Off the Top of My HeadBy Paul Murray (The LivinginPeace Project aims to combine Art/Travel/Permaculture and Education into a Sustainable Business)
The LivinginPeace Project in Karamea at the top of the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand is striving to mitigate the environmental cost of international travel to make it a sustainable activity. Given the carbon cost of jet travel, the challenge is no small one.
The LivinginPeace Project offers accommodation to travellers from all over the world at Rongo Backpackers & Gallery and Karamea Farm Baches in the belief that international travel is the best form of self-education available, but not at the expense of the environment.
Since it was founded in 2004, the LivinginPeace Project has initiated a series of innovative ideas to tack the challenge and has made significant progress toward the goal of being a sustainable business. The first step was to purchase an 31-hectare (80-acre) property as a carbon sink. The bush block had been logged for in the 1960s and many of the largest rimu (red pine) trees were milled for timber. The removal of large trees opened up the forest canopy allowing light to penetrate and this initiated the growth of thousands of new trees.
The Karamea climate is ideal for the rapid growth of trees, there is plentiful sunshine, a high rainfall and the region has deep rich alluvial soil that makes for an excellent growing medium. The forest is regenerating very quickly and each new tree absorbs carbon dioxide, combines it with sunlight to produce wood, locking up the carbon and removing it from the atmosphere.
The forest block is a carbon sink that is utilised by the LivnginPeace Project to offset the carbon emissions produced in the service of the business side of the venture, including taking into account that many guests have travelled to Karamea––which is a remote town in a distant country––from the Northern Hemisphere. The LivinginPeace Project strives to be an environmentally responsible business, which means taking account of every aspect of the business and every environmental impact in an attempt to defray the carbon cost of the venture.
Other initiatives include a permaculture farm, which produces food locally that is then turned into freshly harvested, healthy meals for guests. This minimises the food-mile cost of feeding guests while they are staying in Karamea and presents high-quality meals to LivinginPeace Project customers at a reasonable price. The project is able to produce food at a lower economic cost as well given that there is no transport cost to producing the food, which is grown organically and fertilised with compost also made locally.
From a business perspective, this also makes sense (cents) as the food grown on the farm is value added by turning it into meals and taking it directly to the consumer and avoiding traditional wholesale/retail marketing costs. For example, a pumpkin could be sold at a farmer’s market for $5 (less transport and marketing costs), but the LivinginPeace Project uses the pumpkin to make 10 bowls of soup and sells it for $5 per bowl making $50 from the pumpkin (less cooking costs!) and presents guests with a healthy, wholesome and delicious meal for a reasonable price.
Communal meals also enhance the quality of the travel experience by encouraging people to have conversations, share experiences, engage in cross-cultural communication, discuss travel plans etc over the course of the meal. Many a great friendship has developed over dinner at the LivinginPeace Project.
The LivinginPeace Project also offers farm internships in organic food production and presents a Permaculture Design Course every year to share food-production knowledge and organic gardening techniques. Internships on the LivinginPeace Project permaculture farm enable students to apply the theoretical knowledge obtained on the course in a practical way. This provides travellers with an opportunity to learn valuable skills that can be applied to their lives on return to their respective countries of origin. Students from Germany, Canada, France, Japan, the United States and Australia have studied permaculture at the LivinginPeace Project and many of them have returned home to instigate similar projects of their own.
Another initiative is to minimise the environmental cost of operating an accommodation business. By offering every 4th night free guests are encouraged to stay longer and be travellers instead of tourists. By staying four nights in the same bed, the environmental cost of cleaning the room is significantly reduced. The use of cleaning products, labour, laundry water use, laundry drying cost, wear and tear on the laundry equipment etc is reduced by 75% when compared with a one-night stay. The LivinginPeace Project is happy to return a 25% discount to guests who stay four nights and to encourage people to stay longer. It is also a better experience for both the accommodation provider and hopefully the traveller as each gets to know the other a little and better conversations or more substance than “What’s your name?” “Where are you from?” “What do you do?” “Goodbye” interactions with people who only stay one night.
