AIR QUALITY – The sand is pristine and the sea clear as gin, yet the air quality in remote tropical destinations can be somewhat murky. One of the biggest factors is open burning, a practice we’ve managed to eradicate from three neighbouring Maldivian islands through our Eco Centro waste disposal centres. See also OPEN BURNING, NAPPIES and WASTE.
ANIMAL WELFARE – If it has the word ‘wild’ in its name it should be left to be exactly that — we should never do anything to compromise the natural behaviour of wildlife. Soneva Dive Centres make sure guests are aware that they should look but not touch before embarking on snorkelling and diving expeditions.
AQUATERRA – With a name inspired by Soneva Fushi’s exceptional natural setting, AquaTerra brings together sustainability, science and rare experiences. A hub for our conservation efforts, the state-of-the-art conservation, education and science facility that focuses on sustainability, supporting our ongoing efforts to understand, conserve and regenerate the surrounding natural environment, both at sea and on land. See also CORAL RESTORATION, ZERO MOSQUITO PROJECT and SONEVA ACADEMY.
ARCHITECTS – The coconut palms shading Soneva Kiri have been around far longer than we have, so we wanted to celebrate them rather than cut them down. Bangkok-based Habita Architects drew inspiration from traditional Thai houses to create villas linked by timber decks, allowing the surrounding vegetation to thrive. At all our resorts we aim to respect the physical characteristics, geological features and native vegetation that makes each place unique.
ATOLLS – A chain of donut-shaped coral islands formed around lagoons. The Maldives is made up of 26 atolls containing 1,192 islands… Now that’s a lot of donuts. The word ‘atoll’ is the only Maldivian term used internationally – it comes from ‘atholhu’, meaning ‘palm of the hand’ in the local language. See also DHIVEHI.
BAMBOO – The fastest-growing tropical plant, and strong as steel, it’s a dream renewable resource in the construction of our breezy villas. It’s also used for drinking straws, as we banned the plastic version in 1998. See also PLASTIC and TIMBER.
BEDSHEETS – Waste not want not, so the saying goes. When we upgraded our bed linen at Soneva Jani, we reimagined the retired sheets as boho-chic sun shades for beach barbecues.
BESPOKE – This quite simply means making something for a specific purpose rather than mass-producing it. Our team of skilled carpenters make much of our furniture, saving the CO2 emissions that would result from transportation, as well as ensuring we only make what we need. Oh, and that each and every item is unique and perfectly embodies our castaway chic aesthetic.
BIODIVERSITY – This single word describes the mind-boggling complexity of life on Earth and the wealth of species each with their own role — and the ways in which it’s being compromised. In the natural world, every ecosystem is perfectly balanced and works in harmony to contribute to our planet’s health but human activities like pollution, exploitation and the introduction of invasive species are throwing it off-kilter. At Soneva, we work hard to preserve and cultivate biodiversity through a range of schemes, including funding the Soneva Foundation’s Forest Reforestation Projects, which has planted 1.5 million trees in Thailand and Mozambique, and it’s Coral Restoration Programme. See also HORNBILLS, REFORESTATION, CORAL RESTORATION and ZERO MOSQUITO PROJECT.
BIOPHILIC DESIGN – Meaning a deep love and craving for nature, scientists are beginning to believe biophilia is an innate part of what makes us human. Our design approach is inspired by Mother Nature, which is both better for the planet and allows guests to reap the rewards of being immersed in the wilderness. Branched latticework and open-fronts in our restaurants and spas allow for natural ventilation, minimising the need for air conditioning, while outdoor bathrooms allow guests to soak under the stars. See also ARCHITECTURE.
BIOPLASTICS – Made from organic materials like cornstarch, these plastic alternatives are supposedly biodegradable. However, for them to decompose properly they need oxygen, sunlight and moisture, all in short supply in landfills. They need to be disposed of responsibly so they can follow nature’s closed-loop system, which is what our Eco Centro responsible waste management centres are all about. See also WASTE and SINGLE-USE PLASTICS.
BIOSPHERE — Baa Atoll is a Unesco Biosphere Reserve, meaning it’s a learning area for sustainable development. Biosphere reserves generally have three goals: conservation of biodiversity, sustainable development and direct support of striking a balance between humankind and nature, through research and monitoring. We work with three NGOs to meet these goals: the Olive Ridley Project, Save Our Seas and the International Pole & Line Foundation. See also NGOs and UNESCO.
BLUEWASHING – The practice of using the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to claim that an organisation is acting sustainably — also known as GOALWASHING — when the reality is very different. It’s so-called because the UN’s official colour is blue. At Soneva, we look to a combination of both the United Nations SDGs and our own Total Impact Assessment (TIA) methodology to monitor how we’re measuring up in our own operations and what we’re contributing to wider society. See also SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS and UNITED NATIONS SDGs.
BOTTOM TRAWLING – Say the phrase ‘carbon sink’ to someone and they’ll probably picture a forest. However, the seafloor is actually the largest carbon storehouse on the planet. The top metre of sediment below the waves contains twice as much carbon as all the soil in the world, which is why bottom trawling is so destructive. Ploughing the seafloor with heavy nets releases carbon back into the water, where it will become carbon dioxide again, turning the seas too acidic to support most marine life. In order to avoid adding to the problem, Soneva works with small fisheries in the Maldives who use traditional pole-and-line methods: one hook on a line attached to a bamboo pole, catching one fish at a time. See also FISHING.
CARBON CREDIT – Each credit represents an emissions reduction equivalent to one metric tonne of CO2. Companies can purchase them from an emissions trading scheme to count towards their reduction goals and this is one of the ways we keep our resorts carbon neutral. See also CARBON NEUTRAL and LEVY.
