Each experiential eco lodge requires a different permutation and combination of eco friendly practices and we are sharing some of our eco practices that we follow at one of our lodge with you. The objective is inspire you with ideas and technologies that you can than implement at your eco lodge.
All Ecomantra experiential eco resorts like their counterparts across the world showcase wilderness and wildlife in a completely natural setting while providing comfortable accommodations which could be as basic as canvas tents to as upscale as luxury cottages, and where preferably local cuisine is served supported by exemplary service and unique experience to very discerning travellers who has been there and done that.
We prefer two different traditional type of low impact architecture. In short season destinations we build canvas or tensile fabric tents. And in popular tourism destinations that has longer season independent cottages made of Mud bricks, timber, glass or stone masonry is also sustainable.
Experiential eco resorts, typically and on purpose are designed to be small and low impact with low to very low embodied energy used in architecture and working. One of our lodges Rivertrail Eco Camp, for instance despite being small and right on the river Kundalika has still chosen to build its own well so that we do not access river water on the fly to avoid wastage. It also chose to be a 100% vegetarian lodge so that our team avoid fishing in the river and discourage cats and crows who love protein waste to scare away the other birds and animals. Rivertrail has its own water storage, water filtration, solid waste and sewage treatment systems to increase traveller’s comfort and decrease pollution.
Your experiential eco resort must demonstrate the existence of a formalized commitment towards the preservation and enhancement of the natural environment. It must, through all operations, activities and written statements, communicate its commitment to the environment.
The mission statement of your experiential eco resorts must mentions its environmental dedication. Additionally, every eco odge has a green team headed by a member of the top management ensuring that all departments are working in consonance with the eco lodge’s mission of environmental responsibility.
The Sustainable Eco-friendly practices at all Ecomantra experiential eco resorts compromises of eight point program. You need to have your own policies depending upon your terrain and social requirements. These are
A. Sustainable Architecture and Construction
All experiential eco resorts infrastructure must “blends” into the local environment to such an extent that you should find it difficult to spot where your cottages are. The eco lodges must maintains architectural integrity with surrounding area and local styles and utilizes local time-tested natural materials for the construction of the rooms and main lodge. You need to be vigilant in energy conservation through passive low impact design and renewable sources. It is technically feasible to ensure that 95% of all materials used to build the cottages are 100%renewable natural materials and have been bought and/or manufactured locally from within 20 km of the eco lodge.
The Best Material for Classic Experiential Eco Camps in Dry Regions – Canvas
Canvas is classic. Canvas is breathable. Canvas is durable. Canvas is comfortable. Canvas is eco friendly. And most importantly Canvas is sexy.
In dry regions of low rainfall and moisture like the African savannah, and deserts of Thar in Rajasthan, India and American mid lands a simple cotton canvas is the most appropriate material that keeps the luxury guest most comfortable while protecting from sun and sand.
While in mildy wet areas that is moisture laden, a blended canvas of cotton with Polyester that is coated with breathable nano coating and treated with anti mildew will be an excellent replacement.
In India you can connect with many local canvas tent experts in the town of Jodhpur. While Exclusive Tents is one of the pioneer in Africa
The Best Material for Luxury Experiential Eco Camps in Dry or Humid Regions – Tensile Coated Fabric
In rainforest, arctic and high rainfall regions like Western ghats of India and the Himalayas I recommend that you consider the new generation highly stable coated acrylic or PVC fabric. These fabric are quite expensive with price ranging between 20 to 40$ per square feet since they use special technology that ensures that it has less than 1% contraction or expansion between minus -40 degree Celsius to +70 degree Celsius. They are also stabilised using HALS (Hindred Amine Light Stabilisers) and similar photo stabilising technologies that ensures that the powerful rays of sun do not corrode them. HALS along with this absence of expansion and contraction results in durable fabric with guaranteed useful life of atleast 20 years.
A lodge manager also loves the fact that these fabric are maintenance free and wipeable clean, which not only reduced operation cost but also ensures these look as good as new despite being 10th year in operation which ensures customer delight and high ratings. Hence these fabric are used to make airports and wide space roofs.
