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February 2024

Los Cabos Resort Sets Standard For Sustainability

QUIVIRA LOS CABOS IS RAISING THE ECOLOGY BAR BY DOING THE WORK

By Steve Eubanks

You notice the glass art slowly, like the song of a chickadee, easy to miss until you can’t. Once you see it, you only see the hand blown glass hearts, no bigger than a young girl’s palm, hanging throughout the property like midnight gifts from the ghost of Frida Kahlo, the country’s most celebrated artist. They hang from trees and rafters; they sit at attention like tiny soldiers on the counters at the golf shop and spa; they show up in centerpieces at dinner tables from the beach to the cliff sides. It doesn’t take long to conclude that there’s something more than cute rose-colored crafts going on here. It’s like these glass bottles are breadcrumbs leading you to some grander treasure. All that’s left is for a guest at Quivira Los Cabos to ask, “Hey, what’s up with these hearts?” And the full, rich story unfolds. 

The Pueblo Bonito Resorts, which include Quivira, a Jack Nicklaus designed course, along with a cadre of hotels, condos and single-family dwellings, has worked for 40 years at conserving the natural beauty of the Land’s End, the tip of the Baja Peninsula where the Pacific meets the Sea of Cortez. On the Pacific side, the continental shelf falls away so soon that humpback whales breach within feet of the shoreline. Being good stewards, resort owners long ago replaced plastic bottles with glass.

But what do you do with all that glass, tons of it? If you love nature, you do what Quivira management did and find a way to turn waste into beauty.

A local artist named Israel Battista, who runs the nearby San Miguel Blown Glass Factory, collects about two tons of empties every month. Battista’s team cleans the bottles, melts them down, and creates the blown-glass art on display, not just at places like the golf shop at Quivira, but throughout Mexico. They have become iconic symbols of Los Cabos and can be found in gift shops throughout the region.

This is an example of a resort owner living an environmental message.

Sustainability has become a big issue in the golf industry. But like veganism or net neutrality, it has, at times, become a buzzword loaded with false virtue. What are you sustaining, for example, if your electric maintenance fleet is charged from a coal-fired power plant at twice the cost of gasoline? Jobs are lost, rounds plummet and conditions suffer.

What have you sustained if the sod farm that not only supplied your grass but also was a habitat for local wildlife becomes a barren field of solar panels? The answer is simple: nothing. You’ve done more harm than good.

Americans might be surprised that one of the models for making sustainability practical comes from south of the border. But that’s what makes Quivira so interesting. The resort’s motivation isn’t winning environmental awards – although it’s gotten plenty of those, including from former Mexican president Vicente Fox – but in actually doing things that make the region better.

“When we started to develop in Los Cabos (in the late 1980s), with every new development we enhanced our commitment to the environment,” said Ernesto Coppel, the founder of Pueblo Bonito Resorts. “For example, we have our own water-treatment plant at Pueblo Bonito Sunset Beach. We also have our own power plants at the resorts.

“Sustainability is a core value at Pueblo Bonito Resorts and Quivira Los Cabos. We believe it is critical to nurture the local environment, reinvest in the community and reduce the impact of development.”

There are practical elements to environmentalism as well. When you drive to Quivira from the Los Cabos International Airport you are struck by the dichotomy of the landscape. Arid desert hillsides run at sharp angles to the sea. The land looks so much like Southern Spain that you can almost see Cortez opening his arms and saying “I’m home” when he first set foot here.

But in the draws of those dry hillsides you’ll find some of the lushest and greenest golf courses west of Augusta, Georgia. Quivira is one of those, which begs the question: How are they irrigated? 

“We have our own wastewater treatment plant and because of the topography of the city, we receive raw sewage from between 50 to 75 blocks within the city (of Cabo San Lucas) itself,” said Quivira Los Cabos director of golf Antonio Raynante. “We treat (the local waste) water for free in order to irrigate the golf course.”

It’s a win for everyone. Residents don’t have sewage fees. The city doesn’t need treatment plants or leach fields. And the resort has ample water to keep the grass green for guests.  

“We have developed a system that measures the amount of intake into the plant and we adjust the outflow accordingly,” Raynante said. “So, for example, if we don’t receive as much input into the plant as we anticipate, we have already calculated what areas of the property will receive less irrigation. It might be the (flower) beds near the roads or on the entrances to the real estate developments and then some areas of the golf course that are not in play. But all of those areas are planned out in advance. And, of course, if we take in more than usual, then we irrigate everything. But we have learned to balance all of that out.

“Our greens are the only things that we water from our (retention) lakes.” 

The type of grass helps as well, and not just with water consumption. Quivira Golf Club is covered tee to green with paspalum, which is both salt tolerant and disease resistant. It also requires a fraction of the chemicals and pesticides of more traditional turfgrasses. 

“With strong winds and the occasional hurricanes, our grass survives,” Raynante said. “But it is also as ecologically friendly as any turfgrass you can find.”

Sustainability is a whole-of-organization effort and people know when you’re faking it. Taking a private jet to the fossil-fuels-are-bad conference sends a clear signal. So does doing the right thing when nobody's looking. The owners at Quivira lean toward the latter. They train the staff on everything from recycling to the daily cleanup procedures on construction sites. And it’s noticeable. When you ride through the resort, you see gobs of additional units being built, as well as another massive hotel just below the sixth tee of the golf course. What you don’t see is the usual litter associated with that kind of construction. Materials are stored, dust is minimalized, even nails and sawdust are cleaned up more than once a day.

“Construction tends to be dirty, so we have had to educate all the contractors and workers and put in special procedures for the process of construction as well as the cleanup,” Raynante said.

Even the members have bought in. A few years ago, one of the residents who walked the beaches every morning noticed a steady decline in the number of sea turtles nesting near Quivira. In fact, the nests had dwindled down to between 15 and 20 per season. Some of that was natural migration – turtles have large territories – but a good bit was due to construction in the area. Granted, people have romantic ideas about baby turtles waddling into the waves – with seagulls and other natural predators, the average hatch looks more like the first 10 minutes of “Saving Private Ryan” – but it’s still important to maintain natural habitats. The members at Quivira did that. Soon, a group of volunteers were protecting nesting sites. Resort management and staff also got involved. Today, the area has upwards of 2,500 nests.

“We are doing everything we can to preserve the natural beauty of our area,” Raynante said. “From the turtle restoration, the glass recycling, the water treatment, the power plant, all the way to cutting back on the use of straws by more than 95%, we’re not talking about sustainability - talk is cheap - we’re doing things.”  

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