CARBON NEUTRAL – Net-zero carbon emissions is declared when a business measures the amount of carbon they’re responsible for releasing and then offsets the equivalent amount. We’re proud to say our resorts have been 100% carbon neutral since 2012. One of the ways we’ve achieved this is by adding a 2% environmental levy to room rates, so we can offset both direct and indirect CO2 emissions caused by each stay through the Soneva Foundation. This includes carbon resulting from resort activities, as well as that created through guest air travel. See also CARBON CREDIT, GLOBAL WARMING, LEVY and WATER.
CHARCOAL – A must for barbecues, charcoal is more environmentally friendly than gas as it’s climate neutral. It releases carbon that was temporarily tied up in the tree it was made from, while as a fossil fuel, burning gas produces more carbon. Charcoal is one of the primary products our Eco Centro Waste-To-Wealth centres yield using innovative Adams Retort ovens, which cut methane by 75% compared to standard ovens. Rather than burning the wood, it essentially starves it of oxygen until it combusts and then cooks it. Once the charcoal has done its thing on the barbecue we bury it, thereby trapping the carbon back in the soil. Neat, right? Bags also sell for about $12 a pop which demonstrates vital economic sustainability which is essential to a circular economy, too.
CORAL RESTORATION – Coral reefs are incredible ecosystems that provide shelter, food and act as a nursery for thousands of sea creatures. In partnership with the Soneva Foundation, we set up one of the world’s biggest coral nurseries using Mineral Accretion Technology (MAT), located onsite at Soneva Fushi, to restore 150,000 coral fragments per year. In 2023 we also opened the Maldives’ first coral spawning and rearing lab plus 28 micro-fragmenting tanks, to help us. See also BIODIVERSITY, GLOBAL WARMING, WATER and ZOOXANTHELLAE.
CHICKENS – Multifunctionality is a core aim in permaculture — and for anyone looking to live a more sustainable life. Our Marans breed of chickens are a prime example of this. Not only do they contribute to our compost system by eating food scraps, they also provide us with exceptionally large eggs in a chocolate-brown shell that need only be transported a few hundred feet to the kitchens. Marans eggs are widely accepted as the highest quality in the world and their extraordinary colour is the result of a pigment sequestered in the oviduct. *Fun fact* In Ian Fleming’s books, fictional spy James Bond refused to eat anything else for breakfast… See also COMPOST, PERMACULTURE and SOIL.
CIRCULAR ECONOMY – A closed-loop economy that limits waste and is based on an ethical supply chain. Rather than buying goods, using them and then disposing of them, products and materials are kept in use and natural systems regenerated. Each Soneva resort has its own Eco Centro Waste-To-Wealth facility, recycling 90% of our solid waste through an innovative management strategy. One example is giving glass bottles a new lease of life by transforming them into works of art in our Glass Studio. See also MYCELIUM, OPEN BURNING, SURPLUS and WASTE.
CLIMAVORE – Rather than cutting out all animal products to minimise the environmental impacts of food production a la vegans, climavores take a more flexible approach, choosing foods that work with nature and acknowledging that these may vary at different times. For example, opting for regenerative ingredients such as line-grown mussels rather than farmed fish or shifting to drought-resistant crops in periods when water is scarce. See also FOODPRINT.
COCONUTS – We collect fallen coconuts that would otherwise go to waste and cold-press them in our Eco Centro waste management centres. It takes 500 coconuts to produce 30–35 litres of oil, a key ingredient in our kitchens and spa. See also WASTE.
COCO PEAT – The wispy pith inside a coconut husk is naturally anti-fungal, making it an excellent choice when planting from seed as it removes the need for artificial pesticides. We combine it with compost in our Waste-To-Wealth centres to create silky, nutritious soil that seeds thrive in. Thank you coconuts, you lovely bunch. See also COMPOST, ECO CENTRO and SOIL.
COMMUNITY – They say it takes a village, we say it takes three (and counting!) We’re working with Maalhos, Dharavandhoo and Kihaadhoo, Soneva Fushi’s neighbouring islands, to create a model for eliminating single-use plastics. The Namoona strategy focuses on reducing the consumption of single-use plastics, promoting zero waste/recycling and inspiring ocean stewardship. See also ECO CENTRO, NAPPIES, SWIMMING LESSONS, SONEVA NAMOONA, WASTE and ZERO WASTE.
COMMUNITY TOURISM — Holidays that truly consider the wellbeing of people in a less well-off destination and which have a direct positive social and economic impact through employment and involving locals in decision-making. The Maldives is a little unusual in the sense that it is illegal for local people to offer homestays — in fact, until 2009 tourists were not even allowed to visit non-resort islands. At Soneva, the majority of our staff are locals and we work closely with councils on neighbouring islands on a host of outreach programmes and sustainability initiatives, including our reusable nappies programme. See also COMMUNITY, GENDER, NAPPIES, OPEN BURNING, SWIMMING LESSONS and ZERO WASTE.
COMPOST – Why’s composting crucial? Leftovers sent to landfill produce harmful greenhouse gas emissions through anaerobic decomposition. One example is methane, which is 21 times more potent than CO2. Composting organically involves oxygen, microbes, fungi, insects and worms, all working together to turn waste into organic matter. Compost is particularly important for soil fertility in the Maldives where an average PH level of around 8.5 makes agriculture difficult. The easiest way to compost is through vermiculture aka wriggly worms! See also KITCHEN SCRAPS, ORGANIC, SOIL, VERMICAST, VERMICULTURE and WORM FARM.
DHIVEHI – The mother tongue of the Maldives. The vast majority of our team at our Maldivian properties are locals so you’re bound to hear it during your stay — all the better if you can learn a few words. *Fun fact* ‘Thank you’ in Dhivehi is ‘shukuriyaa’.
