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Sun International’s “Sun Glow” climate change response is driven by a systemic approach and underpinned by extensive data. The sustainability strategy is holistic, ambitious and an incubation space for high impact sustainability solutions.

This article was first published in Earthworks Magazine // Issue 37. Words by Francini Van Staden 

Every business must decide: it’s either “business as usual” or transform towards sustainability. Sun International chose transformation and created “Sun Glow” – a roadmap to guide the journey forward. Zero waste-to-landfill at all of its resorts by 2020, carbon neutrality and renewable energy are some of the ways in which the luxury hospitality group is adapting.

Entertainment and hotel giant Sun International’s “Sun Glow” climate change response is driven by a systemic approach underpinned by extensive data. The sustainability strategy is holistic, ambitious and an incubation space for high impact sustainability solutions in all spheres of this hospitality business. Mandy Clifton-Smith, Sun International Group’s environmental manager explains that data inconsistencies across the group motivated improvement. Hence, three years of data collating was used to understand Sun International’s current sustainability stage, “including its carbon baseline, energy profile, resource budget and the investments needed to improve the status quo”. Overcoming the inconsistencies was a challenge for an organisation that serves 50 000 guests daily. Sun International took a decision to share how it is infusing sustainability into its business through Sun Glow. Clifton-Smith says the group was motivated to improve how it was communicating its environmental and sustainability information – telling the story is now a key focus. The Sun Glow sustainability roadmap shows all of the group’s sustainability data through interactive media, infographics and videography. The roadmap aids supply chain transformation by guiding sustainability across decision-making.

For example, in 2016, bottled water was overhauled across the entire South African portfolio and replaced with reusable glass bottles and water from on-site Vivreau water purification systems. All Sun International kitchens are now compliant with the WWF-SASSI list of endangered marine species, shifting to more sustainable seafood alternatives. Working with a non-profit organisation that focuses on smallholder-farmers, the sustainable supply chain goal is to use 100% local fresh produce from community owned and operated farms. It is felt that a sustainable supply chain must include further criteria: reaching deeper than cost and quality criteria to include embedded energy, water and human rights. The goal is to hugely maximise positive influence. These are key interventions as they cut across multiple focus areas: sustainable supply chain, creating of shared value, and driving performance. To create shared value, Clifton-Smith says: “The group’s operations must bring health, environmental and safety improvements. A ‘Wonderbag’ ecocooking device programme is rolling out in communities surrounding Sun International resorts. This programme does not only offer health and safety improvement for communities, but it also allows carbon credit derivatives which the group can use to offset other impacts.”


Reaching beyond sustainability compliance, the roadmap is unfolding to increasingly include social elements. This is particularly responsive to the South African context. For every key resource consumed, there is a blueprint driving efficiency. Risk profiling of water and waste was completed in 2016. The data for carbon and water intensity, as well as waste reduction per square metre of operational space, is metric and key performance based. The numbers, to which the public has access, show how the holistic sustainability strategy is unfolding. Two aspects of Sun Glow have particular relevance to the built environment: the zero waste-to-landfill initiative at Sun City and the opening of the group’s new Time Square hotel, casino and 8500 seater arena in the Menlyn Maine eco-district.



The group’s vision is zero waste-to-landfill at Sun City by 2019, with the rest of the group’s resorts achieving the same by 2020. “Although Sun City’s waste licence allowed for continued land-filling subject to the development of additional space in a new landfill cell, Sun International opted for an alternative solution that responds to its sustainability strategy,” says Hein Fourie, manager of GCX Zero Waste. Planning for decommissioning of the Sun City landfill has already started and various landfill alternative technologies have been assessed to secure the group’s vision and focus areas. “The challenge, but also opportunity, is the broad and mixed waste stream generated at Sun City. This complicated the use of technologies such as biogas, which rely mostly on an organic waste stream,” says Fourie. Pyrolysis technology, which is fairly new in South Africa, was chosen. “Unlike incineration and gasification, pyrolysis is a more advanced technology that operates in the absence of oxygen. This ensures maximum energy gain from the waste feedstock,” says Fourie. Importantly, apart from start-up energy input, the pyrolysis plant will be energy self-sustaining and will contribute to powering the on-site wastewater treatment works (WWTW). “Approximately 150kW of electricity will be exported to the WWTW,” he says. The plant design provides for a capacity of approximately 250tonnes of waste per month. “Sun International invested significant effort in improving its recycling rates. This will be reflected in the final design capacity of the plant,” adds Fourie. The decision to commission a pyrolysis plant for Sun City was furthermore supported by a comparative assessment of financial input costs and a feasibility study of technology responsiveness to the Sun City context. “Pyrolysis technology is economically viable to operate at a relatively small scale such as Sun City. Capital costs for developing a new landfill cell versus the pyrolysis plant were similar. By implementing pyrolysis, monthly electricity savings are expected. Besides responding to the group’s sustainability strategy, the operational cost savings justified the plant development costs,” says Fourie. Economics also make sense across the wider Sun Glow strategy, with an estimated R707 000 in rebates recovered from recycling across the group’s resorts in 2016.

Across the entire group, a total of 10 400 tonnes of waste was generated in 2016, of which 36% was recycled, reducing waste-to-landfill. This is a 12% increase in waste recycled since 2015. “By 2020, we need to show that zero waste is going to landfill. But ‘zero waste-to-landfill’ is more than a strategy – it’s a broad context waste solution. To succeed in the 2020 goal, our challenge is to constantly look beyond the strategy,” says Fourie. This will be no easy task, as each Sun International resort will require its own context-specific waste solution. The focus is not a specific technology, but rather technologies will be finalised as the vision unfolds. Depending on waste volume and resort location, tying into other existing clean waste management facilities will be explored.

This goal requires detailed planning, processing and implementation, but Sun International is committed to achieve the goals that have been set.


Phase one of the group’s newly developed R4.26 billion, high profile entertainment complex at Menlyn Maine green precinct in eastern Tshwane launches this month (April 2017). “Green building principles and environmental management were considered by Sun International from the design phase and was monitored according to an environmental management plan during the 34-month construction phase,” says Clifton-Smith.

Energy, waste and water management are key aspects within Time Square’s operation, and in line with how Sun International manages its resources on a daily basis. Energy efficiency of the Time Square development was important with energy initiatives including sub-metering, artificial lighting designs, peak demand management and the installation of photo-voltaic panels. “The initiatives are aimed at minimising greenhouse gas emissions through reduced energy consumption,” says Clifton-Smith. Multi-functional initiatives that respond to more than one sustainability goal have been adopted. The heat rejected by the casino air-conditioning system will be the primary heat source for the hotel. Variable speed booster pumps – requiring 30% less energy than conventional fixed speed pump sets – will supply the hotel’s potable water. Efficient low-flow fixtures, including dual-flush cisterns and aerators, have been installed throughout the hotel. Water resource recovery is augmented through recovering of condensate water from the fan-coil units in each of the 238 hotel rooms, recycling into the cistern system. As one of Africa’s premium tourism, leisure and gaming groups, Sun International has to navigate its promise of a luxury hotel and casino experience with its sustainability responsibility. For the Sun International Group, sustainability is “about creating shared valued between business, environment and people,” says Clifton-Smith. As the group takes bold initiatives to transform its operations, the significant value of true sustainability is increasingly being realised, and evident in the returning guest, in clear contrast where sustainability is applied as a marketing mechanism.

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