he enjoyed leadership roles as dorm monitor as a board member of the school Economics Club, and he played on the Boys Varsity Basketball team.

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