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Sustainable tourism: ‘going green’ doesn’t just mean a splash of colour

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Green has become cool. Show me a hotel, restaurant or travel company that doesn’t have a green policy or environmental statement and I will eat my organic hat.

This is, of course, fantastic: the more places that commit to recycling or saving water, the better for us and our environment. Problems appear when ‘going green’ becomes just another marketing ploy; a reason to add 25% to the cost or attract a new audience. In these cases, it is little more than daubing the signage in grassy hues.

Glass House Ecolodge in Australia is therefore something of an anomaly. Situated in the hinterland of the Sunshine Coast, 70km north of Brisbane and surrounded by the 16 dotted peaks of the Glass House Mountains, it is a beautifully designed, stunningly sited, environmentally friendly place to stay.

The park is in the shadow of Mount Tibrogargan, the 364-metre-high monolith that is not only higher than Ayers Rock, but also 23m years older. The past and present, natural and manmade, are all welcomed and fused together to make this the resort that it is.

Back in 1982, owner Keith Murray purchased the land that has been, in previous history, used for pineapple farming, as a soldier settler park and a stop for dedicated cyclists. His vision was that someday, it could become a retreat for weary travellers.

That objective has certainly been achieved, but it is a constantly evolving, living project, all centred on the principle of ecological tourism. Murray’s mantra is also the steering principle for the global organisation the International Eco Club and defined as such:

– Minimises its own environmental impact
– Funds environmental education
– Funds projects that promote equality and reduce poverty in the local community
– Increases environmental and cultural knowledge and intercultural understanding.

It’s a tall order, reconciling all facets – nature, people, local culture and education. As the Ecolodge owner and managers, Robyn and Rick, say, this is the “ideal type of tourism”. The trouble with ideals is that they are very rarely realised.

Add to all the positive and worthy principles outlined above the fact that people want aesthetically pleasing, comfortable and relaxing surroundings when travelling, and it’s no wonder that so many in the hospitality industry settle for the label rather than the lifestyle.

The site is stunning, each curve of the path and glance around revealing something to cause a smile. The largest and most luxurious bedtime option is a 120-year-old wooden church, painstakingly rescued from its original home of Wivenhoe Pocket, a few kilometres down the road, and moved on the back of a truck to be rebuilt on site.

There are lovingly restored train carriages available, one being the dining area and kitchen where breakfast featuring locally produced honey, coffee and japonica jam can be munched upon.

I stayed in an 1880 Victorian train carriage, one of only 23 built between 1882 and 1886, that was once at risk of destruction and is now a quirky haven for holidaymakers, with original signage and sash windows. Even the bedside tables are made from timber sourced from the property.

Not just an isolated enterprise, they are keen to connect with local businesses and community, and again this is from start to finish. They used 26 local contractors and suppliers of goods during the construction phase of the Ecolodge, ensuring 92% of expenditure remained in the locality, and continue to assist with this by selling locally-grown honey, coffee, macadamia nuts and condiments – as well as local Aboriginal art, boomerangs and didgeridoos.

All around the grounds is art assembled from pieces from the local Beerwah scrapyard, forcing visitors to reconsider what waste really is. It is called ‘flestering’. I think of it as grown-ups looking at scraps like a child looks at a toilet roll – with imagination and desire to create.

There are no televisions. There is a library, board games, bush walking, bird walking and stargazing. Documents guiding residents through the different plants, 60 fruit and vegetables, trees and 80 bird species (to date) are not only available, but fascinating. Soft sounds of the breeze rustling in the trees are layered with birds tweeting. Other than that, there is silence.

The Ecolodge aims to minimise any negative environmental impacts in its business activities, not just occasionally, but on a daily basis. This involves solar hot water, water saving devices, low-energy lighting and waste recyling.

Movement sensitive lights are not only almost magical in their response to you, but they save energy. All rooms are provided with means to separate waste from recycling, and so green trees and vegetable matter is all composted for later use in gardens. In the office, both sides of the paper are used.

I often think that we have labelled certain behaviour as ‘green’ when it is actually just living sensibly, like our grandparents used to. The location means that the gardens are a thriving and abundant feast, all available for guests to pick and use.

I have some tuna and noodles from the city, and without a car, am resigned to a simple meal. Then I wander the community vegetable and herb garden and tropical orchard from which guests can help themselves when preparing a meal, picking fresh lemongrass, chilli, bay leaves and basil. Hello, beautiful and satisfying stir fry, washed down with a glass of local wine, paid for via an honesty box, and finished with a mango from a neighbouring farm (also an honesty box initiative).

It is not only what is within their own grounds that matters, but all around. They are active members, in conjunction with adjacent property owners and the nearby national park, in developing a wildlife corridor. This has resulted in the increase in numbers of reptiles and birds spotted on and near the Ecolodge property.

They have become part of a network of property owners who are actively planting the vines necessary for the ongoing survival of the Richmond Birdwing butterfly that is at risk of extinction.