DRINKING WATER – It isn’t safe to drink tap water on most Maldivian islands so single-use plastic bottles are a major problem. We were one of the first resort companies in the world to ban branded bottled water and have been producing our own since 2008; in the past decade alone, we’ve averted 2 million plastic bottles. A percentage of revenues from Soneva Water sales has funded 500 clean water projects through the Soneva Foundation, providing drinking water to over 750,000 people in 50 countries via charities such as Water Charity and Thirst Aid. Most recently, we rolled out Soneva Water – a local NGO – to three neighbouring islands, preventing further marine plastic pollution as part of the Soneva Namoona strategy. See also ECO CENTRO, PLASTIC, SONEVA NAMOONA and WASTE.
ECO CENTRO – A vital part of our Waste-to-Wealth programme, our Eco Centro waste centres demonstrate that old adage about one man’s trash being another’s treasure. Food matters becomes compost for the organic garden, cardboard and cans are compacted and sent for recycling, and at Soneva Fushi, cans and plastic are transformed into artworks and practical pieces at the Makers’ Place. We currently recycle 90% of our solid waste and want this figure to be 100% by 2030. So far, the programme has generated USD 3 million in value from waste handling and vegetable production. A key contributor is the innovative state-of-the-art Soneva Art and Glass Studio at Soneva Fushi, which invites world-renowned glass artists to create art from waste glass materials, and an adjacent art gallery allows guests to purchase these one-of-a-kind pieces. Additionally, the Soneva Art and Glass Studio has produced all the glassware for its sister resort Soneva Jani. See also CHARCOAL, COMMUNITY, COMPOST, DRINKING WATER, KITCHEN SCRAPS, SINGLE-USE PLASTIC, SOIL and WASTE.
EDUCATION – The most powerful way to change the world? Educate school children. We’re working with the Ministry of Education and National Institute of Education on an education framework called ‘Fehi Madharusa’ (green schools), currently being piloted in six schools. The aim is to reduce their ecological footprint, nurture environmental stewardship attitudes among their communities and equip students for a climate-resilient future. We’ll also be launching a website with lesson plans and teacher training courses, so schools can get involved nationwide. With an innovative approach, schools can — and will — become training grounds for future environmental leaders. See also COMMUNITY TOURISM, GOVERNANCE and ZERO WASTE
EGGS – Soneva strives to provide our guests with the highest quality ingredients. We are committed to sourcing 100% of our eggs (shell, liquid and egg products) from cage-free sources. This starts with our own free-range chicken farms to provide daily fresh cage-free eggs and extends to the farms we source from.
ENERGY – Typically resorts in off-grid locations rely on imported diesel but our motto has always been ‘keep it clean’. We installed 70kWp solar PV on Soneva Fushi in 2009, the biggest solar installation in the Maldives at the time, and expanded to 700 kWp in 2016. In 2023, we are expanding with 1.9MWp at Soneva Fushi and 2.7MWp solar PV at Soneva Jani, including 2.5MWh and 2MWh battery energy storage respectively. This will provide around 50% of our electricity needs, and we’re working towards running exclusively on renewable energy by 2025. See also PHOTOVOLTAIC and SOLAR.
FABRIC – The hand-woven cotton and linens in our villa and restaurant interiors are by Barefoot Ceylon in Sri Lanka, who have provided training opportunities and fair wages to locals for more than 40 years. All their weavers are women living in rural communities who would otherwise have had to move away from their families to find work. No factories, no supply chains. Just beautiful, jewel-coloured fabrics.
FISHING – Our suppliers are always individuals who line-catch replenishable species. Take our friend Rocket, a second-generation fisherman from Maalhos, one of Soneva Fushi’s neighbouring islands, who has been supplying us since we were still a twinkle in our construction team’s eye. Whatever he catches is always delivered and cooked that day — it doesn’t get fresher than that. Using a single line rather than nets avoids overfishing and bycatch, ensuring the ocean’s delicate ecosystem remains in balance for years to come. In fact, if you’re buying canned tuna abroad, if you seek out Maldivian brands, you can rest assured that it has been sustainably line-caught, with no by-catch. See also BIODIVERSITY, BOTTOM TRAWLING and FOODPRINT.
FOODPRINT – Every meal has an impact on the environment. The term ‘foodprint’ refers to the environmental impact of all the processes it takes to get food from farm — or at worst, factory — to fork. Seasonal, plant-based diets have a much lower foodprint, because the industrial meat industry is the biggest single culprit for deforestation out there. In the tourism sector, food contributes to greenhouse gas emissions during production, storage, transport (often over long distances) and cooking. At Soneva we’re tackling this head-on by sourcing locally where possible and growing as much as possible in our own organic gardens. See also CHICKENS, CLIMAVORE, FISHING, MYCELIUM, ORGANIC, PERMACULTURE and RAW.
GENDER EQUALITY – A company’s recruitment policy is a key factor in its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). In the Maldives, socio-cultural and patriarchal beliefs prohibit many women from having careers — which also deprives employers of a pool of talent. Women make up just 4% of the active workforce in resorts across the country, which is why we set up a Women in Soneva recruitment drive. We’re providing a safe and respectful environment (including women’s only spaces such as washrooms) with a clear career path to encourage more strong women to join the Soneva family. While it takes time to change cultural conventions, we are doing our best by organising events such as friendly sports matches between female Soneva staff and local teams and by encouraging female staff to volunteer at local women’s groups. There’s nothing like visibility to make someone think: ‘If she can do it, why shouldn’t I?’
GLOBAL WARMING – A gradual increase in the world’s temperatures due to the greenhouse effect, which means oceans absorb more heat. A spike of 1–2°C in water temperatures over several weeks can lead to corals turning white and dying, a process known as ‘coral bleaching’. This is particularly worrying in the Maldives, a country dependent on coral for the fishing and tourism industries, as well as to protect its low-lying coasts. See also CORAL, FLAT, GREENHOUSE EFFECT, WATER and ZOOXANTHELLAE.
