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Right from the beginning 'Merge with Nature' has been Pangani Ecolodge's motto. Situated on the coast of Tanzania between Pangani and Saadani National Park, the designers and managers have had very little access to an existing, reliable infrastructure - making complete self-sufficiency the only option.
In this context, even though some aspects of being eco are more difficult in the African bush than in a Western country, some parts are definitely easier. For example the 'merge with nature' design of the lodge makes it not only in keeping with the natural environment, but in harmony with it to - and it's easier to do this when you've got such an inspirational and undisturbed setting.
However, depending on sustainable solutions for energy means that projects like these require significant investment upfront. Sarah explains that one of the main sustainable features that stands out about the lodge is its dependence on solar and wind energy. Explaining and involving the guests in this fact, by allowing them control of their energy consumption through in room controls, makes the lodge both comfortable and educational.
Sarah and the General Manager run us through the sustainable features of the lodge:
Energy & Carbon
Being right on the coast and just 5 degrees south of the equator, our decision for electricity was simple – solar and wind. We are running entirely on renewable energy. Our main system (supplies for kitchen, restaurant, reception, service areas such as laundry, office) is based on a 120V system, which is fed by one 2-KW wind turbine (3phase) and 2.4kWp solar panels (20 pieces of 120Wp Ubbink). Ten batteries of each 200Ah by Ritar (RA12-200D), one inverter of 6kW by ScottPower and matching controllers complete the system.
Using energy-efficient appliances and running appliances with a high electricity need at noon time, when there is a surplus of energy income from the solar panels, are part of our energy-concept as well. Hot water for the washing machine is provided by a 120l solar water heating system by Chromagen, so the energy need for the washing machine goes down from around 3000W to not more than 1000W per wash.
Our guest units are self sufficient with hot water and electricity. Hot water is supplied by an 80l solar water heating system by Chromagen. This system usually needs one hour of sun to heat up the entire 80l, which hold enough water for a double room to provide hot water for 3 days.
Electricity is produced for each room by a 120Wp panel on the roof (Ubbink), a 200Ah battery from Ritar (RA12-200D) and a Victron Energy Phoenix 350W/12V inverter. A controller by Steca (PR3030) is placed inside each room and shows the guests the state of charge of the battery. This controller also shows guests how much energy (in Ampere) has been produced since they arrived or at that moment and how much is already used. This is a nice gadget to educate guests and involve them in the sustainable features of the hotel - the tool raises awareness of what solar can do and how much different appliances are using.
Water is pumped from the wells we have built on site, which are just 4m deep and are fed by the rain (the rainwater is trapped between the layer of the seawater and ground level). Water is scarce and proper usage obligatory. Low water pressure helps to reduce the amount of water used. Furthermore the grey water from sink and shower goes for watering the bush around the plot and the black sewage water goes through filtering in a regular septic tank. By planting trees and keeping the bush very thick on the plot, the need for water for gardening is dramatically reduced. Plants and trees are all indigenous to the area, which helps to conserve the need for artificial watering.
Education & Training
We do not provide any official training to our staff; but because we are working with them on a daily basis they are very much part of our eco agenda. We are constantly discussing with our staff sustainability topics, from the importance of trees to keep the soil wet to the amount of electricity produced by the wind turbine in a certain amount of wind and the difference it makes for a solar panel if it rained before or not. Composting and separating trash in the kitchen, collecting rubbish that is washed up on the beach and understanding the local fauna and flora are all everyday activities for our staff.
Our goal from the beginning was to support the local community - not by charity, but rather by providing job opportunities in one way or another. We have staffed the lodge and the construction work with people from local villages, rather than shipping people in from big cities. Many of the materials used for construction were also produced and gathered from the local villagers, using local materials. Produce for the kitchen is bought in the local market and fishermen bring their catch to the lodge.
We currently provide guests with 'alu flasks', which we fill up for free with filtered water (the filter is ceramic/silver based and produced in Tanzania by SAFE Water NOW). This helps us reduce the waste generated from plastic bottles.
We felt, that one really fundamental part of being an eco-lodge is that its construction is sustainable. Cement is one of the worst polluters, not only is it hardly recyclable, but also its production uses large amounts of CO2. We decided that cement will only be used where we cannot avoid it (foundations, septic tanks, fire proof buildings).
The second motif that lead us in the construction work was to use materials that are natural and locally available. The roofs are constructed from coconut leaves and sisal sticks (which is the waste of sisal production), walls are created from braided coconut leaves (the local way to do it), waste wood products such as farmed wood and wooden poles and the barks of farmed wood have all been used to build the guest units. Being located in a third-world country, building can be very creative and building permissions are flexible enough to use unconventional materials. We spent one year trying out different techniques and different materials before we landed on the right design for our buildings.
What have been the main benefits of implementing these green initiatives?
The implementation of a renewable energy electricity system definitely helped us in avoiding power outages and relying on an under-developed system. We have also found that being eco has drawn increasing numbers of people to our resort - travellers are increasingly look for sustainable initiatives.
Do you have plans to expand on green initiatives in the future?
We are exploring the options to produce biogas from the kitchen compost and use it in return for cooking. We are also trying to work out how to become more active in wildlife conservation in the area.
What would be your top 3 bits of advice to hotels looking to do the same?
If you have the option of a regular electricity-line, do not trade it for an island system, if at all, build an on-grid solar/wind/RE system. If you are going for an island system then go for a 48VDC system (plenty of good devices out there).
Be creative and try to use what you have available; this might include restoring a building instead of always creating new ones or trying to use local materials and local resources as much as possible.