Digital Ecopolis

When I first heard about it I couldn’t believe it; computerized cities wired to improve sustainability and quality of life.  There are actually over one hundred of these “smart cities” in planning or development worldwide.  I immediately started looking into the facts and what I found was astonishing – The future is here!  I took a very detailed look into two of the most ambitious examples, one in South Korea and the other in Spain, both of which are prototype cities that exist only to push the limits of what is possible to hopefully one day be accomplished on a larger scale.

New Songdo City – South Korea

What was once the ocean floor beneath the Yellow Sea is now one of the most expensive development projects in history.  With a $40 billion price tag over ten years, the plan was to raise a futuristic and completely sustainable city from the ocean that will be built from scratch and attract international business development to South Korea.

The project is now called – “New Songdo City” – is a small subdivision of Incheon.  It is currently one of the most technologically advanced cities in the world but is still developing.  New Songdo features the world’s tallest residential towers, a man-made lake of saltwater redirected from the ocean, and 40% vegetative “green space” accomplished by redirecting 95% of the parking into underground lots and utilizing city rooftops as gardens.

New Songdo is the only spot in the country where foreign companies can own land and is a subdivision of Incheon, South Korea, one of Asia’s busiest hubs.  An estimated 30 million or more people per year pass through the Incheon airport and one-third of the world’s population within three hour’s travel time, making this an ideal location for foreign business development in the country. 

New Songdo has taken some pretty drastic measures to maximize their environmental sustainability.  For example, the entire city is outfitted with a Pneumatic Trash Collection system.  This system, similar to a high-tech sewer system, accepts trash deposited into the receptacle and, using air pressure, transports the garbage through the city’s pipeline network into a central location eliminating the need for collection vehicles and reducing the amount of plastic bags wasted. 

The city has also implemented an intricate plumbing network with separate lines for freshwater, sewage, and greywater.  This allows the freshwater to be used for drinking, cooking, and other similar uses, while greywater is used for irrigation, industrial purposes, toilet water, and things of this nature.  The cities buildings are also equipped to recycle a large portion of greywater internally while external rainwater traps are positioned to funnel freshwater into the system.  All water that is used in both the canal and lake is treated seawater.

Transportation has been identified as one of the leading causes of pollution worldwide.  This was addressed in Songdo with a plan to minimize the need to travel by car.  The city was organized with the utilization of vertical space as well as telepresence technology to bring people closer to the things they need.  Many of Songdo’s buildings are multi-purpose structures with both residential and commercial floors so that residents simply hop into an elevator rather than a car in order to get the groceries or other retail items they need.  Both businesses and students alike benefit from the telepresence devices available in every residence, office, and school.  Students in Songdo take advantage of what is being called a “global education”.  They converse with students across the world and are able to take part in both competitive and cooperative educational experiences using the technology.  When residents have needs that require them to travel within the city, there is still no need to get behind the wheel.  Dubbed a “walking city” the area was carefully planned for travel by foot or bicycle with every part of the city located within a 15 minute walk of central park.  There are also 25km of bike trails within Songdo, strategically placed to make carbon-free commuting as convenient as possible.

Green energy and power conservation are two more things that Songdo is doing extremely well.  By using low U value windows that reduce the transfer of heat through the glass, the buildings in Songdo consume far less energy to cool them.  The buildings utilize water cooling and also make use of recycled power with absorption chillers that can convert waste heat into cooling.  The power that they do require is generated through solar power, wind power, and recycling.  No resource is overlooked. Even human waste is processed through a recycling center and co-generation plant that not only treats the waste water, but extracts energy from it to help power the city.  All traffic lights, building lights, and street lights, are all low energy LED.  The city is completely wired with sensors that identify sources of inefficient energy use and notify the user of the problem.  All buildings are also equipped with a central home network system that provides an interface for home owners/businesses to interact with all of the systems in their buildings either remotely or on site.  The giant screen gives the user a complete picture of everything going on in the space at that time from open doors/windows to electronics or appliances that are running.

Santander, Spain

A similar project has also been undertaken in Spain.  Luis Muñoz, an IT professor from the University of Cantabria, has been granted €9 million ($11.7 million) in research money, most of it from the EU, to develop a prototype smart city.