GOVERNANCE – In simple terms, this means the way a group of people (for example a country) make decisions about how things should be done (by electing a government, perhaps). At Soneva, not only do we comply with all regulatory requirements, we also work with the government to affect change. For example, we’re currently looking to extend our Namoona waste management strategy across the whole atoll; ditto our green schools. See also COMMUNITY, ECO CENTRO, EDUCATION, SONEVA NAMOONA and WASTE.
GREENHOUSE EFFECT – When heat is trapped in the troposphere by a toxic blanket of gases such as methane, water vapour and carbon dioxide. These gases are largely created from the burning of fossil fuels, which is why we’re always looking for clean energy sources. See also ENERGY, GLOBAL WARMING, PHOTOVOLTAIC and SOLAR.
HORNBILLS – Around 40 years ago, Oriental pied hornbills disappeared from the Thai island of Koh Kood after being hunted for meat. The Soneva Foundation is working with the Hornbill Research Foundation to reintroduce the regal species on Koh Kood, Soneva Kiri’s home island, where they can help spread the seeds of bigger trees and improve the biodiversity of the forest. In 2022, we built and opened an enclosure to allow hornbill pairs adapt to their new location before releasing the into the wild. So far eight Oriental pied hornbills have been released.
HUGELKULTUR – As well as being quite the mouthful to say, hugelkultur is permaculture 101: creating raised beds with layers of soil, wood and cardboard to create a nifty little ecosphere, like a lasagne. As the wood rots, it has an incredible capacity for holding water and promotes a healthy soil web of microbes, fungi, insects and worms. As it decays further, it provides nutrients for plants and prevents the soil from becoming compacted. Spot this method being utilised in raised beds throughout our gardens. See also PERMACULTURE.
HUMAN CAPITAL – Quite simply, this economics theory maintains that the people who work at any company are the most important resource it has, and value can be added by investing in employees through training, education and providing the best possible working environment. At Soneva, we measure, value and maximise the holistic returns on our human capital rather than simply considering training from a ‘cost-to-company’ perspective; currently, our annual human capital value is around USD 3 million.
HUNGER – Given that the hospitality industry is infamous for food waste, it is particularly sobering to acknowledge that a child dies of acute malnutrition every 30 seconds. With climate change making extreme weather conditions such as fires, floods and droughts even more common, this figure is only set to rise as less and less land is suitable for farming. Our contribution? USD 0.50 from every main meal served at Soneva resorts is donated to the Soneva Foundation, which funds projects that tackle malnutrition of children. See also NGOs.
IMMERSE – Travel offers a unique way to foster connections between people of different cultures, breeding empathy and a shared sense of stewardship for our planet. At Soneva resorts, there are no end of opportunities for guests to immerse themselves in local culture, including home visits in Ao Salat fishing village on Koh Kood.
IMPACT INVESTING – Simply put, investing in companies and organisations with the intent to have a measurable positive social or environmental impact, alongside a financial return. The Soneva Foundation utilises this principle in our Myanmar Stoves Campaign, which brings more efficient cookstoves to rural households, reducing fuel poverty and cutting CO2 emissions by 60%. The project has its own financial returns which are used to further scale and impact. See also MYANMAR STOVES CAMPAIGN.
JOULE – The unit for measuring energy. A watt is the amount of energy (in joules) that an electrical device such as a light burns for every second that it’s running. Natural light has been a priority throughout our resorts, from al fresco bathrooms to open-fronted beach bars. See also ARCHITECTURE, ENERGY and BIOPHILIC DESIGN.
KITCHEN SCRAPS – If it were a country, food waste would be the third highest emitter of greenhouse gases (in particular methane) in the world. This left a pretty bad taste in our mouths, so in 2016 we worked with LightBlue Environmental Consulting to conduct a thorough food waste audit. We also alchemise our kitchen scraps into compost to nourish the soil. See also COMPOST, ORGANIC, PERMACULTURE, VERMICAST, VERMICULTURE and WORM FARM.
KRENG JAI – This concept is a pillar of Thai culture and one of the reasons Thailand is such a memorable country to visit. Its literal translation is ‘awe heart’ but it can be loosely defined as being aware of other’s feelings and showing them consideration. We channel this idea by treating every member of staff with the respect they deserve.
LAUNDRY – It takes 500 watts of electricity to power the average washing machine. As part of our villa laundry service, we request a USD 10 donation for every load, with all profits going to the Soneva Foundation. See also CARBON NEUTRAL.
LEPORIDAE – The leporidae family is an umbrella term that refers to the world’s 54 species of hares and rabbits. Guests at Soneva Fushi will notice the large number of cute bunnies happily hopping around the island, all of which are the descendants of a host’s pet. We now have a dedicated bunny clinic that provides the highest standard of veterinary care for those that need it.
MANGROVES – Mangrove forests offer flood protection, erosion reduction, carbon storage and nurseries for fish and crustaceans. In fact, it’s estimated that mangrove ecosystems are essential for the reproductive success of 75–90 % of tropical commercial seafood species. The Western part of Koh Kood is regularly flooded by the sea and is, therefore, home to a thriving mangrove forest, which guests can explore on a stand-up paddleboard.
MANGROVE RESTORATION – Mangroves play a key role in maintaining healthy oceans and are the only forest that grows in salt water, as a buffer between land and sea. They also sequester up to five time more CO2 than trees in terrestrial forests. The Soneva Foundation engaged Worldview International Foundation to restore 1,000 hectares of mangrove forest in Myanmar, where 2.5 million mangroves have already been planted, generating 1.5 million carbon credits. See also MANGROVES and BIODIVERSITY.
