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WEB EXCLUSIVE: Costa Rica’s Olas Verdes Designs With LEED Certification in Mind

PLAYA GUIONES, COSTA RICA—For Olas Verdes, a boutique hotel here touted as the world’s first LEED-certified surf resort, sitting on the edge of a wildlife refuge and near a turtle nesting site served as the impetus for the collective green consciousness evident in the construction of the property.

“Our desire is to be the catalyst for the smaller boutique hotels to step up to the challenge of sustainability, not just in the traditional water conservation efforts, but to change that notion,” said Carl Kish, project manager, Olas Verdes. “There’s so much more to focus on in the community and the practices that you preach with management and operations.”

LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a rigorous certification program through the U.S. Green Buildings Council (USGBC) where properties are reviewed and identified as the best of the best in building strategies and practices. Achieving LEED certification is the most recognized seal of approval for green buildings in the U.S. and slowly gaining traction in Central America.

“Olas Verdes means green waves in Spanish and it’s a play on words, with green relating to sustainability,” explained Kish. “We’re one of the first crop of hotels to tackle the LEED certification in Central America. It guided how we built the hotel in the most environmentally friendly way possible, and it reduced the footprint. We wanted to retain 90% of the trees on the property and, had we not pushed for LEED certification, it would’ve been built without considering sustainability factors.

“Being the first is unique because there’s been no surf hotel that’s gone after this. We do have this surf focus, we’re also a yoga and wellness community, and the property is right by the beach, so that’s a nice bonus. In Central America, Olas Verdes is one of a handful of hotels that are LEED certified,” added Kish. “We wanted to serve as a best practice model and support local schools, tackle issues with water conservation and be a bigger part of the community as well.”

Architect and designer Donald Loria and Guanacaste Construction Builders were involved in the project. “We looked at how the predominant winds, patterns and movements of the sun were close to the equator. He designed the buildings to be oriented around the trees, which uses shade to keep the grounds cool and reduce the energy load while keeping guests confortable,” said Kish.

The five buildings, which house 17 suites, at the surf resort were designed to reflect the five different regions and culture of Costa Rica, featuring unique color palettes and authentic furnishings to highlight the Caribbean side, mountains, indigenous tribes, big green valleys and the Guanacaste. “It’s pretty diverse here from each corner of the country, and we wanted to inspire and educate people to visit these areas,” he said.

All suites are air-conditioned, offer complimentary WiFi, standard bedding and kitchen appliances, along with spaces for a living room, bedroom and bath. The design scheme features cool, beachy tones and colors to add to the relaxed, surfer vibe of the property. Sustainable touches are seen throughout, such as the restaurant deck comprised of recycled plastic and the bridges, handrails, beds and cabinetry built by local carpenters with materials sourced from lumber mills in the area.

“In Guanacaste, there’s a lot of sustainable forestry, and we did our best to source sustainable lumber, meet the farmers and know how it’s harvested and grown. Local woods are blended into the look. Anywhere we could, the furniture and decor were handmade locally,” he said.

While the property and public spaces were built with LEED compliance in mind, there are still a few steps to take before the certification is completed. “We are sending in the LEED application and will be certified later this month; we’ve already gone through the process. There are four different levels, and I believe we’re hovering between LEED Platinum and LEED Silver,” said Kish.

His advice to other builders and hotels in the area: “Challenge yourself, if you’re building new, to use local resources and culture and infuse that into the design,” he said. “Every facet of Olas Verdes exudes the culture of ‘pura vida,’ or pure life, and we could not be more excited to share this beautiful paradise with our guests.”

—Corris Little