What is sustainable

Global warming?Sustainability, eco/environmentally friendliness and organic products have become very fashionable in the last decade or two. But definitions are vague and criteria for labelling yourself eco-friendly are not self evident. Just like 5 star hotels in Panama, anyone can claim to have an ecolodge. Moreover, even in those countries that do have official organizations for eco-lodging, the scientific basis is hardly sustainable at all.

According to Wikipedia, an eco-lodge must meet the following criteria:

  • Dependence on the natural environment
  • Ecological sustainability
  • Proven contribution to conservation
  • Provision of environmental training programs
  • Incorporation of cultural considerations
  • Provision of an economic return to the local community

Dependence on the natural environment
These criteria are rather vague. Everybody is dependent on the natural environment eventually, even in the biggest cities.

Ecological sustainability
Ecological sustainability is whether or not the construction methods and products used in the business can be sustained indefinitely.  Our building is made primarily of concrete and steel. Concrete is a mixture of sand, gravel and portland cement which is made out of clay and limestone, a very natural building material. Steel is made out of iron ore and carbon. About 5% of the earth’s crust consists of iron ore and production is highly sustainable. Carbon is what all lifeforms are mostly made of and is equally available. In other words, a concrete and steel building is highly sustainable and eco friendly. Consider this: had we made a building out of more natural materials such as wood or bamboo, it would need constant maintenance and last less than 50 years. The effort of replacing wood and bamboo and varnishing it would place a huge burden on the environment.

Proven contribution to conservation
Simply by opening a hotel next to a major national park we open the possibility for locals to make money working in tourism instead of living of subsistence farming or worse, slash and burn practices. Though are efforts are modest, we do make a slight contribution to nature conservation. We have also set up a large organic fruit and vegetable garden and have planted as many trees in the vicinity of our property as possible.

Provision of environmental training programs
Do we don’t agree with many common practices in Panama, such as throwing trash out the window or in the yard, cutting every tree reaching over 15 foot, clearing land for no apparent purposes etcetera. However it would be arrogant for us to think we can come to a foreign country and change the ways of the locals. Lead by example is all we can do, and hopefully the next generation will behave differently.

Incorporation of cultural consideration
There are no events or sites of cultural significance in Santa Fe, and the indigenous Bügle have shown little interest in developing tourism on their lands even though we tried.

Provision of an economic return to the local community
In any market economy, there is always a return for somebody. Through our marketing efforts we attract tourists that otherwise would not have visited Santa Fe Panama. They come here and spend several hundred dollar which flows into the local economy directly and indirectly. We buy local produce and employ several locals. the free market is always a win-win situation.

In conclusion, we can easily claim to be an ecolodge, but will we do it? To me the eco-label has been overused and carries little meaning. It is similar to Paris Hilton wearing a cross or Madonna trying to shock people. Israel and Palestine fighting, a new conspiracy theory, predictable articles from linked-in or the millionth facebook picture of your friend’s baby. Muslims being upset with something,  a new super hero movie, the US elections, well you get the picture.

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