LAGUNA BEACH, CALIF.—It was not long ago that beer and wine bottles at the 97-room Ranch at Laguna Beach left the property in the same shape in which they came—only empty and bound for an off-site recycling center. Today those same types of bottles stay at the property but are pulverized by a GL Sand Machine that turns the glass into sand that can be used to replenish the sand in bunkers on the resort’s golf course or the sand at the nearby beach. Signage on the golf course explains the story behind the new sand. According to General Manager Kurt Bjorkman, the resort is the first property in the continental United States to use a GL Sand Machine.
Bjorkman learned about the machine a couple of years ago and today employees spend about 20 hours a week pulverizing the bottles into five different grain sizes. “It will take anything about the shape of a wine bottle,” he says. “In our restaurant we serve oysters. Now we can also add oyster shells to the machine. We can use that [material] on our bocce ball courts.”
During an upcoming wedding, Bjorkman says a couple’s champagne bottles will be pulverized into sand. That sand will then be given to them in a locket.
The glass crushing machine is just one of the many sustainability initiatives in progress at the resort chosen by National Geographic as one of its Unique Lodges of the World. Every lodge in the collection was thoroughly vetted by a National Geographic sustainable tourism expert who spent time at each property, evaluated operations, and met with everyone from the general manager to the kitchen staff to ensure they met their high standards. The review included a thorough vetting based on the pillars of sustainable tourism: protection of natural heritage, protection of cultural heritage, support for local communities, and environmentally friendly practices.
“It was a very involved process and not easy,” Bjorkman says. “The application process took about two years and the sustainable tourism expert spent an entire week on the property.”
Irrigation System Uses Reclaimed Water
One of the primary sustainability initiatives at the resort is an irrigation system utilizing reclaimed water for the resort grounds and the Ben Brown’s golf course. Completed in 2015, the system is saving more than 21.2 million gallons of water annually. The plan was undertaken in tandem with the SCWD, which installed an all-new reverse-osmosis filtration system in the nearby Advanced Wastewater Treatment Facility to ensure the highest-quality recycled water for irrigation. “The water quality is incredible,” Bjorkman says.
The nine-hole golf course on property is certified by the GEO Foundation. GEO Certified is a comprehensive modern certification, developed specifically for three key areas of the industry: golf facility operations, golf development and renovation, and golf tournaments.
Bjorkman says the resort’s renovation in recent years met LEED requirements, but LEED certification was not obtained. All lighting is LED, water fixtures are low-flow, walls are well insulated and AC systems are high efficiency. Utility data is tracked using an online portal.
Largest Organic Garden in Laguna Beach
Bottles are not the only type of waste managed on property. The resort also does some composting on-site. All food and beverage outlets only offer compostable straws upon request and the property works with Waste Management on recycling initiatives.
The resort has partnered with Clean the World, which collects and recycles soap and hygiene products discarded every day by the hospitality industry. All excess toiletries and soaps are donated to this organization for distribution to impoverished people around the world.
The Ranch at Laguna Beach has collaborated with The Ecology Center of Southern California to cultivate and manage a half-acre garden that provides ingredients for the signature restaurant, Harvest. The largest organic garden in Laguna Beach, it produces seasonal fruits, vegetables and herbs.
The culinary team works with Chefs to End Hunger, which redistributes excess prepared food from food-service operations to local food agencies, ensuring it doesn’t go to waste. Participating chefs store donation kits and fill them with food; as soon as the kit is filled, they simply store it in their cooler until they receive a delivery from a participating food-service vendor. The delivery driver will collect the donation kit for distribution.
Aliso Creek Channel Maintained
Volunteers from The Ranch at Laguna Beach currently maintain a 0.75-mile stretch of the Aliso Creek Channel in Mission Viejo. Since December 2015, volunteers have removed more than 2,500 pounds of trash and debris from the channel—mainly trash (bottles, cans, plastic wrappers, paper) and large amounts of debris such as old leaves and sticks. Thanks to these efforts, this material was prevented from making its way to the Pacific Ocean.
For the resort’s Sycamore Spa, Bjorkman says, “We make sure suppliers are organically certified.” Indigenous herbs and plants—many that can be found in the resort’s canyons and Harvest Garden—are blended together to detoxify, ground and balance mind and body. The unique blend of botanical oils, marine salts, vitamin-rich organic seaweed, minerals and trace elements deliver antioxidants to protect, rejuvenate and hydrate the skin.
Glenn Hasek can be reached at email@example.com.