When I call Craig “Hassie” Haslam on Skype, I’m amazed how good his internet connection is. His office, shelves piled high with colourful folders and paperwork indicative of someone running a well-functioning and demanding business, is located at his Coodlie Park Farm Retreat, a 3000-acre remote farm stay on the coast of the Eyre Peninsula, miles away from the busyness of everyday life.
This coast is a place that Hassie calls his backyard, but one he shares with many other people. When he and wife Jo bought the property 20 years ago, it was “a run-down sh*$ hole,” in dire need of some TLC – today, it attracts travellers from near and far who come to the area to enjoy its tranquillity, excellent fishing and natural beauty (did someone say private beach, star-strewn sky and Instagram-worthy natural infinity pools?).
It’s a part of the country that in some ways is still untouched, and Hassie’s passion for not only sharing it but doing everything he can to protect it becomes immediately evident as we start talking.
“Eight or ten years ago it became very fashionable to offset your carbon footprint,” he explains, “[but] we never did it for that reason – we did it because we wanted to. We wanted to set a benchmark.
“I’ve always had this philosophy that you should try to leave a place better than when you found it.”
Coodlie Park Farm Retreat is, as far as Hassie is aware, Australia’s only travel business to not only be 100% carbon neutral, but offsetting all its carbon internally, on its own property. It’s an accolade he wears with pride:
“I’ve always had a vision that Coodlie Park Farm Retreat could be showcased as a model [of what’s possible] that could stimulate fresh and new ideas,” he says. “I’m really proud of what we’ve achieved.”
New ideas are something which Hassie has plenty of, and some of the property’s more quirky features are testament to this. The bucket showers, for example, are water-saving measures that involve twelve eight-litre buckets and a dual pulley system to release only a minimal amount of water for people to use for showering. It’s an idea that sprung out of necessity – as Hassie explains, the property used to run out of water every year and guests often had no understanding of what this really meant.
“A lot of people do want to do the right thing but just don’t know how. It’s up to [tourism businesses] to show them what is the right thing is. One of my favourite moments was when one of our guests – a tall, young, blonde woman from the UK – excitedly joined the campfire one evening after successfully managing to wash her hair, shave her legs and have a complete shower all from one bucket of water.
“You know you’re having a positive impact when people get involved and gain a sense of pride from learning and realising how much they can actually do to help.”
So what challenges has Hassie faced in his quest to constantly improve his business to be better for the planet? Well time, for one thing:
“I’m as busy as a centipede skipping!” Hassie exclaims. He adds that whilst travellers – backpackers and WWOOFers (Willing Workers on Organic Farms), mainly – express a desire to help with tree planting and sponsoring trees and there are opportunities to create these experiences for his visitors, the day-to-day work of running a tourism business (Hassie also runs the Nullabor Traveller and Xplore Eyre touring companies, which take guests throughout South and Western Australia) take up most of his time.
Another challenge is quantifying – one of Hassie’s dreams is for international visitors to be able to easily calculate and offset their entire trip to Australia from start to finish at his property – but he says he needs a matrix that can spit out these numbers.
“It’s not something we have, yet.”
So, with all of his touring and limited time, is there any brain space left for new ideas? Hassie says he’s glad he gets to work with reliable people who are always willing to help, and that he is definitely someone who keeps striving to learn more, try more and improve the way he runs his business.
“We already pay for green electricity and put some back into the grid. We have 50,000 gallons of tank storage on the property to collect rain, we have 10kw of solar on the property. My next plan is to create a hot water wall, using solar panels, that operates like a beer keg.”
Apart from thinking outside the box, does Hassie have any suggestions for other operators looking to get more serious about climate action and carbon neutral tourism? You may be surprised to hear that he doesn’t consider himself an environmentalist at heart, and nor does he feel qualified to offer advice. Instead, he seems humbly reflective:
“We’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way; we’ve tried different things. In retrospect, there are things I could have done differently. At the end of the day, I just think that we make choices, and if we want to make a place better than when we find it, and we make that our ethos, it’s pretty simple. The ideas will come.” He is hopeful that other businesses can be inspired by what Coodlie Park has achieved:
“Maybe they’ll ask: if they can do it out there in the middle of the sticks, why can’t we?”
For more eco-travel inspiration, check out our Green Travel Guide.