So What’s an Eco-Lodge?

by David Epstein, September 14, 2009

My colleague and I just returned from Ethiopia where we are working on LEED certification for several new buildings at the International Community School of Addis Ababa.  As part of the trip, we were fortunate to travel 4 hours south to Bishangari Ecolodge.
Bishangari is on the shores of Lake Langano and consists of 8 cabins, a dining pavilion and kitchen, and office.  All are solar powered and the kitchen uses bio-gas for cooking.  Bio-gas is created from solid human waste and food scraps mixed in a digester.  The mixture off-gasses methane that is then piped into the kitchen for cooking.  The setting is natural and remote. Getting there is part of the adventure and requires 4 wheel drive and nerves of steel — one of the bridges was a metal container!

But it was worth it.  After we parked and started the walk in, we could here the grunts of the warthogs that live among cabins.  The lush setting includes baboons, monkeys, pelicans…we even saw hippos feeding at dusk.  We walked through forest villages where life has not changed for thousands of years.
So what is an eco-lodge? Well according to The International Ecotourism Society (TIES), founded in 1990, ecotourism is “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.” An eco-lodge goes a bit further. The Nature Conservancy published Ecolodge Guidelines based on the work of Hitesh Mehta, one of the leading authorities on ecotourism.  They define an ecolodge as a lodge having minimal impact, that fits into the physical and cultural context, utilizes green technologies, involves and benefits local communities, and integrates environmental and cultural education into the visitor’s experience.

The integration of sustainability, economic benefit and education is a powerful combination. Our experience certainly brought us a deeper understanding and appreciation of a different culture and habitat.

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