By Ilan Kelman
Richard Branson owns a lot–including the private island of Mosquito Island within the British Virgin Islands, a U.K. Overseas Territory in the Caribbean. With his island, Branson is doing something different: he is building a luxury eco-tourism resort.
Extensive effort is aiming to make it environmentally friendly. Baseline studies established eco-zones and important species. Geological and forestry surveys are used to ensure that roads do not scar the landscape. Monitoring and data collection will continue after construction.
The buildings use passive cooling, natural ventilation, rainwater collection, energy reduction approaches, and a host of other sustainable architectural practices. All while incorporating hurricane resistance measures.
It is exciting to see sustainability principles being implemented in practice. The learning process is particularly important, in terms of gleaning feedback from the island and infrastructure while the resort functions.
More thoughtful and critiquing analysis would be helpful to ensure that we learn as much as feasible. For example, Branson wants to import lemurs, a mammal that has no connection at all with the island. He has already brought some animals to a nearby island.
Furthermore, consider the deeper sustainability questions which are rarely asked.
How does privatising an island contribute to the entire country and peoples of the British Virgin Islands? Are local, sustainable livelihoods generated by hideaways for the rich, irrespective of how environmentally friendly the resorts are? What ethics emerge through supporting small island countries with profits made from environmentally wasteful industries, such as aviation?
Despite the complexity of the answers (and the questions), Branson is charging ahead. That is not necessarily to be criticised. Nor should it be venerated.
Instead, we must learn what we can and always seek to do better. Sustainability is a never-ending process–especially of learning and teaching.