MICROPLASTICS – Pesky grains of plastic less than 5mm in length that can be found in everything from water and soil to the air we breathe. Some, such as exfoliating beads, were made small while others broke off larger bits of waste that had become brittle in the sun. We banned imported bottled water back in 2008 and we’re working closely with local communities to minimise further plastic waste in the surrounding seas. See also DRINKING WATER, PLASTIC, TOILETRIES and WASTE.
MIMOSA PUDICA – Found throughout Soneva Kiri’s sustainably managed gardens, this bashful shrub’s leaves fold inwards when disturbed, unfurling again when the threat has passed. It’s presently being studied for its potential to help control a widespread tropical roundworm disease and as a possible antidote to monocled cobra venom. The Thai island of Koh Kood boasts more biodiversity — including flora and fauna — than in the whole of Great Britain. See also BIODIVERSITY.
MORINGA – Not only a nitrogen-fixing superhero, this plant’s leaves also contain five times as much iron as spinach and is often used in traditional medicine in India. At Soneva Fushi, we run permaculture tours three times a week, allowing guests to learn how the plants in our gardens work together to form a sustainable ecosystem. See also NITROGEN FIXER and PERMACULTURE.
MYANMAR STOVES CAMPAIGN – Myanmar has one of the fastest deforestation rates in the world, largely because most people cook on inefficient stoves; this also means that families in rural areas spend as much as 40% of their meagre income on firewood. So far, we’ve distributed 270,000 Envirofit SuperSaver GL stoves, which only need three sticks to create enough heat to boil water. The cookstoves reduce wood consumption by 50%, air pollution by 80% and CO2 emissions by 60%. That’s hot.
MYCELIUM – Found in soils and other organic matter (like rotting tree trunks), mycelium is the vegetative part of a fungus and is made up of a network of threads that look like a spider’s web. It’s also how the visible part of a fungus, the mushroom, absorbs nutrients. We harness the magic of mycelium in our mysterious mushroom huts where we grow nine varieties including shitake, golden oyster and abalone. Our Eco Centro Waste-To-Wealth centres produce the sawdust our mushrooms grow on from jungle trimmings, and sell the mushrooms back to the Soneva kitchens with the profits being invested back into the programme. Another satisfying example of a closed-loop economy — and a delicious, healthy way for guests to learn more about the principles of permaculture. See also CIRCULAR ECONOMY, ECO CENTRO, PERMACULTURE and SURPLUS.
NAMOONA – Namoona means ‘something exemplary’, an ideal, in the Dhivehi language of the Maldives, and we’re working with the government to roll out our Soneva Namoona initiative — including our Eco Centro Waste-To-Wealth management centres — eventually across local islands in Baa and Noonu atolls. After that, our sights are set on the whole nation. And after that? Who knows… See also ATOLL, COMMUNITY, ECO CENTRO, SONEVA NAMOONA and WASTE.
NAPPIES – Did you know the average baby gets through 4,000 nappies before they’re potty trained? And it’s estimated that each one takes around 500 years to decompose in landfill. However, due to the lack of land in the Maldives, they’re mostly burned, spewing toxic gases like dioxins, furans and mercury into the atmosphere. Nice. As part of our Soneva Namoona initiative, we worked with the council on Kihaadhoo and Maalhos to educate local mothers about the problem, as well as supplying them with washable fabric nappies at cost price. After a 14-day reusable nappy trial on Kihaadhoo, 26 families with babies decided to make the swap. That’s preventing around 4,680 nappies from ending up on bonfires every month. See also SONEVA NAMOONA, COMMUNITY, ECO CENTRO, OPEN BURNING and WASTE.
NITROGEN FIXER – It’s a Catch 22: plants aren’t able to grow without sufficient nitrogen, yet most of the world’s nitrogen is in gas form, which the majority of plants can’t access. However, there are a few superheroes (known as nitrogen fixers) that are able to draw it from the air and store it in their roots in bobbly growths called nitrogen nodules. When these plants die and decompose, the nitrogen is released into the soil for the other plants to enjoy. Now that’s what we call teamwork. We harness this nifty natural technology in our permaculture system — you’ll spot plenty of nitrogen fixers in our gardens, including moringa and butterfly peas. See also MORINGA and PERMACULTURE.
NGOs – Standing for non-governmental organisations, these independent corporations have an environmental or social mission and their primary role is to fulfill that, rather than to make money. Through the Soneva Foundation, we’re lucky enough to partner with a roster of incredible NGOs including: Water Charity, which delivers safe drinking water and improved sanitation to villages in Senegal; Action Against Hunger, to provide food baskets to critically malnourished little ones in Nepal and India. We also work directly with NGOs like Save Our Seas, the Olive Ridley Project and the International Pole & Line Foundation, all of whom work to protect the biodiversity of our oceans.
OPEN BURNING – Half a billion tonnes (24%) of all municipal solid waste generated on Earth is not collected at all and a further 27% is mismanaged following collection. In practice, this often means being piled up and burnt, releasing toxic fumes that are as dangerous for people as they are for the planet. We’ve responded by opening Eco Centro centres on three islands in the Baa Atoll which separate waste fragments, crush them and send them overseas for recycling. They’ve been so effective, all three islands have banned open burning. Now that’s what we call a great result. See also COMMUNITY, ECO CENTRO, DRINKING WATER, NAPPIES and WASTE.
ORGANIC – Food grown without the use of toxic fertilisers is crucial for soil health — as well as that of our guests. Each of our resorts has kitchen gardens nurtured with compost created from food waste and nutrient-rich irrigation from our own wastewater treatment ponds. Not only does this mean our ingredients go from farm to fork in a matter of hours, it also removes the carbon emissions that would result from importing them. See also FOODPRINT, PLANT-BASED, RAW and SOIL.