Some of the companies that manufactures these fabrics are Mehler of Germany, Ferrari of France and Tayo of Japan. Don’t try to skimp and save money by opting for cheaper Indian or chinese replacement since these local fabrics do not have the performance standards of top brands and will result in expensive replacement and performance issues – You dont want a dripping tent when a customer that has paid top dollar is staying in your lodge!
Using tensile architecture it is thus possible to build an eco lodge that is not only green but also movable! A movable, flat packable, light weight eco lodge is now a possible innovation, whose flexibility enables you to disrupt the present way of running hotels properties by offering an upscale lodge for the profitable luxury traveller or even in areas of very short season like Ladakh or wilderness lodges that are closed in the monsoon or breeding season. These benefits are
(i) An experiential eco resort / camp is often the only legal accommodation allowed inclose to coast, rivers and wilderness areas
A camping tent or tensile tented camp being a tent is a temporary structure with a smaller ground foot print and hence legally the only structure allowed within 500 meters of the sea, within 100 meter of the river and in the buffer areas of the wilderness areas close to wildlife reserves as per Indian forest, coastal and zoning regulation laws. Similar zoning rules exist across the world in similar wilderness and wetland areas.
(ii) An experiential eco resort / camp can be as luxurious as you want
This ofcourse doesn’t mean that these tents are raw and rustic. Using the tried and tested tensile pre fab architecture, these shelters are not only quicker to built but more luxurious and cutting edge than traditional brick and mortar structures. They also command higher tariff because of extreme comfort and great views from the room. They are also by design very low on carbon foot print and hence eco friendly.
(iii) An experiential eco resort / camp is extremely fast to build and breaks even in about half the time as compare to traditional brick and mortar structures.
A quick within 3 to 12 months establishment versus 2 to 3 years using conventional brick and mortar resorts simply means that you enjoy an additional 2 years of doing business! And by the time a conventional resort is even ready for pre-opening you are already cash positive! This allows the camp to breakeven within 5 to 6 years from date of investment versus 9 to 10 years required for a more traditional concrete structure.
(iv) The whole experiential eco resort / camp is small and movable! You can move the camp from a short season area to another short season or new tourism destination within 3 weeks.
These eco lodges are comfortable and may be actually movable! We can fold them up and take them to the next available destination if required or fold up once the lean season hits instead of devaluing the property with discounts.
To sum up we have a window to operate at higher average occupancy and create world quality accommodation in remote offbeat scenic areas of great natural beauty. This despite the season being short in offbeat and new locations due to which, quality competitive properties either doesn’t exist or cant be made because of GOI rules but where these camps are allowed.
A1. Other Exterior Architecture Materials
1. Fibre Reinforced Earth instead of Red Bricks, Hollow Cement Bricks and Reinforced Concrete.
Replace these now popular but non eco friendly material like Bricks and RCC by Fibre Reinforced Earth that behaves like a natural concrete. The most popular fibres are Coir or Straw and the most popular earth is whatever is locally available. These are extremely strong and forever material that are locally available, cheap to make, forever durable, have high thermal mass and completely non toxic.
While pre existing concrete supporting pillars may be incorporated in existing architecture, the only place where Reinforced concrete should be used is for Multi Storey RCC Frame structure and for Erosion Control, where the lodge is built on the river / mountain side and need a retaining wall of stone, bricks or concrete to prevent erosion of the top soil.
In India you can contact Navroz Mody and other expert architects at Auroville, which specialises in this method of construction. Vernacular architects inspired by Laurie Baker, Geoffrey Bawa etc. and specialty Green Architecture firms are also a way forward.
2. Timber & Bamboo – Since cutting trees (except social forestry wood) is legally banned in India, quality timber is not only expensive but also very hard to get. The only option to source good hard wood is to import it, which is never cheap, not so eco friendly and the wood requires lot of protective chemical coatings (usually toxic) since its not endemic to India.
While Ecomantra prefers to use minimal wood in both the exterior and the interiors of the lodge. Being a tropical country that has plenty of Bamboo all over, we prefers cultivated bamboo as the chosen furniture and construction material. At Ecomantra eco lodges, we have planted more Bamboos than we have used in its construction thus ensuring that we have given back to nature what we have taken from it.