Although encouraging and supporting people to get out and about and walk the region, and producing guides and tours to the bush, its beasts and its birds, they will withhold information from guests if they believe it to be potentially harmful – for example during koala breeding season.

All of these measures are barely noticeable and did not affect my luxurious lazy feeling at all – yet they are valuable to the environment. They add to, rather than detract from the ambience and experience.

This is the point. Sometimes it seems that it would be best for the environment if everyone just stayed at home, only foraged from the land, and didn’t use anything. But this is not only impractical; it is limiting.

Murray believes that everyone should have access to the natural environmental wonders of the world, in this case the beautiful Glass House Mountains. He also says that visitors can in fact improve things.

As well as relaxing and scenic, holidays offer the opportunity to see and experience something outside of our usual environment. Education and learning are an important byproduct of this, and as a tool for ensuring ecological development, education is crucial.

The national park’s mantra of “leave only footprints – take only photos” is respected, but the Ecolodge believes this is a “very neutral approach” and that visitors will always have some kind of impact upon the ecosystem of any location. Therefore, the impact may as well be positive, enhancing the area.

Its plant-a-tree initiative has seen over 1,000 trees planted by guests, enhancing the biodiversity of the area and attracting species – as has the conversion of an overgrown creek system into a wildlife corridor. In Murray’s words, “We say to guests, ‘Your choice of holiday does make a difference’.”

This places the responsibility back with the consumer. It is up to them to holiday somewhere beautiful, well-managed, relaxing, escapist and comfortable. It’s more than just a marketing tool; it’s a way of life, a partnership between the hosts, both people and physical location, and customers.

In an environment where green has  become cool and prices equally so, it’s refreshing to see a place that doesn’t just splash the colour, but actually demonstrates the claims. Connecting conservation, communities and consumers in a way that enhances experiences and the surrounding environment can only have positive results.

Francesca Baker is curious about life and enjoys writing about it. A freelance journalist, event organiser, and minor marketing whizz, she has plenty of ideas, and likes to share them. She writes about music, literature, life, travel, art, London, and other general musings, and organises events that contain at least one of the above. You can find out more at www.andsoshethinks.co.uk.

Further reading:

Thriving, livable and green, Melbourne walks the talk as a sustainable city

Life changing travel and travel changing lives

When on a responsible holiday, do as the locals do

Responsible tourism means helping communities to thrive

The Guide to Sustainable Tourism 2014

Francesca Baker is curious about life and enjoys writing about it. A freelance journalist, event organiser, and minor marketing whizz, she has plenty of ideas, and likes to share them. She writes about music, literature, life, travel, art, London, and other general musings, and organises events that contain at least one of the above. You can find out more at www.andsoshethinks.co.uk.

Environment

How Home Automation Can Help You Go Green

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home automation to go green

The holidays are an exciting, nostalgic time: the crispness in the air, the crunch of snow under your boot, the display of ornate holiday lighting up your home like a beacon to outer space, and the sound of Santa’s bell at your local Walmart.

Oh, yeah—and your enormous electric bill.

Extra lights and heating can make for some unexpected budgeting problems, and they also cause your home to emit higher levels of CO2 and other pollutants.

So, it’s not just your wallet that’s hurting—the planet is hurting as well.

You can take the usual steps to save energy and be more eco-conscious as you go about your normal winter routine (e.g., keeping cooler temperatures in the home, keeping lights off in naturally lit rooms, etc.), but these methods can often be exhausting and ultimately ineffective.

So what can you actually do to create a greener home?

Turn to tech.

Technology is making waves in conservation efforts. AI and home automation have grown in popularity over the last couple of years, not only because of their cost saving benefits but also because of their ability to improve a home’s overall energy efficiency.

Use the following guide to identify your home’s inefficiencies and find a solution to your energy woes.

Monitor Your Energy Usage

Many people don’t understand how their homes use energy, so they struggle with conservation. Start by looking at your monthly utility bills. They can show you how much energy your home typically uses and what systems cost you the most.

monitor energy usage

Licensed from Shutterstock – By Piotr Adamowicz

The usual culprits for high costs and energy waste tend to be the water heater and heating and cooling system. Other factors could also impact your home’s efficiency. Your home’s insulation, for example, could be a huge source of wasted heating and cooling—especially if the insulation hasn’t been inspected or replaced in years. You should also check your windows and doors for proper weatherproofing every year.

However, waiting for your monthly bill or checking out your home’s construction issues are time-consuming steps, and they don’t help you immediately understand and tackle the problem. Instead, opt for an easier solution. Some homeowners, for example, use a smart energy monitor such as Sense to track energy use in real time and identify energy hogs.

Use Smart Plugs

Computers, televisions, and lights still consume energy if they’re left on and unused. Computers offer easy cost savings with their built-in timers that allow the devices to use less energy—they typically turn off after a set number of minutes. Televisions sometimes provide the same benefit, although you may have to fiddle with the settings to activate this feature.

