August 27, 2007
Sustainability is the new buzzword in a world suddenly concerned about climate change. Unfortunately, sustainability has become a market prod for flashy new developments instead of retrofits, where it could really make a difference. “Sustainable development” has become the latest oxymoron, a flawed rationale for bigger and better.
One laudable retrofit is occurring in extravagant Palm Desert, which is striving to become a model for sustainability through energy efficiency. Finally, golfers can chase their balls around the links knowing that golf, one of the silliest human pursuits on the planet, is sustainable.
Still, it’s difficult to get very excited about the notion of sustainable golf, especially at an extravagant desert resort whose carbon footprint is enormous no matter what. Guilt-free golf will require more than efficiency, in part because golfers have earned their guilt by chasing the little white ball in the first place.
The sustainability ethic has also found a convert in AOL founder Steve Case, who is planning an $800-million resort development in Costa Rica. Billed as a luxury eco-resort, Cacique will redefine luxury in sustainable terms.
But honestly, with 270 luxury guest rooms and 300 opulent private homes, Cacique will merely redefine “eco” as an elite vacation address where deluxe accommodations may run into thousands of dollars per night for those with nothing more sustainable than their credit cards.
Case’s eco-resort is supposed to attract elites who are guilt ridden about the carbon footprints of their normal, resource-gobbling lives. They can come to Costa Rica and vacation in what they believe is a guilt-free, sustainable setting to receive the ultimate in eco-pampering.
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What we’re seeing in these highly visible projects is a technological answer to maintaining the unsustainable status quo of over-consumption. It’s a big stretch to say that a water-guzzling desert golf course is sustainable or that a luxury Caribbean eco-resort can pretend to play a beneficial role, but that’s marketing for you.
No matter how gluttonous are the material appetites of extravagant Palm Desert and luxurious Cacique, these symbols of high living are not going away. All the world’s glaciers and both ice caps will melt before golf and resort developments are held accountable as contributing factors to global warming.
Just because developers irrigate fairways in the arid desert is no reason to question Palm Desert’s long-term viability. Install a few hundred solar panels, implement modest water savings, shed electric load at peak demand, and Palm Desert becomes a sustainable concept to be celebrated.
For Steve Case, the promise of an eco-friendly land rape is reason enough to plow $800 million into gentrifying the tropical rain forest. Case has already signed on tennis stars Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf so guests will have celebrities to fawn over while indulging in eco-friendly tennis.
Clearly, there are no limits to consumer choices when it comes to frittering away leisure time, just as there are no limits to developments that aspire to turn a profit on the good vibe of environmental sensitivity.
Absurd levels of creature comfort are no longer enough to attract valued customers. The new ploy is window dressing gargantuan levels of resource consumption with shades of green in hopes that another kind of green enriches the coffers of resort investors. This is not altruism; it’s business.
Maybe it works like this: If everyone believes that we are heading toward sustainability, then it is really so. If not, we’ll find out after the money’s in the bank and the last glacier drips into the swelling sea.
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