Wooden deck helps maintain the natural terrain and ensures minimal landscaping, which is important for an eco lodge. If you choose to built your eco cottages between 2 to 12 feet above the ground level using a wooden deck than you can avoid cold, moisture and creepy crawlies from entering the cottage. Other advantages is that you can raise the height for a better view and hide all the plumbing and electrical beneath the deck.
The best way to source timber is from the regional saw mill and social forestry projects. If importing tropical hard wood, Malaysia and Indonesia are good sources and for Pine and Birch etc. Germany and Scandinavian countries are your most value for money sources.
3. Glass – Lately cottages with a view are built using glass since its a completely natural material, which is 100% recyclable, and which allows minimal usage of ambient light and is yet very easily cleanable using simple soap and water. Thus Glass has a long useful life (unless shattered) and very low maintenance thus reducing its cost of ownership beside making the resort maintenance easy.
Saint Gobain, Borosil, Asahi etc. are some of the top brands of construction glass that are available in India.
A2. Interior Architecture Materials
1. Bamboo and Cane instead of Timber as Furniture material – The furniture that are kept in the cottages should be made using locally available social forestry wood, or even better cane & bamboo. The use of plastic / metal can be an alternative only if wood is unavailable. Bamboo is a very very fast growing natural grass that is cut just above the root and grows back quickly again so the impact is very low compared to trunk based wood required for the main reinforcement in traditional houses.
2. Lime Plaster Flooring instead of Cement – The cement usage in the construction of Eco Lodges is always minimal and usually 100% locally found natural materials like mud bricks, cow dung and clay plaster, stone, natural mortar, sand, cultivated wood, grass and cultivated bamboo are preferably used all over. If you wish to use tile, you can opt for traditional tiles like Terracota or Minto that are very durable and made using natural materials using ancient techniques
Eco Lodges also discourages the usage of paved or concrete walkway, and alternatively prefers to use natural stone or simply rammed earth for this purpose. For floorings you can use IPC also known as Koba, an ancient lime plaster based concrete technology that has a very long shelf life and is easily repairable wherever it corrodes.
3. Red Oxide & Natural Paints instead of Solvent Paints – Cement paint containing pigment can be used for bathroom walls and that too minimally – though preferably its wise to avoid painting completely since they entail a high maintenance cost and needs a new coat every few months. If its the only way forward, red oxide natural paints can be used for both interiors and bathrooms walls or flooring. Milk based and old style natural mineral paints are now easily available as well. Be very wary when choosing so called low voc eco friendly paints and avoid such green washing products that profess to be eco friendly but are still made in extremely toxic factories using extremely toxic chemicals.
To check these eco friendly claims, you can write to the NGO toxiclinks.
4. Avoid Glazed Ceramic Tiles / Glazed Glass Windows / Carpets – Do Not Use or use Minimally. At our own eco lodges we use ceramics only in the bathroom and toilets. To replace glaze glass we prefer to use unbreakable and recyclable acrylic sheet wherever natural light is required as it has a long shelf life and is completely recyclable.
B. Energy Conservation
This requires the existence of a formalized framework to actually reduce the energy consumption of the Eco Camp. For instance, whether the Eco Lodge has been designed and constructed keeping in mind maximum energy conservation and factors like whether minimum lighting is being used.
A good eco lodge needs to highly energy efficient and can incorporate many features to ensure efficient utilization of energy. Some of these can be:
No Air-conditioning – No air-conditioning is used to save power and eliminate pollution caused by it. Instead the cottages are designed in such a way as to remain cool in summer and warm in winter. This can happens is you use thick mud construction because of its high thermal mass and retention, mud bricks take a long time to heat up so by the time the sun sets they have become warm and than they slowly release the heat during night to make the inhabitats warmer during cool nights.
DC Fans that can directly plug in to renewable energy storage can be provided for cooling, if required. Do note a ceiling fan actually increases the room temperature and its better to build cottage with a high ceiling of atleast 18 feet with ventilation that can even make fans redundant. In summer wet mats made of Vetiver (Khus) grass can be hung on the windows to considerable reduce the heat and at the same time a gentle pleasant scent of the vetiver creates a soothing environment and that classic summer ambience and memories.
