Behind Paradise . . . let’s do the math

“The only paradise is paradise lost”  -Marcel Proust

Most of us remember the classic scene from the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy, the Tin Man, the Scarecrow and the Cowardly Lion are in front of the mighty and powerful Wizard when Toto, the little dog, suddenly pulls back the curtain.  To everyone’s amazement there stands a feeble old man pretending to be the mighty Wizard of Oz.  Moral of the story?  Things aren’t always what they appear to be.

This was brought home to me a few weeks ago when my family and I took a much needed vacation to a tropical paradise, otherwise known as the Maldives, a 34,000 square mile chain of 1,192 coral reef islands in the Indian Ocean. These are picture postcard, National Geographic center-fold tropical islands.  Palm trees, cloudless skies, turquoise water, colorful coral reefs with millions of fish, white sand beaches and perfect bikini weather, day and night.  You get the picture.  And the resort we stayed at, in the northern part of the chain, was perfectly designed to help bring our vision of a tropical paradise into reality.

We had a three room bungalow, complete with outdoor shower and sun deck, directly facing a private section of the beach.  And each bungalow was discreetly screened from its neighbors by dense green vegetation interspersed with flowering hibiscus and fragrant Plumeria trees. Lizards ran up and down the pathways and we could even ride bicycles to and from the large dining pavilions, or better yet have room service for a truly romantic experience. The pace was slow, but you could choose to do lots of activities (scuba diving, kayaking, fishing, tennis, snorkeling, water skiing) or next to nothing (sunbathing on the beach with a good book).  All in all, just what we needed after months of constant airplane travel, meetings, school and a cold, gray winter.

After a few days I had caught up on my sleep and my mind began functioning again in its normal pattern.  I have a peculiar habit of always thinking of ways to make things better, even if they don’t need fixing!  I recall as a young boy trying to improve the toaster so the toast would pop up higher so my Mom wouldn’t have to dig it out with a fork. The toaster never worked again.  I have gotten better at improving things.

So I started noticing that the houseboy kept leaving bottled water for us both morning and evening.  A total of about 5 bottles per person per day.  These are plastic bottles, in this case, 500ml bottles, each with a separate plastic screw cap. Then I noticed we were also served bottled water, in 1 liter plastic bottles, with our meals (for a hefty price I might add). We tended to consume 2 liters at each meal, after all it was very warm and humid.

Then I went flyfishing early one morning just before sunrise and noticed a man raking up the debris that had washed up onto the each from the night’s high tide.  In the debris were the flotsam and jetsam of our modern  consumer society, but mostly lots of bits of plastic, as well as broken coral and seaweed. Last year I wrote several blogs about the overwhelming amount of plastic trash I observed on the reef islands and coastal shores of Belize in the Caribbean and here it was again, though in a much smaller amount, thank goodness.  At least a smaller amount so far!

Let’s pull the curtain back and do a little math. I will use our stay as an example.  The three of us represent a pretty good average party size (normal range of guests in a bungalow is from 2 to 5). We stayed 9 nights. We used 5 of the 500ml plastic bottles of water per person per day and a total of six 1 liter bottles per day.  For our stay alone, we used 135 small and 54 large plastic bottles.  Now remember, these have to be transported in by boat and then the empty bottles transported off the island (I am assuming in an environmentally responsible manner). There’s a CO2 calculation here as well but let’s just focus on the plastic.

Now, our island has 43 rooms, and let’s say the hotel has a yearly occupancy rate of 75%. If we assume the average stay is 7 nights with an average of 3 people per bungalow, then this one resort uses 246,000 plastic bottles. I’d say that was conservative because I didn’t  count in the 220 staff, nor the bottles used in cooking or on the dive boats or fishing trips. So let’s be conservative and round it up to 300,000 bottles.

I just looked on the Internet and there are approximately 90 resorts in the Maldives, some of the with 160 bungalows on the island.  Take our little resort’s 300,000 and multiply it by 90 and we have a mountain of around 27 million plastic bottles used in the Maldives alone.  If you stacked them end on end, they would reach 3,835 miles high.

Do we really need that much “use-once” plastic bottles?  Isn’t there a better way?  I have to believe that a race thar can make smart bombs, iPads, Kindles that can hold 1,000s of books, and all the other amazing things we have developed can figure out an alternative to using over 27 million plastic bottles in the Maldives!

Here is one example from a hotel in the Maldives I just learned about.   I’d love to hear from my readers about other resorts which have worked hard to eliminate plastic bottles.  Let’s spread the ideas around.  I know that all those working and living in the Maldives are deeply concerned about the environment. I love these holidays and the ability to experience another part of the world less hectic and polluted.  I’d like to help them remain as pristine as possible. So let’s spread around some ideas.

My favourite Thomas Jefferson quote says it best:

If two people meet and exchange one dollar, both leave with just one dollar.  But when two people meet and exchange an idea, both leave with two ideas.

Tight Lines . .

John R. Childress

About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at or
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2 Responses to Behind Paradise . . . let’s do the math

  1. Anonymous says:

    There are actually 101 resorts now and more every year. Most resorts have many more rooms than Island Hideaway so the situation is quite bad in terms of plastic bottles let alone other waste!


  2. Anonymous says:

    There are now actually 101 resorts and most resorts have more than 50 rooms. There are more resorts being built every year. The maths then gets very interesting. The situation is not good for Earth!


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