A better option—and one that thwarts both the television and the lights—is purchasing smart plugs. The average US home uses more than 900 kilowatts of electricity per month. That can really add up, especially when you realize that people are wasting more than $19 billion every year on household appliances that are always plugged in. Smart plugs like WeMo can help eliminate wasted electricity by letting you control plugged-in items from your smartphone.

Update Your Lighting

Incandescent lightbulbs can consume and waste a lot of energy—35% of CO2 emissions are generated from electric power plants. This can have serious consequences for increased global warming.

To reduce your impact on the environment, you can install more efficient lightbulbs to offset your energy usage. However, many homeowners choose smart lights, like the Philips Hue bulbs, to save money and make their homes more energy efficient.

Smart lights can be controlled from your smartphone, and many smart light options come with monthly energy reporting so you can continue to find ways to reduce your carbon footprint.

Take Control of the Thermostat

Homeowners often leave the thermostat on its default settings, but defaults often result in heating and cooling systems that run longer and harder than they need to.

In fact, almost half the average residential energy use comes from energy-demanding heating and cooling systems. As an alternative to fiddling with outdated systems, eco-conscious homeowners use smart thermostats to save at least 10% on heating and roughly 15% on cooling per year.

Change your home’s story by employing a smart thermostat such as the Nest, ecobee3, or Honeywell Lyric. Smart thermostats automatically adjust your in-home temperature by accounting for a variety of factors, including outdoor humidity and precipitation. A lot of smart thermostats will also adjust your home’s temperature depending on the time of day and whether you’re home.

Stop Wasting Water

The average American household uses about 320 gallons of water per day. About one-third of that goes to maintaining their yards. Using a smart irrigation systems to improve your water usage can save your home up to 8,800 gallons of water per year.

Smart irrigation systems use AI to sync with local weather predictions, which can be really helpful if you have a garden or fruit trees that you use your irrigation system for  water. Smart features help keep your garden and landscaping healthy by making sure you never overwater your plants or deprive them of adequate moisture.

If you’re looking to make your home greener, AI-enabled products could make the transition much easier. Has a favorite tool you use that wasn’t mentioned here? Share in the comments below.

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Environment

Working From Home And How It Reduces Emissions

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Many businesses are changing their operating model to allow their employees to work from home. Aside from the personal convenience and business benefits, working from home is also great for the environment. According to GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com, if employees with the desire to work from home and compatible jobs that allowed for this were allowed to do so only half the time, the reduction in emissions would be the equivalent of eliminating automobile emissions from the workforce of the entire state of New York. Considering the stakes here, it is vital that we understand how exactly working from home helps us go green and how this can be applied.

Reduction of automobile emissions

Statistics by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) show that the transportation sector is responsible for about 14% of the total Global Emissions of greenhouse gases, which is a very significant percentage. If employees work from home, then the need to travel to and from their workplace every other day as well as other business trips are reduced considerably. While this may not eliminate the emissions from the transport sector altogether, it reduces the percentage. As indicated in the example above, a move to work from home by more businesses and industries cuts down automobile emissions to as much as those from an entire state.

Reduction of energy production and consumption

According to Eurostat, electricity, gas, steam and air conditioning accounted for as high as 26% of the Greenhouse gas emissions from the EU in 2014. EPA stats are also close at 25% of the total emissions. This makes energy production the single largest source of emissions. Working from home eliminates the need for large office spaces, which in turn reduces the need for electricity and heating. Similarly, the need for electrical office equipment and supplies, such as printers and computers, is also greatly reduced, which reduces the emissions from energy production in offices. Additionally, most households are now adopting green methods of energy production and implementing better ways of energy usage. The use of smart energy-efficient appliances also goes a long way in reducing the energy production and consumption levels from households. This, in turn, cuts down emissions from energy production from both the home and office fronts.

Reduced need for paper

Paper is also a huge source of emissions, considering that it is a carbon-based product. EPA stats show that carbon (IV) oxide from fossil fuel and industrial processes accounts for 65% of the total greenhouse gas emissions. Working from home is usually an internet-based operation, which means less paper and more cloud-based services. When everything is communicated electronically, the need for office paper is reduced considerably. Moreover, the cutting down of trees for the sake of paper production reduces. All these outcomes help reduce the emissions and individual carbon footprints.

Effective recycling

While businesses make an effort to recycle it is not as effective as homeowners. Consider everything from the water you drink to office supplies and equipment. While working from home, you have greater control over your environment. This means that you can easily implement proper recycling procedures. However, at the office, that control over your personal space and environment is taken away and the effectiveness of recycling techniques is reduced. Working from home is, therefore, a great way to go green and increase the adoption of proper recycling.

Takeaway

Even though the statistics are in favor of working from home to reduce emissions, note that this is dependent on the reduction of emissions from home. If the households are not green, then the emissions are not reduced in the least. For instance, if instead of installing a VPN in the router to keep the home office safe, an employee buys a standalone server and air gaps it, the energy consumption is not reduced but increased. Therefore, it is necessary that employees working from home go green if there is to be any hope of using this method of operation to cut down on the emissions.

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