Although this city is operating on a small fraction of the budget awarded to develop New Songdo, what has been accomplished here is quite comparable.  Santander was already an established municipality before Muñoz’s project began, while New Songdo was built from scratch, so it is very hard to compare the budgets.

Santander, which has drawn interest from major technology companies like Google and Microsoft, has done a magnificent job of streamlining important data in the city, as well as utilizing many available options to conserve resources and reduce waste, such as greywater and recycling programs. 

The city spent most of the $11.7 million budget on technology.  The entire city has been wired to track a plethora of information that will keep the management in the city well-informed.  For example, all municipal vehicles are wired with sensors that transmit positional and vector data, along with environmental readings from the area around the vehicle.  This is convenient not only to people wanting to know when the bus will arrive and other practical purposes, but is also used by the city’s government and agencies to create a map of noise and EU pollution levels. 

Sensors also are present in trash receptacles to gauge when they need to be picked up so the city saves a lot of money by not having to pick up ones that are still nearly empty.  There is also the environmental benefit of those heavy trucks not driving to check on empty trash containers.

The sensor system also detects wasted sources of energy around the city doing things like dimming streetlights when no one is around and gauging when park gardens or grass need watering.

Perhaps the most exciting part of the city’s initiative for citizens is the “pulse of the city” smartphone app.  This app is designed to create a sort of functional social network for the city.  The app can be used to access all of the data collected from the sensors and make it available for anyone who wants it.  People who are waiting for the bus can track the bus in real time along its route.  If a citizen notices a pothole or other issue, it can be photographed with a smartphone and then submitted to the city though the app.  The user can also use the app to track the progress of the repair and all others that have been submitted through the app.  Needless to say this has the street repair crews moving much faster than in cities with less accountability.

The app can also be used by local merchants to sell their goods, citizens to participate in city planning, and citizens becoming sensors themselves by activating the GPS integration feature. 


Along with a good part of the rest of the world I’m quite fascinated by technology.  Researching these cities and the systems in place there has me remembering shows like “The Jetsons” and “Back to the Future 2” which depicted kids zipping around on hover-skateboards in the year 2015.  While that world still seems pretty unlikely to become reality within the next 2 years, when I see some of the gadgets and concepts coming to fruition in places like New Songdo and Santander, I wonder if Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale’s vision for the future wasn’t that far off.

By Michael Faulds

steve heinle and ian wallace meet in anchorage HAP dispenser amenities

The Amazing Alaska/Yukon Hotel Chain Operated by Holland America and Princess Cruises

In early spring last year, when Steve Heinle, Director Hotel Operations and Divisional Corporate Services for HAP Hotels contacted Dispenser Amenities to investigate switching his hotels’ amenity programs from little bottles to Dispensers, his goal was to eliminate the plastic bottle waste from the system.  It was a natural thought, to protect the magnificent natural environment that is the draw for his customers.  But that was just one benefit that the change delivered.

HAP is the acronym for Holland America-Princess and while they certainly operate their cruise business as separate competitive brands and do the same in their hotels, the group of hotels in Canada’s Yukon and America’s largest state, Alaska, do work under one set of management, located in Anchorage.  This chain of thirteen hotels operates in a very interesting way to a very specific market.  They serve the guests on the Cruise lines before or after they have had their Yukon-Alaska cruise experience, offering a delightful menu of tours and expeditions in the interior of the territories.  But, once the cruise season ends in late September, these large, bustling properties close…completely.  They even turn off the heat, so rooms could get to minus 50 degrees, and that presents an obvious challenge for liquids in Dispensers.

In early September, Ian Wallace and Heather Manness of Dispenser Amenities headed north to Alaska to visit the people of Princess Hotels and Westmark Hotels (the Holland America brand) and learn about their business, their customers, their beloved natural environment and their Dispenser Amenities program at work.  It was a most delightful working adventure, indeed.  The flight from Detroit via Seattle and Anchorage touched down in Fairbanks sixteen hours after they drove away from London, Ontario.  It was a very quick rental car drive from the airport to Fairbanks Princess Riverside Lodge, a modern-looking two-storey facility with 326 rooms, although you would never imagine that, as you approach.  It sits nestled in a picturesque location on the banks of the Chena River which runs through the city.  On arriving, Ian and Heather got their first glimpse into what is a very unique operation.  Several busloads of guests were arriving at the same moment, after a day of exploring.

That is the everyday life of the HAP hotels.  Their guests arrive either by train or coach by the hundreds, sometimes at 8:00 in the morning, sometimes at noon, other times too.  Not many hotels are tuned to accepting 200 guests at one moment at 8:00 in the morning, but these hotels take it in stride, day after day.  With special tour areas, lots of lobby room for sitting and chatting, games tables and fireplaces and huge lounges, the guests gather and enjoy each other’s company.  In Fairbanks, they may be scheduled to go dredging for gold or take a paddle-wheel riverboat ride.  Evenings might be planned for an Alaska Salmon bake and theatre.  There is non-stop action throughout the day.

The next morning, our people met David Arnott, General Manager of the property and Desiree the head of Housekeeping , to discuss the Dispenser program.  They were completely delighted with the AVIVA Dispenser operation, with the WAVE Shower Liquids and with the Guest satisfaction.  There were no complaints from any quarters and Housekeepers, mainly men, gave us a thumbs up from their side too.  These reviews were to be heard repeatedly, throughout the trip.

After checking out it was a short drive across the city to the Westmark Fairbanks, a 400 room hotel.  This property was about to say farewell to busloads of guests and literally hundreds of sets of luggage were neatly tagged and aligned ready for departure.  Quite a system.  After an enjoyable chat with Alexa Reichel, Assistant Manager Housekeeping, and a tour to see the Dispensers in action, Ian and Heather began their drive south, heading for Denali, in dense fog but it soon broke and an absolutely gorgeous two-hour trip unfolded before their eyes.  The birch trees had changed to brilliant yellow and the mix of colors of the evergreens, red ground cover and bright yellows throughout the valleys and up the mountains and along the streams and valleys was simply breathtaking.

The Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge was the next stop, a magnificent 656 room facility designed in many separate buildings along the rapids of the Nenana River.  The spectacularly appointed lobby and lounges were packed with guests ready to embark on their afternoon adventures to visit Mt. McKinley by plane or helicopter, go down the river by jet boat or raft, head to the back country by Jeep or covered wagon…the choices were endless.

Heather and Ian were welcomed by Hotel Service Manager Kristin Wells and Housekeeping Manager, George Sprenger, and again heard about the complete delight of the staff and the guests with the Dispenser Amenities program.  Completely trouble-free, easy to look after and always good looking, the Dispenser is the perfect answer for timesaving room turns when hundreds of guests get off the train to check in at the same time.  Like the others, come September 21st, this property closes until May and their approach will be to remove the Dispenser chambers and store them in the only building that is heated, the main reception area.  This facility is incredibly situated with every room enjoying an amazing view of the mountains that surround the famous Denali National Park.  Kristin recommended that they take a “Denali Detour” and drive through the park, along a quiet road that you can drive by car, 14 miles into the interior.  Stunning views were a constant and the two saw four Moose and a huge Grizzly Bear along the trip.

Another two-hour drive south took them to their second night’s Hotel, another amazing property located at the base of the 20,320 foot peaks of Mount McKinley, the Mt. McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge. Talk about the view!  It just doesn’t  get better than this!  Snow-capped peaks above spectacularly colorful slopes.  Amazing!  After a wonderful dinner of Alaska King Crab the Dispenser pair crashed into bed after the day’s long but beautiful drive.

After breakfast of delicious omelettes and Reindeer Sausage, they met with Nicole Gardner, Manager Hotel Service, and her Housekeeping management assistants Crystal and Emily.  Once again, it was apparent that the Dispenser program was a complete success.  “We love it!” was repeated over and over throughout the trip.  “It saves us so much time when we have so many turn-overs that are so fast.  It’s the perfect solution, not to mention the complete elimination of all the small bottle waste.” 

The last leg of the drive was two hours further south to Anchorage to meet with Rebecca Wike, Head of Housekeeping at the 198 room Westmark Anchorage, a property that actually stays open through the long, dark, cold winter.  Once again, all was completely positive on the Dispenser scene.

And now, to meet Steve Heinle, with whom the entire conversation started some eight months ago.  The HAP office is just two blocks from the Westmark.  It was so nice for Heather and Steve to put faces to the voices and the emails that had begun this relationship.  Steve’s people in the properties throughout the north had given him the same glowing Dispenser reports that Ian and Heather heard during their short visit to the five hotels.  “This was a very positive change,” says Steve.  “Changes don’t always work the way you hope but this one was a victory for all concerned.  We get rid of the waste but there were many added benefits that made the decision even more positive.” 

With well over two thousand rooms in the system, hundreds of thousands of small plastic bottles did not have to go to the waste stream, over the season.  Costs were reduced.  Housekeeping became more efficient and easier to co-ordinate.  The guests loved the WAVE Sensation Spa liquid products and the fact that they didn’t have to fuss with little, hard-to-read, slippery plastic bottles. 

But, at the end of the day, the environment was the big winner.  Just as Steve envisioned, his decision made a very positive impact on the spectacular natural surroundings of the Holland America Westmark and the Princess Hotels throughout the area.

After another wonderful drive along the scenic coast, Ian and Heather headed to Anchorage Airport for the red-eye flight through Chicago to Detroit.  They had collected a camera card full of beauty and enjoyed many memorable chats with customers who couldn’t be happier with what Dispenser Amenities brought to their operations.

By Ian Wallace and Michael Faulds


Three of our Iberostar customers are recognized for their sustainability achievements

Iberostar resorts are some of our most exciting, romantic, and socially conscious customers.  They have recently added seven more properties – in Jamaica and Mexico – to their list of Green Globe Award winning resorts, three of which are Dispenser Amenities customers!

Iberostar Rose Hall Suites, Iberostar Paraiso Maya, and Iberostar Paraíso Lindo, all use AVIVA Dispensers in their guest showers to eliminate disposable plastic waste from their amenity offerings.  While this might not seem like an earth-shattering move, by giving their guests an alternative to using disposable bottles for their shower liquids in their combined total of over 1200 rooms, they are preventing over half-a-million bottles and over six-hundred-thousand ounces of liquid from being sent to landfills every year!

The Iberostar has implemented many policies across all of their operations at the brand level to ensure that they are not only offering their guests the five-star service they expect, but are also keeping the well-being of the planet in mind at all times.  All operations at their resorts are geared towards sustainability in all areas ranging from energy, to water, to recycling.

For example, all hotels in the award-winning Rose Hall complex contribute to a waste-energy conversion system that generates power from the hotel’s waste.  At the Rose Hall, every aluminum can they recycle generates enough electricity to power a television for six hours!  They also separate food particles from the waste to be used feeding livestock.

What really sets Iberostar apart from other resorts who are also operating sustainably, is that Iberostar also goes out of their way to become involved in both social and environmental initiatives at the hotel and in the surrounding community.  For example the Iberostar Playa Paraiso sought out local conservation authorities and set up a Sea Turtle conservation camp on the property!  The Playa Paraiso and Iberostar Cancun Camp have helped protect a combined 163 nests and 18389 eggs.  They also support the local economy by employing 75% of their staff from the community where they are located, as well as undertaking outreach activities that positively impact the lives of people in the surrounding area.

Certainly this story would not be complete without speaking to the outstanding experience that Iberostar provides their guests.  These resorts are not just places to stay when traveling to a destination, they are the destination.  When you stay at the Rose Hall Suites, Jamaica, don’t forget to ask your concierge to draw you up one of their famous rose petal baths!  Or if Mexico is your preference, don’t miss out on a short trip over to swim with the turtles at Akumal (land of turtles) while you are staying at the Iberostar Paraiso.

Iberostar is one of the world’s leading resort brands with excellent reviews across the board from both the online review community at Tripadvisor and Travelocity, as well as the professional standards communities such as Green Globe.  At Dispenser Amenities we can’t thank Iberostar enough for again demonstrating that sustainability and ecological values have a permanent place within a 5-star location!

 By Michael Faulds

Sluggish green warriors win the fight to keep green energy truly green in Ostrander Point, Ontario

Wind energy is a rapidly developing, renewable source of power that allows people to feel comfortable using energy knowing they are not causing harm to the environment.  Wind energy along with other renewable power sources like solar power have been hailed as environmental heroes in the ongoing battle to eliminate coal power which has been responsible for millions of deaths around the world as well as many types of pollution that degrade the eco-system at disastrous levels.  

However, the fact that almost any source of power is a vast improvement over coal, does not necessarily make it environmentally friendly.  There are many variables in play when labeling something as “eco-friendly” or “green” and as with any development project there is much to be considered before building.  In the case of Gilead Power’s planned wind power facility at Ostrander Point, their proposed location for a wind farm would have destroyed the home of a very important resident – the Blanding’s Turtle.

The Blanding’s Turtle has a lifespan and maturation cycle very comparable to us, with an average lifespan of 75 years and reaches reproductive maturity in their late teens or twenties.  Unlike us, this animal is in great danger.  An abundance of predators that feed on its eggs, habitat fragmentation, and vehicle traffic, have led to these turtles being designated as endangered in Canada.  The turtle appears to have an upward curved jaw which causes it to look as if it’s always smiling.  This may be part of the reason that it makes a popular pet which has often led to the problem of people removing the turtle from the wild.

Gilead Power had planned on constructing a nine-turbine wind farm at Ostrander Point, a peninsula located about halfway between Toronto and Kingston on the coast of Lake Ontario.  The area is spectacular with glorious cliffs, fields of wild tulips, rolling sand dunes, dense forest, and beautiful beaches.  Ontario Nature was quoted as calling this “one of the worst possible places to build a wind farm”.  The area is a popular destination for birding, camping and cycling.  It is also a great location for many who choose to build retirement home there.  There are three Provincial Parks, one Wildlife Management area, and one private campground within 15 Kilometers of the proposed wind farm location.

There were several reasons filed for the wind farm application to be rejected.  Some of the concerns included migrating birds being struck and killed by the turbines, bats being killed by the turbines, and the Blanding’s Turtle being affected by the increased traffic and road construction in the area.  The court ruled that while the birds and bats would not come to any serious or irreversible harm, the Blanding Turtle would. 

However, an appeal has been filed and this case will be back before the courts sooner or later.  There are a lot of people who support the decision of the Environmental Review Tribunal and demand that the turtles get the protection that was promised to them in the original decision.  The website is set up to take donations to help fund the next court date and has raised $110K as of September 22, 2013.


By Michael Faulds

One Ocean Expeditions

Another leader in the nature-oriented cruise industry has come on board to equip their fleet with our eco-friendly dispensers.  We are very excited and proud to be in business with a company that values nature and the environment as much as we do.

Eco-Voyages to the polar caps are rapidly growing in popularity.  Antarctica is the least traversed part of the planet and because of this, there is a growing trend to explore it.  Both bold explorers and more average travelers that are not afraid of the cold weather and rugged terrain, have been turning to experts, like the staff at One Ocean Expeditions, to not only see this undiscovered country, but to understand it.

One Ocean Expeditions is named to reflect the fact that despite there being various recognized oceans around the world, they are all interconnected and the state of one, affects all of the others.  This way of thinking has also been adopted by Russia’s World Ocean program which One Ocean Expeditions has participated in.

Both vessels operated by One Ocean Expeditions were originally built for the purpose of polar research and have been used by world renowned scientists, from Russia’s Institute of Oceanography, to escort them to the Polar Regions to conduct research.  The ships have been modified to accommodate every luxury desired by the most discriminating guests, but still have all of the scientific and navigational equipment necessary to locate the elusive and exotic marine wildlife that inhabits any ocean environment. 

One Ocean is very concerned about mitigating any ecological impact that would accompany bringing tourists to some of the world’s most sensitive environmental areas.  Their aim to be unrivalled in sustainability practices within their industry has brought them into contact with us.

Both One Ocean ships – the Akademik Ioffe and the Akademik Sergey Vavilov – are now outfitted with our AVIVA Translucent Series Dispensers in a white finish.  This transformation allows both ships to replenish their shower liquids and hand soaps from a central bulk location in the ship, rather than having to store and dispose of the thousands of disposable bottles that would be required to service the patrons for the duration of the expedition.

As the cruise line industry grows and evolves, Dispenser Amenities is right there with it.  From large industry leaders like Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Carnival, and Princess Cruise Lines, to smaller more niche expedition companies like One Ocean and Quark Expeditions, Dispenser Amenities has the right products for everyone to help keep our oceans blue and plastic free.

By Michael Faulds

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