The LivinginPeace Project also offers art classes in conjunction with the project’s artist–in-residency programme. Resident artists have conducted life-drawing, wood-block printing, paper-making, felting, photography and flax-weaving courses. By offering educational opportunities, travellers are provided with a reason to stay four nights and learn new skills during their stay. The educational side of the LivinginPeace Project meshes well with the 4th Night Free policy by encouraging people to stay longer, providing an opportunity to learn new skills and express their creativity and defraying cost of their travel in the process.
The LivinginPeace Project has been a Wwoof (World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, or Willing Workers on Organic Farms (an international volunteer organisation)) host since 2005 and has hosted volunteers from all over the world during that time. Wwoofing is a great means of assisting travellers by offering them a chance to stay longer in one place and to learn new skills by helping out on the farm in return for free accommodation.
The LivinginPeace Project also offers a language exchange programme that enables students of English to practice conversing in natural situations. Helping out on the farm and speaking English is an excellent way to practice and build confidence in using the language effectively and improving comprehension. Many Japanese students have taken the opportunity to stay at the LivinginPeace project for a month to improve their English conversation ability.
Making international travel a sustainable activity is a challenge that the LivinginPeace Project has taken head on and is making significant progress toward achieving. The business has been rated as “Carbon Neutral” since 2009 in an independent audit by Christchurch-based company Carbon South and the venture will continue in its quest for sustainability in business.
Green Businesses Leading by ExampleBy Sam Marquit
As the world becomes more environmentally conscious, various industries are adopting green building techniques and sustainable practices for the greater good. Being a commercial contractor has put me in a position to see this type of progress first-hand. However, what I find really interesting is meeting the people who care enough to do this kind of work, how they are going green, and what sort of positive impact these changes are making.
Various schools across the world are adopting sustainable practices from reusing to gardening to not only improve their carbon footprint, but to also encourage civic engagement and interest in STEM subjects. The Green Ribbon Award from the U.S. Department of Education goes to schools that have eco-friendly standards. Some community centers are doing the same thing with their community members by coming together and forming groups specifically dedicated to environmental initiatives. One example of this is Green America, which has been operating since 1982.
One area where I keep seeing a lot of change is in the hotel industry and it could not have come sooner. Roughly 40,000,000 people travel to Las Vegas alone every year. With hotels everywhere in the city, the amount of waste and emissions this city must put out is overwhelming and that is only the tip of the tourism industry. Thankfully, hotels in Las Vegas and elsewhere are doing what they can to help.
In Las Vegas, the Palazzo is reusing its waste and implementing other green practices. In New York, the ink48 Hotel is modeling its entire business on green practices, though the Palazzo takes the cake as “The Most Eco-Friendly Hotel in America.” Throughout the Marriott hotel chain, visitors will soon start seeing entry cards that are made with corn by-products. The hotel chain purchased 24 million of these cards, which are biodegradable and recyclable. With that one purchase, the chain kept 66 tons of plastic out of landfills.
Thanks to these hotels and those like them, awards are being offered for environmentally friendly service. In Asia, “The Wild Asia Responsible Tourism Awards” offer awards to businesses that conserve resources, get involved in their neighborhoods and help protect animal habitats. The “People & Planet Awards” are for businesses that demonstrate eco-friendly practices.
The awards and recognition that come with going green as a business may not be enough to get more businesses on the right track. However, with some industries leading the by example and with social awareness to green causes, both may help bring about a significant increase in green business. I am happy to see businesses doing the right thing and look forward to seeing more.More from Sam Marquit here: http://fmarquitv.tumblr.com
Travel broadens the mind, but comes with a carbon footprint. Sebastian visits an eco-retreat in Goa, India and finds a place that combines simple living, upcycling and green technologies with peace and beauty.
Think Goa and long-haired hippy trance parties on the beach may well come to mind, but the stunning grounds here couldn’t take you further away from the noisy bustle of this westernised area of India. This small parcel of paradise, where a rainbow of colours, sided with handmade cob paths and wooden bridges, is the stage for various exotic birds and butterflies to carry out their dance with the surrounding flora, leaving any viewer in a very different form of trance, to that of the local raves.
Nature absolutely co-created this place. YogaMagic, a yoga retreat centre, are serious about doing sustainability properly and this marvellous plot lives up to, and surpasses every expectation in this regard. There is no eco-greenwash here.
