ECO-AWARDS: A dose of tourism austerity

By By Nelson Mujoro
March 2011
Travel and Tourism
NAMIBIA, just like other arid countries, has ecosystems that are exceptionally sensitive to change. With the sharp rise in Namibian tourism over the past decade, it has become essential to develop resources sustainably and with due consideration to maintaining the country’s environmental integrity.

This prompted Hazel Milne to embark on a programme called Eco- Awards Namibia, which seeks to sustain the country’s eco- system and make it one of the most eco- friendly countries in southern Africa.

Eco-Awards Namibia is the only certification scheme in the country which rates tourism establishments according to their sustainable use of the environment and resources.

Countries like Australia, New Zealand, Kenya and Jamaica are at the forefront of ‘green’ tourism certification schemes and Eco-Awards Namibia uses international criteria as the basis for developing a set of criteria suitable to the country’s specific challenges.

“The main focus of the programme is to encourage and reward the sustainable use of environmental resources by tourism establishments in Namibia. Large hotels in cities, guesthouses, tiny B&B’s in small towns and community camp sites in the wilderness all stand an equal chance of winning, an award,” says Milne the programme coordinator.

Tourism stakeholders like the Hospitality Association of Namibia (HAN), The Ministry of Environment and Tourism, Tour and Safari Association of Namibia (Tasa), Namibia Nature Foundation (NNF) and others have been urging all the tourism operators to come on board and register as members of the programme in order to take the industry to greater heights.

This alliance of member bodies nominates, each, a representative to the Management Committee of the awards who donates his or her time and expertise on a voluntary basis.

The programme is run by a team of experts in tourism and trained assessors across the country with the help of Nedbank Namibia through its ‘Go Green Fund project’.

Financial resources for this non-profit making organisation come from fees paid by member establishments.

Eco-Awards Namibia looks at the development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs and aspirations according to Milne.

“We promote the selective and careful use of natural resources, recycling and reusing. In the process an establishment can improve its profitability, often with very little additional expenditure,” she says.

The main function of the programme is to facilitate and ensure the registration of establishments in Namibia and to set rules and regulations that will govern these tourism establishments in the country.

It also works to ensure that all the establishments adhere to the said rules and regulations enforcing tourism establishments to be more eco- friendly to the environment at all times.

“This is all about selling today and tomorrow according to eco-friendly principles and standards, to be selective in using our resources and to improve profitability of our ventures,” says Milne.

The programme registered 21 lodges in the first five years of operation in 2005 and currently has a total of 48 lodges country-wide subscribing to the principles of eco-friendliness.

Establishments are assessed every two years by the trained assessors according to the standard set by the programme. The assessment done on the establishments are done as per following fundamentals that make an obligation to any lodge or establishment to adhere to the laid conditions thereof.

Establishments belong to one of four categories based on the type of land on which the venue is built and are assessed and judged according to criteria specific to that category.

The category Freehold land is suitable for privately owned farms with tourist accommodation and an example is Okonjima GuestFarm. State protected land refers to National Parks, such as Namutoni in Etosha.An establishment that is situated in an area under the control of a conservancy, like Doro Nawas, would be in the category Communal land. The fourth category is Urban areas where any venue in a town or city or built-up area would fall into this land use type.

In Namibia water saving devices should always play a large role in any environmental certification scheme and Eco Awards Namibia looks at the frugal use of water. Indigenous gardens are encouraged because local plants do not require irrigation and also do not disturb the local ecosystem.

It is required from the lodges to plant local trees at their establishments and avoid growing exotic plants at the expense of the local ones.

Energy, a global concern, is another important section. Renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and water power are rewarded, as are those places without air conditioning or electrical stoves.

The assessors always look at the sewerage system of any lodge, camp or farm to ensure that it conforms to international standards of safety and environmental sensitivity, for example, the soak-away must be further than 100m from a river.

Some lodge owners keep wild animals in cages and use this as a marketing tool whereas this is actually contrary to environmentally sustainable practices, she says.

The human element is very important in the Eco Awards system and is due to become even more so when the criteria are reviewed this year.

Any community -whether a suburb, a conservancy or a family - is part of the environment and not apart from it and successful environmental practices will always take into account the humans in that area. Eco Awards look at whether an establishment trains its staff and offers them opportunities for career growth; it looks at accommodation facilities for staff and health education.

Says Milne, “the lack of recreation facilities and schools or crèches at many establishments is one of the obstacles in the tourism sector and should be tackled for the betterment of the entire industry.

“It is also required from them to have proper tourism facilities and to make sure that their operations are not disrupting the national eco-system and do not affect the neighbours in the surrounding areas.

“The sewerage systems at lodges are one of the problems most establishments are facing and assessors always will have a glance to see if it is in good standard and whether the reticulation and recycling process are taking place at the lodges,” says Milne.

Milne notes that her organisation has taken cognisance of animals at the lodges that are straying around in full view of visitors, a process seen by many lodge owners as their marketing method while in reality is a loss due to the fact that it also disrupting the eco- system and a potential threat to the visitors.

The lodges are rated against those conditions and awarded among others, with flowers as per their respective requirement. The flowers normally start from one flower to five according to the adherence and compliance thereof.

Milne became involved in the setting up of Eco-Awards Namibia in 2005 after leaving a local tourism company, CC Africa where she was an operations manager.

She has worked for Eco-Awards Namibia as a volunteer until the committee decided to take her for a permanent position as the programme coordinator this January.

To date some of the companies to have received the Eco-awards Namibia include; Andersson’s Camp, Düsternbrook Guest Farm, Taleni Etosha Village, Huab Lodge, Kunene River Lodge, Hakos Guest Farm, ,Eningu Clay House Lodge, Etendeka Mountain Camp and Desert Rhino Camp. PF