Blog : Sustainability

A prickly business

A prickly business

Ananas Anam and its ‘natural leather alternative’ Piñatex® are the brainchild and vision of ‘ethical entrepreneur’ Dr Carmen Hijosa. Concerned by the toxic impact of mass-produced leather and polluting synthetic textiles seen by Dr Carmen Hijosa during her time in the Philippines advising on the leather industry, Carmen set out on a mission to find an alternative process and product. Piñatex® – a plant-based, non-woven textile made from pineapple leaf fibre – is the result of seven years of development. It continues to evolve and develop, along with the company that produces and manufactures the textile, Ananas Anam.

For those of you who receive our monthly newsletter, you will know that Ariel and I stumbled across Piñatex® at the Grand Designs Exhibition in London earlier this year. The textile was showcased as one of Keven McCloud’s ‘Green Heroes’ – and we can completely understand why.

Piñatex® is made from what is thought of – or was formerly thought of – as a waste product of pineapple agriculture – the leaf. Farmers, therefore, benefit from a new income stream without any additional costs. There is no need for additional water, land, fertiliser, etc. Pineapple fibres are used in traditional Filipino woven garments – and this local tradition is what helped to inspire Carmen, and her vision. A lot can be learnt from the local communities – from those who have lived in harmony with and adapted to their surroundings for years and generations.

Design is not just about product.
Design is about responsibility.’ – Dr. Carmen Hijosa

This quote from the Ananas Anam CEO captures the ethos behind Piñatex®. Social and environmental responsibility is at the heart of Dr Carmen Hijosa’s vision; a vision for a more sustainable future. The company’s guiding principles centre around a high social impact with a low environmental one.

And it’s not just about sustainability. It’s also about innovation – of thinking outside the box to come up with solutions for processes, practices and behaviours that have become the status quo. It’s about sustainability through innovation.

A business or a cause?

Significantly, Piñatex® is commercially viable and at the same time supports pineapple farming communities in the Philippines. Profits and a purpose. Helpfully, in the press pack sent to us by Ananas Anam, they define social enterprise as ‘an organisation that applies commercial strategies to maximize improvement in human and environmental well-being – including social impact.’ We are no longer in a world where there are two sides of the fence, profit (i.e. business) and nonprofit – perhaps we are starting to sit together on that fence. These two worlds seem to be coming closer together.

Piñatex® is being used in a variety of ways – finding its way into our everyday life. It’s being used by a number of designers including for footwear, other fashion items, furniture as well as automobile interiors. We see this as the future. You don’t have to reject a certain lifestyle in its entirety to want to or be able to make a difference, to have a social impact. It’s something we can all be a part of, day to day.

Let’s hope that more of us and more businesses follow Dr Carmen Hijosa’s lead. Carmen we salute you. Pineapples will never be the same again!

In next week’s Wednesday blog I speak to founder of CorkYogis, Lara Sengupta, and find out what she has been up to since Dragons’ Den (see our last blog post, ‘In the pursuit of profit or social purpose‘) and what the future holds for yogis of the cork kind…

Until next time #liveslow, #livesustainably

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In the pursuit of profit or social purpose?

In the pursuit of profit or social purpose?

Wow, November already. How did that happen? Am I allowed to use the ‘C’ word yet … or should I wait until December!? Over the next few weeks, in the run up to the Christmas (yes I said it) month of December, we will be taking a look at the concept of social business. Or should I say social enterprise? Or social venture? Or social entrepreneurship? In whichever of its guises, we want to know whether a business can have a social purpose and profit making as core aims.

bíku and bíku’s business model has been inspired by social business (13 September blog post). It is an area that interests me greatly and a topic that I see becoming increasingly important in all sectors and all businesses.

The customer is always right

Businesses have seen an increase in their customers wanting more information. More information about the quality of products, where products are coming from, how the products have been made, and whether what they are buying is eco-friendly. And this isn’t just happening at the higher end of the market, it’s even an issue for the budget supermarkets. Just look Lidl’s #LidlSurprises marketing campaign as one example! It’s affecting businesses across the board.

Businesses are increasingly having to adapt their business models to meet this demand. But how many businesses give pursuing a social purpose the same weight as pursuing profits? And can you prioritise both aims and still be successful?

But what about the investor?

An episode of Dragons’ Den sparked the idea to write this November series of blogs. I watched in amazement as Lara Sengupta from Cork Yogis pitched her high-end cork yoga mats with a social purpose (the business, not the mats!). Although in agreement that Lara’s business was doing a great thing, there were doubts from the Dragons about the investment opportunity. Each Dragon insisted that the focus should be on developing a strong business (read: profits) before giving a significant amount of the revenue to the social cause. In this case – helping to create ‘futures for vulnerable communities.’ CorkYogis works with Destiny Foundation, an NGO working to end human slavery and trafficking. For every CorkYogi mat purchased, the company contributes towards a training course for one girl. Destiny Foundation provides the training courses in sewing and literacy, giving the girls employable skills.

