Richard Branson has always been a man with big goals. He started a billion-dollar empire from nothing, ballooned over the Pacific, and even traveled into space. But the entrepreneur is focusing on another endeavor that hits a bit closer to home: making his Virgin Limited Edition brand more sustainable.
If you’re not familiar, Virgin Limited Edition is an award-winning collection of luxury retreats and hotels worldwide. In fact, many of them are Branson’s private homes, including the famed Necker Island that Hurricane Irma destroyed in 2017. After that tragedy, the billionaire decided to make sustainability a focus for his beloved island. And he’s doing so in several ways.
Whether conserving some of the world’s endangered species or making the most of the natural resources found in the British Virgin Islands, Necker Island has countless initiatives. First, it has its own Microgrid to support its mission to eliminate fossil fuel consumption through a fully integrated off-grid solution, with a goal set to be net-zero by 2030. Guests might also spot a strip of solar panels between the Great House and the main beach area on the island, which is vital for the island to be powered entirely by renewables. Plus, three giant wind turbines were installed in June 2019 to produce 300kW of wind power.
Other highlights include the island housing 100 hens that lay around 300 eggs per week—enough to provide 50% of the eggs required. In addition, a water filter machine and reusable bottles reduced single-use plastic bottles by 100%, while the new water tank collects between 20,000 and 300,000 gallons per day of rainfall. And Necker Island’s iconic Red Dock is made from recycled plastic planks.
Of course, it’s not just the structures and operations aiming to be sustainable. Branson—an animal lover— has been working on a project to encourage the flamingo population on the island to breed, something is done in only a handful of places worldwide. There were 430 individual flamingos at the last count, 75 of which are currently sitting on eggs, so more are likely to be on their way. The Island’s specialist wildlife team also looks after seven different species of lemur, most of which are endangered.
“During the rebuild of Necker Island, we are proud to have introduced a new standard of sustainable hospitality in the British Virgin Islands,” Vanessa Neal, Vice President of Sales and Marketing, told me. “From a revived conservation program for endangered species of wildlife and the introduction of staff uniforms created from recycled ocean plastics to energy and waste measures that include installing three giant wind turbines and a large solar farm to support our goal of achieving net-zero fossil fuel consumption on the island by 2030.”
And all of this is happening at just one of the Virgin Limited Edition properties. Branson aims to take a similar approach to the seven other properties in the portfolio. “With our commitment to sustainability and community front and center, our eco-conscious practices have ensured the introduction of several programs and initiatives that extend much further than token gestures such as simply reducing plastic,” said Neal.
Other initiatives include employing 100% local Berber community at their Moroccan hotel, Kasbah Tamadot, setting up dedicated charities across the collection and building schools, and providing daily meals for children in the villages surrounding Mahali Mzuri, their tented safari camp in Kenya.
“At Virgin Limited Edition, we pride ourselves on marrying luxury travel with offering unique experiences that celebrate local culture and landscape – to create memories that our guests will remember for a lifetime,” said Neal. “Underpinning all of this, however, is our fierce commitment to honoring and protecting the locations we occupy around the world and the people who inhabit them, ensuring they continue to thrive for years to come.”