At Topas we believe that both the environment and local community should benefit from our business. Rather than making a token donation here, or planting a couple of trees there, we are committed to producing 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 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 have seen a positive impact from our work for the surrounding villages, as described below.
Looking after our people
We employ around 80 people, almost exclusively from local villages. We built two houses for our staff just across the road from the lodge entrance to live in whilst they are working. Here they are provided with the space and facilities to grow vegetables and cook their own food. We also provide full insurance so our staff are covered whilst they are at work and off site.
Our staff are given opportunities to progress and complete further training. They may come to us with limited education, but if they have the motivation we provide education and training to help them succeed. Each of our staff teams is led by a local employee and represented at weekly management meetings with the lodge manager with a say in how the Ecolodge is run.
Mr Hai, the head of our Service Desk, is a good example of our training programme in practice. When Mr Hai started working for us, he had had no formal education and he worked cutting the stones for the lodge from the nearby mountain. He is now fluent in English and works for us as a tour guide and manager.
Sharing our resources
We recognise that some of the resources we use to run our Ecolodge are also valuable to the local community, therefore we work to share these resources. For example, during rice planting season we share water from our reservoir with local farmers. We ensure that all our recyclable materials are distributed locally. Our football pitch is a valuable community resource, often used by local teams.
Our purchasing and sourcing decisions are given careful consideration and we buy local produce 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 and we continue to work with them on reducing their detergent use, both to benefit the environment and lower their overheads.
Caring for the environment
We keep electricity use at the lodge to a bare minimum and ask all our guests to help us with this. When we first opened, we attempted to operate entirely on solar electricity, but the inconsistent supply means we now rely on the hydropower station in the valley.
We practice sustainable waste management, ensuring all kitchen and restaurant waste is sorted and used effectively. Food leftovers are given to the local farmers to feed their livestock and 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. Furthermore, Topas Ecolodge participates in external environmental activities such as the “Clean up the World” campaign.
We are the major sponsor of the local school and supply books and writing materials. We are proud to employ local staff but recognise the effort that goes into training. New recruits normally come to us with no English and no experience in hospitality. However many have gone on to become valuable members of staff, the majority of whom stay with us for a long time – many of our employees have been here for over 10 years.
We share the knowledge and experience we have gained from operating here with other interested organisations and schools such as the United Nations International School of Hanoi. We also hope we can play a small part in educating our guests about the local environment and the communities around us.
We have a strong sense of 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 (VMM), we work with the local community and ensure they benefit. The proceeds from last year’s VMM went to providing 200kg of warm clothing to the villagers, to make winter more comfortable for them. Every year we provide support of this kind as well as the educational materials, recyclables, water and other resources mentioned above.
As a result of our work in all of these areas Topas Ecolodge has strengthened its cooperation with the local government and is now recognised by the head of authorities as an important employer of ethnic minority staff.
We see our model as sustainable for our business as well as the local community, and therefore we are expanding. Together with Topas Travel and in a partnership with a local minority family, we opened a second lodge. Topas Riverside Lodge is a smaller, rustic style lodge situated in a remote village not far from Topas Ecolodge. We offer our guests the option to experience a comfortable ‘village’ experience in combination with a stay at Topas Ecolodge. This has proved to be a popular tour both with our guests and with the host village.