OXYBENZONE – This UV-filtering, coral-killing chemical compound is found in many commercial brands of sunscreen. Opt for sun lotions based on zinc oxide or titanium dioxide instead, like the sweet-smelling ones stocked at our eco-friendly surf school, as well as being complimentary in all our villas. See also UNESCO.
PERMACULTURE – One of the most spoken about biodynamic farming processes, permaculture is based on three main principles as defined by Bill Mollison, who first coined the term in 1978: people care, fair share (aka sharing surplus) and earth care. Essentially the aim is to harness nature’s processes and rhythms to design and maintain agricultural systems so they’re diverse, stable and help existing ecosystems to be resilient. All our Soneva chefs and garden staff have gone through rigorous permaculture training with expert Justin Robertshaw, teaching them how to prep vegetable beds, make compost and maintain worm farms. See also CHICKENS, MYCELIUM, MORINGA, NITROGEN FIXER, ORGANIC, SURPLUS, VERMICAST and WORM FARM.
PHOTOVOLTAIC – The photovoltaic effect refers to the generation of an electrical current when certain materials are exposed to light. Photovoltaic cells are the main component of solar panels, which are a key source of renewable energy at all our resorts. See also ENERGY and SOLAR.
PLANETARY BOUNDARIES FRAMEWORK – Established by the Stockholm Resilience Centre in 2009, this is a set of nine boundaries within which humanity can continue to develop and thrive for generations to come without creating devastating climate change. They include land system change, chemical pollution and loss of biosphere integrity. We use this framework to structure our conversations at our annual SLOW LIFE Symposium, where we gather top scientists, philanthropists, business leaders and policymakers for three days of problem-solving around the most pressing sustainability challenges facing humanity.
PLANT-BASED – The livestock sector accounts for between 8% and 18% of global emissions — about as much pollution as comes out the tailpipes of the world’s cars. Plant-based eaters tend to have far lower carbon, water and ecological footprints than meat-eaters, largely because far fewer resources are needed to grow plants than to produce meat. We’re helping guests lower their carbon footprint while nourishing their bodies by serving exclusively plant-based and pescatarian food at Overseas, our new restaurant at Soneva Jani in collaboration with Swedish chef, Mathias Dahlgren. See also FOOD PRINT, ORGANIC and RAW.
POLLINATORS – Little creatures with a giant impact that are dwindling in number due to habitat loss and climate change. Without bats, bees, birds, butterflies and all the other helpful critters that travel from plant to plant carrying pollen on their bodies, most plants wouldn’t be able to reproduce. Somewhere between 75% and 95% of all flowering plants on the earth need help with pollination and it’s estimated that pollinators are responsible for one out of every three bites of food we eat. We’ve responded to their plight by introducing several colonies of stingless bees to Soneva Fushi. Their effect on the island’s biodiversity has been immense: the organic gardens are thriving and natural pollinators have returned to the island in huge numbers. See also BIODIVERSITY.
PRECIOUS PLASTIC – This global initiative is all about people at a grass-roots level using their imagination to create an alternative recycling system that focuses on plastic. We got involved by launching the Soneva Maker Programme, which empowers locals to see single-use plastic as a potential resource. We built open-source plastic recycling machines from locally available, low-cost materials; local people are now using them to turn the likes of suncream bottles and toothpaste tubes into tote bags.
QUALITY TIME – Lounging under the stars on an overwater net watching a classic film and enjoying an ice cream as the sea splashes around the screen is a signature Soneva experience, but there’s a difference. Guests must use headsets at Cinema Paradiso to minimise the disruption to nesting wildlife, protecting the island’s biodiversity. See also BIODIVERSITY.
RAW – At Soneva Jani, we’ve teamed up with raw food chef Diana Von Cranach to create So Wild, an al fresco dining experience where 90% of the menu is based on plants grown in our own organic gardens, eliminating the need for fossil fuels to be burnt in transport. Our chefs start each morning by moseying through the gardens picking whatever they feel inspired by that day. See also FOODPRINT, ORGANIC, PERMACULTURE and PLANT-BASED.
REFORESTATION – With their magical ability to absorb carbon dioxide released from the burning of fossil fuels, forests are our planet’s secret weapon for stabilising the climate. They’re pretty useful in the habitat stakes too. We are funding the Soneva Foundation’s Forest Restoration project, which has committed to plant 5 million trees by 2025. In the misty Chiang Mai region of Northern Thailand 500,000 trees, comprising 90 different species were planted in 2011 and 2012. Since then, seed-dispersing birds have increased this number further, creating a biodiverse wonderland as well as provide a home for countless creatures. In Mozambique, 1 million trees were planted in 2022, with another 2.7 to go by 2025. In 2023, an additional 1 million trees in Nepal and Philippines will also be planted. These projects will restore 4,000 hectare of degraded forestland and mitigate 3.3 million tonnes CO2. See also BIODIVERSITY.
SALAD – Leafy greens: rather than flying them every few days at around $16/kilo as well as an incalculable cost to the environment, we grow our own in our organic veggie gardens. Makes sense, right? See also COMPOST, ORGANIC, PERMACULTURE, PLANT-BASED, RAW and SOIL.
SINGLE-USE PLASTICS – The clue is in the name. Goods (or should we call them bads?!) made from fossil fuel-based chemicals, designed to be thrown away after just one use. We’ve banned them across all our resorts and ensure that bioplastics have all the conditions they need to decompose in our Eco Centro waste centres. See also BIOPLASTICS, ECO CENTRO, PRECIOUS PLASTIC, TOILETRIES and WASTE.