I have to say that I was surprised by the response from the Dragons to this social enterprise model. No one could disagree that the business would give back to the community. However, this appeared to be a peripheral concern to the business moguls, who continued to focus on numbers and the financial return on investment. The Dragons even asked Lara – on a few occasions – if what she was doing was even a real business.

Social impact investing is moving into the mainstream. Hopefully this is a sign that investors are beginning to see the social purpose in and of itself as part of the return on investment; just as big a part as the financial return.

A long way to go

I feel that business is heading in the right direction. This has been driven principally by customer demand. There’s still a way to go.

Mahatma Gandhi probably said it best, ‘Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not every man’s greed.’

Until next time #liveslow, #livesustainably

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How does your garden grow?

How does your garden grow?

The humble pineapple. Well…actually, the pineapple is probably one of the least humble fruits out there! It has quite a regal ‘flare’, perched there atop its leafy coronet. I’m ashamed to say that it wasn’t until a trip to Panama last year that I found out how a pineapple grows. Can you believe that? When I saw it, I was amazed – much to the astonishment of Ariel who – growing up – saw pineapples in their natural environment on a daily basis.

In the last few blogs we’ve been writing about inspiration and looking at who inspires us. Rather than who, the question now is what inspires us?

The answer to this is simple…nature.

Inspired by nature

The bíku project is inspired by nature, through and through. From the treehouse designs to how the retreat will function as whole. It will be off grid – running on solar power and using water catchment systems. In addition, we will grow the majority of the food for the guest restaurant.

We have already been on an amazing journey with bíku, and we’re only just beginning. The project is giving us a new way of looking at and working with – and within – the world. It’s really only through an understanding of how the world – and nature – around us works that we can build anything within it – such as bíku! And the only true way to understand how the world around us works, is to notice it!!! To stop, take a breath from the craziness of modern-day living and take in your surroundings – the nature, the landscape. And this is part of our ‘living slow’ philosophy (or philoslothy!!). Read our recent blog on being philoslothical.

Once your take a closer look, you see that nature is much more than a random collection of pretty cool things. It is a fascinating, intricate, interconnected process. We want to draw from the naturally occurring systems and patterns that exist in nature, specifically in Bocas del Toro, and see which of them we can apply to the bíku retreat design.

While we may look, we don’t always see! I have looked at you in the supermarket many a time Mr Pineapple, but it was only when I got to Bocas del Toro that I saw you. Haha.

Until next time. #liveslow

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Wellness tourism: the naked truth

Wellness tourism: the naked truth

I have always assumed that any travel outside of business travel has some kind of health benefit to the traveller. We use holidays, after all, as respite and escape from the daily grind. But holidays can be stressful in themselves, and we can find it hard – even on holiday – to truly ‘switch off’. In today’s age of social media and 24-hour digital connectivity it’s not surprising that travel focused exclusively on benefiting the mind, body and soul – wellness tourism – has grown and continues to grow exponentially.

Wellness tourism is expanding 50 per cent faster than the overall tourism industry; it is set to be a $679 billion market by the end of 2017[1]. The Virtuoso Blog puts wellness tourism at 15 per cent of global travel – second only to cultural tourism. And, with wellness travellers spending 130 per cent more than the average traveller[2], the tourism industry will make sure that this trend is here to stay!

‘We shape our buildings, and afterwards, they shape us’

The tourism industry is tapping in to the wider trends of the global $3.7 trillion wellness industry. ‘Wellness architecture’ – a trend identified in the Global Wellness Summit’s, ‘2017 Wellness Trends’ report – is particularly interesting. The report describes this as ‘creating designs and using materials that improve the health and happiness of the humans who actually live and work in them’. It goes on to say that ‘hotels and wellness retreats need to be leaders in the wellness architecture revolution’, and we could not agree more!

Wellness is a key focus for us and our architects, in designing the b í k u treehouse retreat. Put simply, we want to create buildings with a soul. This means working with and not against nature to make sure that our guests feel an intimate connection with their surroundings as well as with themselves. And treehouses, for us, are childhood dreams turned in to reality; they can inspire people to dream, as we did when we were children.

The sound of silence

The 2017 Wellness Trends report identifies ‘silence’ as another wellness trend. For me, personally, silence is my escapism, it’s how I try to stay sane in a world full of noise and chaos. To me the sound of silence is the sound of nature, away from man-made noise. It’s those Sunday summer days lounging in the countryside, lying on the grass and losing yourself gazing at the clouds, hearing the breeze in the trees and birds chirping. I haven’t done that in a while! The report describes this so well, as the ‘nature of noise’.

