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 100 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, our tour guide, 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 shows our clients around the local area.
Sharing our resources
We recognize 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 by ensuring that all our recyclable materials are distributed locally, from food waste to neighboring pigs to metal cans to be reused by local women.
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, shops or directly from the mountain farmers. Our menu therefore always contains fresh, seasonal vegetables, fruit and fish. Furthermore, chickens are raised on site in our own chicken farm as well as some herbs and vegetables are grown in our own kitchen garden behind the restaurant.
Caring for the environment
Few Ecolodges, from the most luxurious to the most basic, can claim to be 100% ‘green’. We face our own challenges from the local conditions, but we strive to operate in a sustainable way and have a positive impact on local communities through funding and education
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 constantly monitor and seek to minimize, our use of electricity without impairing the quality of your stay. The bungalows contain a minimal number of electronic devices, and we use energy efficient bulbs.
At Topas Ecolodge we try to reuse as much of our waste as possible – a task which is challenging in our remote location. In corporation with a local farmer, a recycling system has been set up to reuse as much of our waste a possible ensuring all kitchen and restaurant waste is sorted and used effectively. Food leftovers are given to the local farmers to feed their livestock and, cans and boxes are given to the local people to reuse in their households.
At Topas Ecolodge it is important that we find sustainable solutions that also benefit the local society, therefore we are proud to have these partnerships.
As Topas Ecolodge aims to recycle as much of our waste as possible we have invested in a glass crushing machine which crushes glass bottles into fine sand which can later be used for concrete in construction and maintenance. As a result of this machine Topas Ecolodge is now able to recycle glass bottles – an achievement which hasn’t been possible before due to lack of recycling facilities in our remote location.
“Planet or Plastic?”
As the amount of single-use plastic in the world’s oceans continues to grow, National Geographic has announced a new, global commitment to tackle this pressing problem. In May 2018, National Geographic launched “Planet or Plastic?”, a multiyear initiative aimed at raising awareness of this challenge and reducing the amount of single-use plastic that enters the world’s oceans.
So as a member of National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World we have recently chosen to take part in National Geographic’s worldwide campaign ‘Planet or Plastic?’ which raises awareness of global plastic consumption.
Through this we aim to reduce our single-use plastic consumption to an absolute minimum as well as keeping a minimal use of guest amenities. In order to do so we have worked closely with local suppliers to integrate sustainable purchase criteria. Educating our staff on the importance of sustainability (including avoiding single-use plastic) has also been one of our focuses throughout this campaign
Topas Ecolodge recently opened a constructed wetland to treat the wastewater from the kitchen and laundry before it enters the rice fields. Through massive sand and plant filters the wastewater is purified in a biological process which ensures the wastewater generated at Topas Ecolodge does not impact the local environment in a damaging way. By using plant and sand filtration unnatural algae growth is avoided in the local ecosystem. Furthermore, the wastewater from our bungalows is treated and purified through organic filtration systems in septic tanks.
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.