Even if you have to install Air Conditioners arising out of your lodges qualifying for upscale or luxury grading, you can make the usage largely redundant by using architecture practices like High Thermal Mass i.e. mud or earthen structure that takes a long time to heat or cool resulting in a constant ambient temperature without using artificial heating or cooling.
Just remember 100 years back there was no air conditioning and yet our fore fathers lived in deserts to the Himalayas comfortably without complaining. If they can do it, you can too.
LED / Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFL) / Fluorescent Tubes – While our eco lodges being built today are al geared around LED based ambient light, our earlier eco lodges uses CFL, now the second best technology for energy conservation. Like CFL 12 years back, LED today are very expensive as of now and hence this might not always be the sole ambient light technology that an eco lodge can afford. But in the immediate future expect the LED costs to decrease drastically with increase adoption. Whats nice is that new generation LED lights that are being built are back ward compatible meaning that you can buy them off the shelf and fit them in an existing CFL socket without worrying about the cost of retrofitting.
For the interiors, CFLs, Halogens and low voltage chokes, which provide as much as light as ordinary bulbs but consume substantially less energy, have been used. For instance, a 1 watt LED will give the same lumens of light as a 10 to 16W CFL lamp, which in turn would give an equal amount of brightness as a 60 to 80W incandescent bulb using power consumption of 2.5% for LED, 25% for CFL while the ordinary bulb would have an energy consumption of 100%. Additionally, the room lights are centrally controlled and switched on only when occupied.
Thus LED actually makes tremendous amount of sense if the eco lodge is off the grid and dependent upon very expensive renewable solar or wind energy, or diesel generators for its electricity.
Diesel Generator – Eco Lodges often are in remote offbeat areas that might have inconsistent or non available grid power. Hence it becomes imperative to maintain a commercial but efficient manual crank diesel generator. In order not to exceed energy levels needed, Geyser equipment have been replaced by gobar gas based water heaters and hot water is provided on demand at fixed times.
Renewable Solar or Wind Power Plants – If you can afford it and ensure that these are carbon neutral than by all means go for it. Else wait till they become as economically viable as they are ecologically sensible. Also note that the heavy metal like cadmium or lithium ion or old fashion lead acetate and sulphuric acid batteries used to store highly energy inefficient with low energy yield based systems like solar or wind generated electricity are very expensive, have short shelf life, and most importantly are environmentally very damaging and expensive to replace.
C. Water Conservation
Water being one of the earth’s most precious resources, eco lodges needs to take special care to conserve this resource by carefully employing planned techniques enlisted below. All eco lodge Managers are expected to be well-versed with the water conservation operations of the eco lodges.
Cisterns and Flushes – Another modern water saving device installed in the eco lodges can be the Cistern which provides the guest with flushing of 7.5 liters unlike the conventional cistern that consumes 15-20 liters of water per flushing. Waterless urinals can be used in public areas – do double check the chemical system required for such urinals else this will result in an inadvertent green washing.
Soap water from Bathrooms – Soap water waste from the bath rooms are used for banana and other alkali loving plantations that are not affected by the alkali content of the waster feed. This manages waste and conserves water and gives you lots of farm fresh bananas that your guest will love in the morning breakfast.
D. Waste Management – Reduce, Reuse and Recycle
All eco lodges has a waste recycle program consisting of the 3 ‘R’ policy – which refers to reduce, reuse and recycle. The eco lodge must effectively and completely recycle and manage waste wherever generated. Proper systems for collection, recycling and disposal of these wastes in all departments of the eco lodge are a must for an eco lodge certification. Moreover, all eco lodge managers must undergo training in the basic solid and liquid waste management techniques.
The program needs to extends to all the departments, areas and functions of the eco lodges in a cost effective way. The following are a few possible instances:
Bio Digesters – Eco lodges needs to be very careful about the efficient and clean disposal of black soil i.e. toilet waste and human excreta. It is critical that they use a sustainable approach to waste, sewage, recycling and water management with on-site managed waste disposal using Bio Digesters or Root Management systems etc. depending upon terrain to convert the human and animal waste into energy to heat water. Water for the guest rooms is heated by Bio Gas power around the year and coconut shell waste heaters as back up in rainy season.
