The New Necker Island
Necker Island, in the British Virgin Islands, is not only one of the most exclusive destinations in the Caribbean, it is also Sir Richard Branson's private residence and fast becoming one of the most energy-efficient islands in the world.
Words by Natasha Were. Photography courtesy of Virgin Limited Edition.
When the Great House on Necker Island, Sir Richard Branson's private island, burned down following a lightning strike in 2011, the renowned entrepreneur - in characteristic style - turned what many might have considered a tragedy into an opportunity: a chance to rebuild it bigger, better and greener.
Long before the fire, Branson, maverick businessman and committed environmentalist, had discussed the fact that the level of unchecked luxury that is associated with islands such as Necker cannot always be achieved within an entirely ecological framework. Having achieved fame and fortune through tackling the apparently impossible, however, Branson was up to the challenge.
The new Great House, which received its first guests in October 2013, in many ways echoes its predecessor - the Balinese-style, lavish décor and focus on comfort - but it also incorporates innovative, yet subtle, ecological design features. Following a seven month long design process with Boston-based architects, Kao Design Group, the team devised a plan to open up the interiors and embrace the island landscape, weave lush gardens into living spaces and provide an eco-friendly design that recaptured the home's original spirit.
Guests may well not be aware that the building, located in the same spot as the original, was meticulously positioned this time to ensure it enjoyed the full benefit of the prevailing winds, or that each oversized doorway and window serves to maximise airflow, as well as frame the stunning vistas.
The roof's large overhang creates pleasant shaded areas and helps to keep the interiors cool, but it also creates a larger surface area for rainwater catchment and solar panel installation; the rustic stone pathways and retaining walls were built with stonework salvaged from the original house, and the rich, dark hardwoods that lend the interior such an inviting atmosphere are all sustainably sourced, as is the interior ceiling woven from alang alang reeds.
Along with increased green credentials, each of the nine en-suite bedrooms is more spacious, and the terraces larger than before, the Master even has an outdoor bath and full kitchenette. The irresistible daybeds, loungers and deep-cushioned sofas are designed from sustainable giant black Balinese style bamboo, and the fabrics, decorative accents and artwork have all been impeccably selected to work with the tropical environment. Woven into this sumptuous setting, are typically-Branson, mischievous touches: the rooftop golfing tee and hot tub, for instance, and the zipline that whizzes guests from the house to the beach in mere seconds.
However, the greening of Necker does not end there. Branson has often argued that there is no excuse for Caribbean islands not to harness available renewable energy from the abundant sunshine and tropical breezes and, in February of 2014 he put his money where his mouth is: Virgin Limited Edition signed a contract with NRG Energy to power the island with a renewable energy driven micro-grid.
Having previously been 100 percent reliant on fossil fuels to meet its energy needs, the new system will generate 75 percent of the island's power from wind and solar energy. LED lighting and energy efficient pool pumps and air conditioning units are already in place and over the next few months three wind turbines will be installed along the ridge, and 2,500 photovoltaic panels will be discreetly positioned in the bush, blending into the landscape as far as possible.
"Necker Island will show the potential for state-of-the-art technologies in renewable energy," Branson explained. It stands as the 'demo island' in the Ten Island Renewable Challenge, an initiative launched by Branson that seeks to help islands reduce their dependency on fossil fuels. The systems implemented on Necker, he says, will be scalable for larger islands.
If anyone doubted Branson's commitment to sustainability and renewable energies, the lengths he has gone to create a greener Necker, should lay any speculation to rest. He has not only turned the loss of his family home to his advantage, he has also responded to the growing demand for sustainability in the world's top resorts and, in so doing, proved beyond all doubt that luxury and a low environmental impact can indeed go hand in hand.
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