SOIL – Soil in the Maldives is mostly formed of animal skeletons, coral and sand, not the most fertile trio. It typically has pH values between 8.0 and 8.8, far too alkaline to grow fruit and vegetables. Our answer? A compost system that produces 20,000kg of nutrient-rich soil from kitchen waste and jungle shreds, allowing our kitchen gardens to flourish. See also CHICKENS, COMPOST, PERMACULTURE, VERMICAST, VERMICULTURE and WORM FARM.
SONEVA NAMOONA – The Maldives produces 365,000 tons of solid waste every year, but municipal waste facilities are few and far between, meaning rubbish tends to be burnt — or worse, dumped in the sea. Soneva Namoona is a partnership between Soneva, the islands of Maalhos, Dharavandhoo and Kihaadhoo, marine plastic foundation Common Seas and local government, with the lofty ambition of changing the way our Motherland manages waste. We’re doing this through upcycling and recycling, as well as educating locals about ocean stewardship and providing drinking water in reusable bottles through our own water plant, Soneva Water. See also COMMUNITY, DRINKING WATER, ECO CENTRO, PLASTIC and WASTE.
SOLAR – While you’re sun-soaking, the solar panels at all our resorts are too. At Soneva Fushi, we have generated 900,000 kWh of green energy every year since 2016, saving the equivalent greenhouse emissions produced from driving a car approximately 3 million km. This will substantially increase after adding 1.9MWp at Soneva Fushi and 2.7MWp solar PV at Soneva Jani, including 2.5MWh and 2MWh battery energy storage, respectively, in 2023. See also ENERGY and PHOTOVOLTAIC.
STYROFOAM – Rather than ending up in a landfill, this common packing material is alchemised into lightweight construction blocks for our sustainable-chic villas in our Eco Centro Waste-To-Wealth centres. We also re-use it for comfortable pillows for the pool and the beach, and up-cycle styrofoam into eye-catching decorations during the holiday seasons. See also ECO CENTRO.
SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS – When it announced 17 Sustainable Development Goals (or SDGs) at the United Nations Assembly in 2015, the UN defined them as a ‘blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all’. As the custodians of pristine locations, we constantly ask ourselves what we can do to preserve this environment for future generations. SDGs provide a useful framework to help us do just that.
SUSTAINABLE HOSPITALITY ALLIANCE – The Sustainable Hospitality Alliance is a positive platform for hotel industry leaders to work collaboratively to make hospitality more sustainable. It represents 30,000 hotels around the world, all of whom are working towards four goals: carbon-cutting, water-saving, youth employment and human rights. It has developed a Pathway to Net Positive hospitality for the industry to strive for. Soneva is on both the Senior Advisory Council and executive committees and advised on the establishment of these goals.
SUPPLIERS – We see Soneva as a potential force for good throughout the whole hospitality chain i.e. our suppliers. We only work with those who follow strict guidelines, such as no child labour, complying with anti-discrimination policies and showing their commitment to integrity and environmental protection.
SURPLUS – Sharing surplus is one of the three founding ethics of permaculture — a blatant contradiction to the culture of scarcity that economics and capitalism foster. Our Waste-To-Wealth centres are so efficient we make more soil than we can use at Soneva, so we sell some to other islands so they can begin creating their own sustainable agriculture systems. The money is invested back into the Waste–To–Wealth centres, a perfect closed-loop model. See also CIRCULAR ECONOMY, PERMACULTURE and SOIL.
SWIMMING INSTRUCTORS – Many Maldivians are not able to swim — we’re changing that by partnering with councils on eight islands in Baa and Noonu Atoll to train swimming instructors, opening doors to a new career as well as providing much-needed skills for island communities.
THREE SCOPES OF CARBON MEASUREMENT – Greenhouse gas emissions are categorised into three scopes, which allow them to be measured and therefore monitored. Scope 1 covers the direct emissions caused by a company’s facilities and vehicles. Scope 2 is indirect emissions from the purchase of electricity, steam, heating and cooling. Scope 3 covers all other indirect emissions; think purchased goods and services, business air travel, employee commuting, waste disposal (food, packaging and water), freight transportation, fuel and energy-related activities. To identify where to invest in carbon reduction, Soneva conducts an annual Carbon Survey. Each of our resorts has a designated sustainability officer who collects and reports performance data on all resort activities and equipment that emits greenhouse gases. As well as monitoring our own emissions, we also collect data on activities that occur outside the resort but which can be directly attributed to Soneva’s existence — this includes emissions from the transport of goods and the air travel of our hosts and guests. See also CARBON CREDIT and CARBON NEUTRAL.
TIMBER – At Soneva we always try to see the wood for the trees, which is why we visit suppliers ourselves so we know first hand how they plant and harvest their timber rather than relying on certification schemes.
TOILETRIES – Used once before taking a cool 450 years to biodegrade in landfill, single-use plastics do not add up. Mini toiletries are a major culprit in the hospitality industry, which is why we ask guests for their preferences before they arrive and fill up reusable ceramic bottles with whatever they think they’ll actually use. See also PLASTIC.
UNESCO – The Baa Atoll, home to Soneva Fushi, is the Maldives’ only UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, where dolphins, manta rays and a cast of colourful marine creatures surf waves that can reach head high. We supply guests with eco-friendly and sustainable surfboards, sunscreen and rash guards, so they can join in the fun without leaving a trace. See also BIODIVERSITY, BIOSPHERE and OXYBENZONE.
UNITED NATIONS SDGs – The UN’s 17 golden (or green!) rules to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. They’re one of the key touchstones for our own sustainability policies. See also SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS.
VERMICAST – The scientific name for worm poo or as we like to think of it, black gold. We harvest ours from our worm farms regularly as a key part of our permaculture methodology. Because our resident wrigglers eat organic waste from our kitchen as well as jungle trimmings, they provide an endless supply of free fertiliser which is also excellent for helping soil absorb and retain moisture. See also PERMACULTURE, SOIL, VERMICULTURE and WORM FARM.