Zero Garbage – All Eco Lodges must practices a policy of ‘zero garbage’ ensuring that by transforming all organic waste and night soil (sewage from the toilets) into bio gas that is used to heat water. This is best done by the process of Gobar Gas Plant (Bio Digesters based Methanation system) even waste out of such systems are transformed into fertilizer feed. The kitchen waste is used in ‘Vermiculture’ or Rapid Organic Compound. All non-organic waste can be sold to scrap merchants.
Recycling Bins – Separate recycling bins are used for different types of garbage. In the rooms, bins with stickers are provided offering the guests the opportunity of participating in the eco lodge’s mission statement.
Zero Disposable Items – No disposable items (such as plastic cutlery and plates) are used in genuine eco lodges.
Recycle – The Eco Lodge can use 20% – 100% PC (post consumer) paper for all paper work.
Reuse- Each lodge has a policy of reusing paper that has been used only on one side or other waste material like wood chips back in the lodge at appropriate times.
Decomposable waste – In the absence of the structured toilets in some eco lodges, proper toilet locations can be demarcated at each lodge and human waste buried in soil pits. Leftover foods are carried back and reused for other trips or if perishable then they are donated at local food bank or left for the animals to consume.
Non-decomposable but combustible waste – Items like packing materials consisting of cardboard boxes and paper bags are bought back from the campsites and if this is not possible it will be burnt at the campsites.
Non-decomposable and non-combustible waste – Wastes like plastic bags, aluminum foils, glass bottles are as far as possible avoided or are carried back to the city where they are recycled, destroyed or buried in garbage dumps.
E. Light and Sound Pollution Management
Travellers travels to an eco lodge for peace where they wake up to bird calls and can hear the peace. Its imperative that an eco lodge comprehensively avoid any form of sound pollution by taking the following measures like we do at some of our lodges.
Controlling Ambient Noise – Gensets and Kitchen / Dining Noise can be controlled using insulation. Gensets can be housed in sound proof housing. Double glass window are very efficient in preventing the ambient noise from cottages and kitchen to carry.
Do not use Televisions, iPod Docks and Media Consoles – Except where the guest choose to stay for reasons of leisure alone and the walls are suitable thick to allow TV.
TV and Media systems are completely forbidden in wildlife lodges except for showcasing wildlife films in the public region or event room. All said and done, in a place of great natural beauty in the middle of nowhere, the sound of tv, however low will carry to other tents. More importantly it will disturb the local flora and fauna and an exponential drop in bird and animal sighting will be seen where ever you allow TV and other music system. More over the guest has travelled so far to enjoy the sounds of nature and not the sound of TV and with a little orientation they understand and appreciate this absence of modern contraptions.
Restricted Vehicle access – Vehicle access in and around the eco lodges are usually restricted and not allowed. Lately electric cars are a pragmatic and affordable approach to reduce both the air and sound pollution by a very big factor.
Avoid Light Pollution – Dimmers may be provided all over the lodge to enable reduction in ambient and pathway light. A downlighter shade must be used on the street lights ensuring that it doesn’t cause a visual pollution and disturb the wilderness. Sections of pathways light can be connected to motion sensors, which are now very affordable to ensure that lit up only when required. Avoiding light pollution ensures that the guest enjoys the starry nights and local wilderness remains relatively undisturbed by artificially lit up surroundings.
F. Ecotourism and Community Tourism
All Eco Lodges must sincerely believes and practices genuine Ecotourism and Community tourism. We follow sustainable practices in all areas of tourism from ecotecture to education.
Local Employment – All eco lodges hires only local people from the immediate community with an emphasis on nature education, nature workshops and community tourism practices training. A great eco lodge employs only local people for its full time staff, even in management positions. Local guides are employed on full time and/or part time basis to inform guests of local customs, local flora and fauna, local architecture, local customers and cross-cultural issues. Local guides are employed in all trips and they work hand-in-hand with other guides from outside the local area. Local cooks cook local cuisine using locally grown fruits and vegtables grown by local on local land.
Support Local Employment – All eco lodges must invest in creating a platform that supports local art sales (native art like warli paintings etc.), local tours (pottery studio, dam visits etc.) and conservation programs (Volunteer programs)
Local Cuisine – Travellers are encouraged to try local cuisine at least once in a trip. At Ecomantra eco lodges we purchase food locally for our operations only and only very few selected items are carried from urban cities within 150 km of the lodge.