At b í k u – the retreat will be nestled in nature, sat within primary jungle on an isolated island – surrounded by all the natural sounds that Bocas del Toro (Panama) has to offer! For us, it doesn’t get much better than that.

Breathe at b í k u

Our b í k u treehouse retreat will be built for people to take a breath! To take a breath from the humdrum of modern life – and breathe in nature, community, place and culture. We want our guests’ experience to be a unique one. We want guests to feel ‘wellness’ from start to finish, tailored to each individual – from farm-to-table dining, the silence of nature, nature walks, quiet canoeing, to surfing, sailing, yoga, meditation and more! We will offer the added wellness of mind, knowing that by just supporting b í k u and staying with us you will be benefiting the local community, as we will reinvest in social and environmental projects, locally.

Travel with a purpose, travel to be well – #liveslow and #livehappy

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Until the next time!

 

Footnotes

[1] CREST’s report, The Case for Responsible Travel: Trends & Statistics 2016

[2] The 2016 Virtuoso Luxe Report

Luxury vs. sustainability: bedfellows or paradox?

Luxury vs. sustainability: bedfellows or paradox?

In developing our b í k u treehouse retreat project we are often asked what we will offer, ‘Are you going for the eco and sustainable ‘thing’, or are you going for a high-end luxury, boutique retreat?’. We’ve always challenged this by asking why we have to choose one over the other. Can’t we offer luxury and sustainability? The question for us is, can luxury and sustainability go hand-in-hand or are they confined to being contradictory ideas?

Ethical ‘bling’?

Traditional notions of luxury might have us imagining sliding off silk sheets into a pool of pearls, and a quick spin in our sports car. It’s all glam, glitz and glorious. While eco and sustainability are associated with images of a vegan lifestyle, perhaps commune living, and wearing hessian fabrics. Now, I know these are extremes – but hopefully, point made. In their traditional guises luxury and sustainability are not symbiotic.

So what has changed? Is there a new way?

Where luxury and sustainability collide

In his 2016 article, ‘Luxury Brands Can No longer Ignore Sustainability’, published in the Harvard Business Review, Andrew Winston analyses the report, 2016 Predictions for the Luxury Industry: Sustainability and Innovation. The report identifies key pressures that are bringing luxury and sustainability closer together:

  • changing regulations
  • social pressures: from celebrity endorsements of sustainable living to the heightened expectations of companies, especially from Millennials
  • investor pressure – from those who are seeing the value in sustainable products
  • serious limitations on the earth’s natural resources

Although targeting the luxury retail industry, these pressures are equally applicable to the travel industry.

Luxury redefined

Looking at luxury defined as ‘very great comfort, especially among beautiful and expensive surroundings’, I find it easy to connect this to eco / sustainable travel. Great comfort is provided in a simple and innovative way that offers guests an intimate connection with nature and the place. There’s no doubt that the surroundings of most – if not all – eco lodges throughout the world are beautiful. And, speaking of ‘expensive’, well – nature is truly priceless. In my eyes, that’s all boxes ticked.

In my last blog I singled out a few of the retreats that are getting responsible travel ‘right’. Those same lodges – and more – are combining responsible travel with a new luxury, a natural luxury. In addition to the retreats themselves, a more recent trend, perhaps, has been the emergence of eco tour companies, booking agencies, travel agencies and hotelier ‘groups’. I recently stumbled upon a great company called Eco Companion, which is a booking engine for sustainable tours, projects and accommodation all around the world. If you get a chance, do check them out.

Another company that is – in their own words – ‘breaking new ground in eco-lux travel’ is The Cayuga Collection. This is a collection of eight sustainable luxury hotels and lodges in Costa Rica and Nicaragua. The collection redefines the symbiosis of luxury and sustainability through the concept of ‘Experience, Learn, Connect and Relax.’ We couldn’t agree more. Further support of their model is given by Lynn Cutter, Executive Vice President, National Geographic Travel who says The Cayuga Collection ‘properties are a shining example of how sustainability can be achieved with elegance and authenticity’.

A match made in eco-lux heaven

There’s a new luxury in town. It may not be glitz and it may not be glam – not in the traditional sense – but it offers more than that. The eco- or sustainable luxury of the travel world offers guests unforgettable, authentic experiences in nature and culture, the opportunity to know the true character of a place. Sticking by this traditional definition of luxury, ‘a pleasure which you do not often have the opportunity to enjoy’, eco-tourism and ‘true’ travelling has always been luxurious.

Until the next time – #slothlife

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