VERMICULTURE — Simply the practice of keeping worms. Our worms are tiger worms and eat 50% of their body weight every day, meaning plenty of vermicast to enrich the soil. See also COMPOST, VERMICAST and WORM FARM.
VIRTUAL LEARNING – The only thing as crucial to diverting climate emergency as education? Technology. We combine the two by regularly taking part in virtual seminars, conferences and school lessons in order to spread our sustainable message far and wide. See also EDUCATION.
WASTE – In a nation with few municipal waste facilities and huge pressure on limited land, the sea has traditionally been used as a dumping ground. Our solution? Soneva Namoona, which provides funding, expertise and coordination for a waste management system that cleans up local islands and demonstrates that single-use plastics can be phased out of the Maldives. We’ve banned single-use plastic throughout our resorts and are proud to recycle 90% of our solid waste in our Eco Centro centres. Here, tonnes of steel and aluminum cans and cardboard are compacted, with some being sent overseas for recycling and others being reimagined as part of our Waste-To-Wealth initiative. See also CHARCOAL, CHICKENS, COMMUNITY, ECO CENTRO, KITCHEN SCRAPS, TOILETRIES, OPEN BURNING, PRECIOUS PLASTIC and SOIL.
WASTEWATER – It’s an ugly truth: the hospitality industry guzzles water (those towels don’t fluff themselves) and this is particularly disturbing given that one in nine people in the world don’t even have access to clean drinking water. At Soneva we recognise that water is a precious commodity, which is why we’re 100% self-sufficient at all our resorts. One of the ways we achieve this is by treating wastewater and using it to irrigate our vegetable gardens. The water in question moves through three filtration ponds populated with nine species of mopping plants and 80 different types of microorganisms that help break down the organic matter and compounds that make wastewater potentially toxic. The end result is a Biological Oxygen Demand level of 5 mg/l, well below the 20 mg/l maximum requirement. Oh and some very happy veggies, of course. See also DRINKING WATER and PERMACULTURE.
WATER – Splish, splash, splosh, almost 99% of the Maldives is covered in water, making it the wateriest nation on the planet. Of course, this also means it’s particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels — it’s estimated that around 80% of the country’s livable land could be uninhabitable by 2050 if current rates of global warming continue. By being carbon neutral we are minimising our contribution to the greenhouse effect, which causes sea levels to rise in two ways: melting glaciers and because the volume of liquid expands as it grows warmer. See also CORAL, FLAT, GLOBAL WARMING, GREENHOUSE EFFECT, CARBON NEUTRAL.
WIND ENERGY – Electricity produced using the kinetic energy of the wind that doesn’t produce any emissions. We provided funding to Converging World, a UK-based charity, to build a 1.5MW wind turbine in Tamil Nadu, India. It will mitigate 70,000 tonnes of CO2 over 20 years through the production of 80,000MWh of clean electricity. See also ENERGY.
WORM FARM – We reuse empty five-gallon plastic buckets to create worm farms, where our clever little friends live and breed in a mixture of soil and sand until it’s their turn to play their starring role in our permaculture system by turning organic matter into compost. See also COMPOST, PERMACULTURE, VERMICAST and VERMICULTURE.
EXPLORE – Ok, we’re using a little artistic license when it comes to an X word… But complimentary bicycles and tricycles in every villa give guests the freedom to explore without burning any fossil fuels and no one can argue with that!
YOUTH – The unemployment rate among 16-25-year-olds is rising as fast as sea levels in the Maldives. We’re helping vulnerable youngsters achieve their potential with our Soneva Junior Host Programme. Junior Hosts work in the four main areas of resort operations — food and beverage, culinary, housekeeping and front office — for six months, until they achieve an ITP certification. They’re then offered six-month-long placements so they can put their new skills into practice. They’re the ones doing the hard work, we’re just providing the opportunity.
ZERO MOSQUITO PROJECT – We’re all for telling those pesky mosquitoes to buzz off but we don’t support the use of chemical insecticides because they’re untargeted, meaning they wreak havoc on any living thing in their path. Instead, Soneva Fushi’s Integrated Pest Control manager, Akib Jahir, uses eco-friendly Biogents mosquito traps that are just as effective without resorting to harmful chemicals. To date, the mosquito population on Soneva Fushi and Soneva Jani has dropped by 98%. See also BIODIVERSITY.
ZERO WASTE – The aim of the game is sending nothing at all to landfill. Our Soneva Namoona initiative is all about reducing what we need, reusing as much as we can, sending as little as possible to be recycled and composting everything else. We’re also trying to inspire the next generation of earth stewards by encouraging local schools to take part in a zero-waste challenge. The class who collected and separated the most won a trip to snorkel with manta rays at Hanifaru Bay and a lesson in astronomy at the Soneva Fushi observatory. See also COMMUNITY, ECO CENTRO, NAPPIES, PRECIOUS PLASTIC and STYROFOAM.
ZOOXANTHELLAE – The algae that live within the tissue of corals are responsible for transforming CO2 into sugar and oxygen, without which coral cannot grow. They’re also responsible for those amazing colours. When the sea heats up over a prolonged period, the host coral becomes stressed and expels the very zooxanthellae that are essentially keeping it alive. Its tissue turns white (known as ‘bleaching’), something we’re seeking to reverse with our coral propagation scheme. See also CORAL and GLOBAL WARMING.
As Soneva Fushi celebrates 25 years as a sustainable pioneer, our founder Sonu Shivdasani looks back at how it all started – and how Soneva’s innovative approach to barefoot luxury is still making waves.Read more
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