Nature Awareness and Education – All eco lodges places great emphasis on educating guests, staff and locals on natural issues of that region and the world.
Community and Ecotourism Works – All eco lodges must demonstrates that ecotourism if genuinely practiced can be a profitable and successful vehicle for ensuring wilderness preservation.
Volunteer Vacations and Reforestation Program – Volunteer reforestation program utilizing guests to plant native trees as a package or part of the volunteer package they can select beside education and support programs. Afforestation drive will be initiated for public road around eco lodges.
Discounted or Sponsored Research – Invitation of research groups and scientists for forest, local economy, local flora and fauna, local customs and art study etc.
Organic and Biodegradable Products– Use of biodegradable products for guests and employees
Sponsoring Ecotourism for Underprivileged Children – All eco lodges must organize environmental education excursions for underprivileged children including orphans. For instance we began Rivertrail with an excursion for orphans from Anand Kendra.
G. Sustainable Operations
Minimum Impact – We try to ensure that there are zero or minimum negative impacts on the local environment / communities in which we operate from the guests (customers) point of view.
Eco Lodges are typically small. For instance, Rivertrail was built to be small as a 12 tents + 4 Mud and Stone Eco-Cottages while Forestrail is completely tented. Even the lodges that we manage are always built using vernacular architecture and 100% natural materials. For instance, Lotus Beach Resort is completely built using un-plastered local Chire stone (Laterite stone), an abundantly found material.
Smaller Groups – There is a limit on the maximum number of clients that is compatible with the environmental sensitivity of the area visited. Participant Group size is limited to less than 150 and often less than 50.
Participant Awareness about Sustainable Practises – Participants are sent Sustainable Eco Practises document by email or post or messenger and/or requested to attend a pre-trip orientation meeting where they are introduced to the culture and the environment of their place of visit. If this is not possible we provide a copy of this document to our guide who boards the us with group and reads the same for the benefit of the group.
Often negative impacts on the local culture and ecology caused by guests arise from the fact that they know little or nothing of the local culture or ecology. The program revolves around local culture and ecology and from the moment the guest takes a look at the lodge’s website to the moment he walks into his bungalow for the first time, he or she is already well informed about possible negative impacts (webpage info, handouts and orientation)
Guest Participation Program – This allows the guest to voluntarily participate in the environment saving programme and all eco lodges can appreciate the gesture by presenting them a Certificate of Acknowledgement. This system may includes the low hanging ‘Don’t Make up my room’ placards, which make it easy for the housekeeping personnel to serve the guest and reduce the wastage generated.
Green Purchase – As far as possible we buy in bulk, thus reducing packaging. We try to utilise reusable containers to pack food while on trips and try to make our purchases from suppliers who minimize packaging or do not use them in the first place.
Photography and Wildlife interaction – We encourage wild life photography and viewing as long as it does not disturb the flora and fauna. However, personal interaction with the wild life is discouraged.
Potted Plants – All eco lodges doesn’t use fresh cut flowers anywhere in the Eco Lodge and decorative potted plants have been used wherever required.
Stationary – All stationary used at the eco lodges are made from recycled products. Usually they are also a No newspaper zone.
Zero Pesticide – Neither pesticides nor herbicides are used including the farm and nursery.
H. Eco Lodge Managers Environmental Education
To ensure that the eco lodge Managers are environmentally aware, the Eco Lodge may take the following initiatives:
Environmental training – All eco lodge managers must undergo ‘Environment training’ to understand different eco-friendly operations of the eco lodge and how to protect the environment. The eco lodges managers are also encouraged to give ideas and suggestions to improve the eco-friendly initiatives of the eco lodges.
Regular Workshops – All eco lodge managers undergo regular classes and workshops to update their knowledge about the environmental practices of the eco lodges. The eco lodge has training modules in place for its managers at all levels to familiarize them with the eco-friendly initiatives of the eco lodge.
If you seek to know more how to go green at your eco lodge, write to us at info @ ecomantra.com and we will be happy to help
Also, if you would like to read my regular posts then please click ‘Follow’ and feel free to connect via Twitter, Facebook and Instagram