Practising permaculture from a tourism perspective
The retreat demonstrates a host of applied permaculture principles. The architecture is a mish-mash of reclaimed Indian antiquity and more recent vernacular design. All structures, whether permanent or seasonal, fit perfectly in their surroundings both in style and in the choice of materials. Other pieces of furniture and furnishings have also been handcrafted locally or reclaimed in the nearby bazaars.
Solar showers are fed from the clean local water supply and all grey water, including urine is redirected towards banana and other exotic fruit trees. There is even a fully functioning humanure waste management system on site, reducing vehicle traffic and the irresponsible disposal of waste that so haunts other parts of Goa’s beaches.
The entire outdoor social area is built around a handmade water tower with traditional motifs and pointed windows. The warming presence of a Buddha statue evokes peace to the scene and provides a distraction from the magnificent sloping roof, layered in dried out palm leaves.
On ground level, cob contours mould different levels of seating areas, gently elevated to provide clean views over the untouched local landscape. From here, you mingle the visual feast of the surrounding landscape with the marvellous food on your plate at mealtimes. Everything here is made fresh and totally from scratch, using only the best ingredients.
Traditional Indian mixed with sustainable design
This is low-impact living at its finest. Seven genuine Rhajastani tents dot the landscape, each with a unique block painted pattern and colour scheme (one for each chakra). These are perfectly suited to the climate and prove cool in the day heat and just perfect for a good night’s sleep.
An attached dressing room with a day bed nests within the mud cobbled walls and thatched roof. During the day, these become the creative spaces for song writing, guitar sessions and reading. Then we have the Gaudi-esque outdoor bathrooms, where terracotta pots are filled daily from the local water source. One feeds the tap and the other is used for hand bathing using a jug, saving goliath amounts of water and simultaneously freeing up the above view: clusters of eagles flying just 30 metres above.
The star of the show however is the compost toilet. Perhaps a strange thing to get excited about, but unlike the semi-functional examples you might come across elsewhere, these open air composting systems prove immaculate and completely odour free, owing partly to a natural organism spray.
Organic, local, with a respect for ingredients
It is one thing to use high quality ingredients, and quite another to cook up a delectable feast, yet recurring conversations at YogaMagic generally revolve around mealtimes. Guests are frequently reluctant to eat out in the event they might miss out on another splendid meal. Lemon rice, Panneer (home-made curdled cheese) curries, cumin carrots and sweet and sour chutneys are but a taster of the constantly rotating menu.
The cooks know and appreciate each ingredient through and through, with the respect for flavours you might only see in some of London’s top restaurants. Fresh herbs, fruit and vegetables are either grown here or kept as natural as possible. Hearty vegetarian meals are phenomenally well balanced and always satisfy.
Desserts are just as mouth-watering, with a varying selection including pineapple turnover, lemon posset and ‘Middle-Eastern’ cake topped with pomegranate. As I hinted, deciding to leave for dinner outside YogaMagic can sometimes be a heartbreaking experience.
Hand-built cow dung yoga temple
Yoga here is not a compulsory part of the daily schedule, however it is near impossible to turn down a session in the aptly named ‘yoga temple’. This impressive structure is made from mud, clay and cow dung. The roof is constructed from fallen coconut trees and ‘tiled’ with rows of palm leaves to keep the worst of the weather out.
While safe from the elements, the intimate connection with nature never fades. During morning meditation, the warm air rustles through your hair and the sweet fragrance of Indian flowers settles in your nasal passages, bringing you effortlessly to a state of bliss.
The location is a different world from the usual air-conditioned yoga studio’s you might frequent back at home. Not only this, YogaMagic is also recognized as one of Goa’s best yoga retreats due to its ceaseless attempt to bring in the very best yoga teachers, while giving a wide berth to new-age yoga fads.
Every element has been taken care of. The entire retreat is impeccably clean, the staff always helpful, flowers bloom and fruit grows all around. This is living proof that sustainability can be stylish, healthy and delicious all in one. Ever wondered what permaculture-designed travel looks like? Look no further…For more information on YogaMagic eco retreat, visit www.yogamagic.net Sebastian von Holstein is currently travelling through India by train for six months, exploring this amazing sub continent as slowly as possible.