What Makes Hotel Mocking Bird Hill So Green?

Jamaica's Hotel Mocking Bird Hill, near Port Antonio, blends into the natural landscape and works hard to be eco-friendly.

Thanks to the forward-focused vision of owners Shireen Aga and Barbara Walker, Jamaica’s Hotel Mocking Bird Hill conserves natural resources and exists lightly on the land. Among its extensive green initiatives:

  • Solar electricity (65 percent of hotel’s electricity). Solar panels dot the roofs and fence-posts throughout the resort, and soon others will be generating even more electricity.
  • Solar hot water (100 percent). It’s a virtuous (and petroleum-independent) feeling to wash your hands in water heated by the sun.
  • Rainwater harvesting. Why bother saving water on a tropical island? Believe it or not, there was a drought in Jamaica while I was visiting. To make matters worse, a municipal water pump in Kingston broke, so some communities had no water until a new pump part could be imported to fix it. So, yes, it’s smart for hotels to conserve water and to have backup.
  • Anaerobic wastewater treatment. Removing impurities from sewage and wash-water allows the hotel to safely reuse the resource for landscaping.
  • No air-conditioning. Except in extreme heat and humidity, A/C bothers me and makes me feel cut off from nature. The hilltop breezes in Jamaica cooled my room quite nicely, plus rooms have ceiling fans.
  • Chlorine-free pool. No toxic chemical smell on your skin. Need I say more?
  • Insecticide- and pesticide-free gardens. Birds, animals and people live more healthfully, and the web of life is maintained. Among other things, chemicals endanger those lovely tree frogs, whose nighttime chirps might be silenced.

    Note the napkin pocket under the fork. Each guest can choose to reuse a napkin before it's washed. This breakfast scramble features callaloo made with all-local foods.

  • Minimized washing of sheets, towels and dining napkins. I love Hotel Mocking Bird Hill’s embroidered cloth “envelopes”; they hold your lightly-used napkin until the next meal, or the next.
  • Organic, seasonal, locally-sourced items. Reducing the amount of miles that food has to be shipped benefits the environment. Plus, if it’s produced close by, chances are it’s fresher and tastier.
  • Locally employed staff. Well-paying local jobs boost the regional economy, give folks a sense of community pride, and inspire others to create their own businesses. All the team members at Hotel Mocking Bird Hill are so pleasant—it’s clear they’re personally invested in their work!
  • Water- and energy-saving showers: Nifty German-designed Ecostat showers provide a nice flow of water without conserving water and heating costs.
  • Carbon offset their operations through Sustainable Travel International’s program. Mocking Bird Hill guests can opt to donate to the program to offset their flights to Jamaica.

    For glorious beaches such as Frenchman's Cove to remain pristine, conservation actions such as those taken by Hotel Mocking Bird Hill are necessary.

Supporting Community Projects

Being a “sustainable” hotel means more than just supporting the environment. It means reaching out to people in the area. Hotel Mocking Bird Hill partners with and promotes a number of local initiatives and projects that benefit people in the community, including:

1. The Jamaica Conservation Development Trust. This reforestation program plants native Jamaican forest trees, including the water mahoe in which the endangered Giant Swallowtail butterfly lays its eggs.

2. Women’s handmade paper-making project in the town of Fairy Hill. Eight women are employed to design and create greeting cards, envelopes, note pads and picture frames out of recycled paper.

3. The Jamaican Hardanga Trust. Trains local women in the traditional hardanga textile craft. This delicate design work entails drawing out threads to create lacelike patterns in clothing, pillowcases and handkerchiefs.

Jamaican chocolate teaballs: The conical "balls" are made of locally grown cocoa. You grate the balls in boiling water; add milk, sugar, a dash of cinnamon and vanilla; and then enjoy!

4. The Long Road Cooperative in the town of St. Mary. Women earn a living making natural chocolate teaballs from local cocoa beans that have been dried and ground with spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

What Does a Carbon Offset Buy?

I love to travel, but every time I get on a plane or go on an extensive road tour, I think of how much carbon dioxide is produced. CO2 is one of the major greenhouse gases that contributes to global warming and climate change.

So, it’s great to have the opportunity to compensate for the environmental damage I’m creating when I travel by buying carbon-offsets.

Carbon-offset programs help “displace” electricity from fossil fuels and reduce other greenhouse gas emissions on my behalf, making up for the CO2 emissions I can’t avoid.

What am I actually “buying” when I give some of my money to a carbon-offset program? Essentially, I’m helping finance new clean- and renewable-energy projects worldwide.

Walking doesn't contribute to climate change, but it does help body warming.

Walking doesn’t contribute to climate change, but it does create body warming.

For instance, a handful of MyClimate flight tickets can finance a solar water-heating system in rural Africa that eliminates the need to burn virgin-forest wood and import diesel fuel.

This Sustainable Travel International program has high standards: Programs must verify that they reduce greenhouse-gas emissions according to international Kyoto and World Wildlife Federation Gold Standards. This sort of accountability insures that my carbon-offset dollars are doing all they can to help limit the world’s fossil fuel use.

Another dependable program is Native Energy. When you buy carbon offsets from this company, your money helps create sustainable economic benefits for Native Americans, Alaska Native villages and other U.S. communities. The company also helps America’s family farmers compete with agribusiness.

Greener with Forests

Other carbon-offset focus on planting trees. The Trees for Travel program plants trees in developing countries to offset carbon dioxide we create when using air or ground transportation. The organization reports that one tree can absorb 50 pounds of CO2 every year—about 1 ton of CO2 over an estimated 40-year lifespan.

Tree-planting programs help solve deforestation and land-erosion problems, and trees pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere (replacing it with oxygen!).

However, tree-planting doesn’t actually reduce global fossil-fuel use the way installing a clean, renewable energy system in a village would. For that reason, I favor carbon-offset programs that build solar, wind or hydropower systems.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor