From an Omani property to a sustainable resort at Six Senses Zighy Bay
Born in France and raised in Southeast Asia, Arnaud Thieblemont spent his childhood immersed in nature. Hobbies and family activities like harvesting crops, milking cows, and scuba diving brewed his passions for organic farming, marine conservation, and sustainable living practices with long-term benefits. At the end of his graduate studies, working for Six Senses Resorts, he recently told Whitewall, was the most logical choice.
Today, Thieblemont is the Sustainability Director at Six Senses Zighy Bay, a barefoot luxury property in Oman. When approaching the serene resort, tucked behind the craggy Hajar Mountains and the vast Gulf of Oman, he first asked, “How can a resort in the desert be sustainable?” Since his start in 2021, he has both continued and developed key sustainable strategies and programs to answer this question, incorporating all 17 of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals into the hotel’s daily protocols. These standards have led to energy conservation, waste and plastic elimination, visitor education, local philanthropic missions tied to the community and environment through the resort’s Sustainability Fund, and more.
After exploring the property—including its two-and-a-half-acre farm that produces nearly one ton of produce monthly during winter—and its back-of-house operations earlier this year, Whitewall heard from Thieblemont about how maintaining a sustainable resort in the desert is not only possible, but very successful internally and locally when led with inventiveness, philanthropy, and creativity.
WHITEWALL: You’ve described your role as divided by internal and external responsibilities—with internal focusing on negative impacts within operations and external focusing on positive impacts outside of the resort. What’s happening internally?
ARNAUD THIEBLEMONT: Internally last year, we had a 30 percent energy reduction compared to 2019; 70 percent of single-use plastic removed; and 36 percent of waste recycled. Last year we focused on zero waste and plastic, and this year’s focus will be climate change. We’ve also trained hosts that manage the Earth Lab—a guest-facing laboratory where we experiment transforming waste into wealth during guest activities—and this year we’re focusing heavily on training our team, equipping our hosts with the knowledge and tools to implement sustainable change within our resort. We are close to finalizing our single-use plastic journey, targeting a 90 percent elimination. We have a goal to reduce our energy consumption by 7 percent compared to last year, and it’s already looking very good. We also plan to recycle more than 40 percent of our waste generated.
More than 70 percent of all single-use plastic items have been removed. This has been a long journey, from identifying, inventorying, and removing these items. We are capable of recycling 100 percent of our food waste on-site using an industrial compost machine, as well as 100 percent of glass waste, candles, paper, soap, and landscaping. Metal and E-waste are segregated and sold to third parties to be recycled, bringing our total recycled waste to 36 percent of total waste.
WW: And externally?
AT: Externally, we create positive impacts outside of the resort. We help women entrepreneurs become financially independent. We also help children gain knowledge to be better equipped for tomorrow’s challenges and we help fishermen develop a new understanding around marine conservation. Through our Sustainability Fund, representing 0.5 percent of total revenue, we support several local initiatives to support community education in Dibba, income for Zighy villagers, women’s economic independence, animal welfare, marine life conservation, and more. This year, our focus will be around education. We’re aiming to finalize the renovation of the preschool (thanks to a guest’s generous donation), where children can enjoy a new and safe playground. We’ll also hire and train a new local teacher to teach girls in Dibba both English and sustainability topics. Musandam is the lowest-scoring region in Oman, and we believe that emancipating women will be key to successful social development of the region.
“We create positive impacts outside of the resort.”
WW: Can you share details on how the Sustainability Fund invests in the local town?
AT: All Six Senses hotels have their own Sustainability Fund; 0.5 percent of the resort revenue, 50 percent of water sales, and 100 percent of soft toy sales contribute to it. This money can only be invested locally, supporting projects that benefit people within the local community. In Zighy Bay, we focus on education, healthcare, and environment.
We hired teachers for the local schools that lacked budget. We personally go to two schools on a weekly basis to teach sustainability topics—like a plastic-free lifestyle and zero waste. We invested half a million dollars to create a new building in the local hospital to welcome a CT scan for the entire region. And we work closely with the local ministries of fishing and environment to raise awareness on sustainable fishing, organize underwater cleanups to remove ghost nets, and we just started a coral restoration project.
WW: Six Senses Zighy Bay also emphasizes a circular economy, hiring locally and providing housing on-site. How does this impact the property’s ability to be more sustainable?
AT: Taking about the Sustainable Development Goals earlier, one extremely important part is the social aspects—both of the employees and the local community. By providing work opportunities with great remuneration, excellent working conditions, quality housing, delicious food, and so on, our resort directly contributes to SDG such as number one (no poverty) or number 10 (reduced inequalities). For example, more than 30 local Omanis from the neighboring town are working in the resort. This initiative also supports the local Omani government through their Omanization Plan, and ambition to provide more jobs for the local Omanis. Hiring is important, and the training afterward also contributes to creating the next managers of tomorrow.
WW: You mentioned the resort recycles in ten categories of waste. How so?
AT: Food waste is used to feed goats and for compost. Excess compost production is donated to local farmers. Cooking oil is separated on-site and sent to suppliers for reuse. Landscaping waste is used to feed animals, for local farms around the resort, or transformed into wood chips for composting. Glass is segregated and recycled onsite, crushed to be melted for crafts during guests’ activities, or re-used in construction. Paper is separated in all offices and recycled onsite. Cardboard is separated onsite, and we’re currently planning plan to send it back to the UAE for recycling with specialized suppliers. Metal, e-waste, and hazardous waste is segregated on-site and sent to the supplier for recycling or treatment. And mixed waste is the only thing left to be sent to landfill.
WW: You’re also able to monitor the property’s waste on-site. How is this possible? Do you envision those measurements improving?
AT: Every Six Senses resort is able to track its carbon footprint on a monthly basis based on scope one and two emissions, following the science-based targets introduced by the United Nations. To date, we are the first and only company doing this. These emissions include all the energy (including electricity, petrol, gas, and charcoal), water used on-site, and waste generated. Waste is segregated daily and monitored weekly. The processing of waste, like food or glass, is done on a daily basis. The process is simple—weight and record. This job is not sexy, as it requires putting our hands straight in the garbage, but it gives us insightful data on the amount of waste we generate, which is useful later to identify areas of improvement. Our goal for now is first to reduce the waste we generate to the bare minimum, and then recycle as much of whatever is left, either internally or externally.
“Every Six Senses resort is able to track its carbon footprint.”
WW: We explored the resort’s Earth Lab, featuring an educational center that shows visitors how to transform waste. What happens here?
AT: It’s a laboratory where guests can experience fun educational activities around transforming waste into wealth. This is also the base of all our recycling activities, organized into four main categories: glass recycling, where guests crush their own bottles and melt the powder in different molds to create unique crafts or plates; making organic soap by mixing oils and condiments; recycling old used candles into new scented candles; and recycling paper into new ones. We try to innovate on a monthly basis to recycle any other items onsite so they don’t end up in landfill.
Our housekeeping team constantly finds new ways to reduce waste and recycle, such as one villa attendant creating his own vacuum bag after noticing we were throwing away paper bags. He used old fabric and a piece of wood, and now all vacuum cleaners have homemade reusable vacuum bags. Another supervisor had fun creating dolls from used linens, which are now given to guests with young children. They adore them. In the Earth Lab, we discovered that towels could be reused in different ways transforming damaged towels into cleaning cloths, and now we transform some into plant pots by dipping them in cement, crushed glass, and water. We let them dry, paint them, and voila!
WW: The onsite farm, stretching nearly five acres, produces fresh food for the resort’s restaurants. Can you tell us a bit more about what’s grown here?
AT: More than 20 varieties of fruits and vegetables are grown here. 100 percent organic and no chemicals used whatsoever for fertilizer or pesticides. On average, 800 kilograms (around 1,764 pounds) of fruits and vegetables are produced monthly, only during winter season. 300 chickens produce fresh organic eggs daily, and three cows and 22 goats produce milk that’s transformed to fresh cheese daily. All these items end up in our breakfast where guests can taste these fresh, organic, homegrown products. They also go to Sense on the Edge, our fine dining restaurant located on top of the mountain.
WW: How does the property self-sustain itself between the mountains and the sea, where fresh drinking water is scarce?
AT: Water is the best example. 100 percent of water is made on-site through our desalination plant using reverse osmosis, through a triple filtration system. The first is a natural system, with water traveling underground from the sea into a well, where it is naturally filtered through sand and stones. The second stage is thin particle filtration to remove any remaining. The last step is the famous reverse osmosis, where the minerals are separated from the water through pressure in thin filters. The result is pure demineralized drinking water. Maximum daily production is 400,000 liters per day. Once produced, this clean water is stored inside an underground tank in the mountains before coming back down to the resort. This allows us to store water for three days of operations, and comes down by gravity. In case of any power cuts, we would still have access to the drinking water. And the “gray” water is used to irrigate our 5,200 trees on property. Sludge is also recycled in the Middle East’s first reed bed, where it is transformed into compost over years.
WW: The property’s sustainability strategy incorporates all 17 of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. How so?
AT: They are deeply embedded in our guidelines and standard procedures. What makes Six Senses brand so unique from an operational perspective is that every department has its own range of sustainable standards, meaning any management position within Six Senses includes additional work. A purchasing manager for example, on top of his daily duties, must also ensure that all our suppliers adhere to our values and special projects, such as plastic-free and zero waste. He audits our suppliers, collects sustainable certifications, and works to remove plastic packaging from all products delivered to the resort.
These standards are evaluated yearly through a Sustainability Audit to ensure full compliance. A sustainability action plan is drafted yearly for every department head, to ensure that their operations run as sustainably as possible. Once 100 percent aligned with our standards, the fun continues with innovation. Sustainability is an exciting never-ending journey!
“Sustainability is an exciting never-ending journey!”
WW: What are some of the hotel’s sustainability goes for 2023?
AT: Internally, to keep focusing on energy, waste, and plastic. We are close to finalizing our single-use plastic journey and targeting 90 percent elimination. We have also a goal to reduce our energy consumption by seven percent compared to last year and are already looking very good, we also plan to recycle more than 40 percent of our waste generated. Externally, our focus for this year will be on education. As I mentioned, we are also renovating a preschool for kids aged between three and seven years old, thanks to one of our guest’s generous donations.
WW: What do you hope the impact of Six Senses Zighy Bay’s sustainable missions are on its visitors?
AT: Make them think twice about their next holiday choices. Customers have the power to change businesses. If they stop consuming a specific product, that brand must adapt or die. By choosing to travel to destinations or hotels that are not sustainable, consumers participate in and encourage such unsustainable practices. Here in Zighy Bay, we show our guests they can enjoy true luxury while minimizing their environmental impacts, and creating new positive impacts within the local community. Our ambition is also to inspire other hoteliers to take action.
“Customers have the power to change businesses.”
WW: How are you personally attempting to live a more sustainable life?
AT: My mother has always inspired my brothers and I to live more simple and sustainable lives. These values have been embedded in our personalities at a very young age. I personally do not have online shopping accounts. I do not use Instagram or Tiktok, which also requires huge amounts of energy to store all this data. I only purchase things that I need. Following a minimalist lifestyle also helps save a lot of money! I take short showers, reduced my meat consumption, especially beef, and haven’t purchased a plastic water bottle in four years. There is so much we as individuals can do. It’s only a matter of action. The most important personal decision I have taken lately is actually professional—choosing this company and this job. This is where I can have the most impact and know why I am waking up every day.