At Topas we believe that both the environment and local community should benefit from our business. That does not mean we make a token donation here, or plan a couple of trees there. We want to produce real sustainable benefits.
Sustainability has been at the front of our minds since we conceived the Ecolodge. We have worked with DANIDA (Denmark’s development cooperation, under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs) to make the lodge a showcase for sustainable tourism in remote areas.
We work closely with our local community, and we listen to what they want from us. Some are employed at the Ecolodge. Many have received education and training here, and we support the local school. We think the surrounding villages are doing better because we are here, and these are some of the reasons why:
Looking after our people
We employ about 60 people, almost exclusively from local villages. We have built two houses for our staff just across the road. They live here whilst they are working and have the space and facilities to grow vegetables and cook their own food. We also provide them with 24hour insurance, they are covered if they are working or not.
We also work to provide opportunity for our staff to progress whilst working here. They may have come to us with limited education, but if they have talent and motivation we provide the education and training to help them succeed. Each of our staff teams is led by a local employee. They are all represented at weekly management meetings with the Lodge Manager, and get a say in how the Ecolodge is run. If you’d like to know more take a look at this case study of Mr Hai, the head of our Service Desk. Without education he started cutting the stones for the lodge from the nearby mountain, now he is fluent in English, tour guide and manager.
Sharing our resources
We recognize that some of the resources we use to run our Ecolodge are also valuable to local people. So, during rice planting season we share water from our reservoir with local farmers. We ensure that all our recyclable materials are distributed locally. And our football pitch is a valuable community resource, often used by local teams.
We are also careful with our purchasing and sourcing decisions. We buy local whenever we can. Almost all of our food is bought at the local market and shops, as are our other supplies. Our menu therefore always contains fresh, seasonal vegetables and fruit. Our laundry is done by a family in Sapa. However we didn’t just contract them and leave them to it. We continue to work with on reducing their detergent use – good the environment and good for their overheads.
Caring for the Environment
We keep electricity use to a bare minimum (please help us with that whilst you stay here). In fact when we first started we tried to operate entirely on solar electricity, but the inconsistent supply means we now rely on the Hydropower station in the valley. All waste from the kitchen and restaurant is sorted and separated. Food leftovers are given to the local farmers to feed their livestock, empty water bottles, cans and boxes are given to the local people to reuse in their households. Our wastewater is treated and purified by organic filtering in septic tanks before being emitted to the surrounding soil.
We are also replanting our local area with indigenous trees and shrubs to protect local biodiversity. Topas Ecolodge also participates in external environmental activities such as “Clean up the World” campaigns
We are the major sponsor of the local school and supply books and writing materials. We are proud to employ local staff but recognize the effort that training can take. New recruits normally come to us with no English, and no experience in hospitality. However many have gone on to be valuable staff, the majority of whom stay with us for a long time (many employees have been here over 10 years).
We share the knowledge and experience we have gained from operating here with other interested organisations and schools such as United Nations International School of Hanoi. We also hope we can play a small part in educating you, our guests, about the local environment and the communities around us.
Sharing the benefits
We feel a responsibility to the wider community and have developed a close relationship with the community of Thanh Kim. When we hold major events here, such as the Vietnam Mountain Marathon, we work with the local community and make sure they benefit. The proceeds from last year went to providing 200kg of warm clothing to the villagers, to make winter more comfortable. Every year we provide support of this kind as well as the educational materials, recyclables, water and other resources mentioned above.
As result of our work in all of these areas Topas Ecolodge has strengthened its cooperation with the local government and is now recognized by the head of authorities as an important employer of minority staff.
We see our model as sustainable for our business, as well as the local community, so we are expanding. Together with Topas Travel and in a partnership with a local minority family, we have now opened a new Lodge. The “Nam Cang Riverside Lodge” is a smaller homestay style lodge situated in a remote village near Topas Ecolodge. We offer our guests the option to experience a very comfortable “homestay” style experience in combination with a stay at Topas Ecolodge. It’s proving to be a popular tour already, both with our guests and with the host village, another example of us putting sustainability into action.