Sustainability is crucial when assessing financial, environmental and social impacts of an organisation. Some sustainable choices are cost effective, community empowering and environmentally friendly, but it is often seen as a long-term strategy.
For some it is a mindset shift to prioritise responsible long-term decisions over short term gain. Some stress that governments are the only organisations that can make real changes and normalize beneficial behaviours. Maybe both assumptions are correct. After all, we can’t do it alone.
In the meantime, innovative minds have been shifting their business models or changing their diet to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. One of our Advanced Ecotourism certified members here in Australia, understands that resilience and sustainability is an imperative for the success of his business.
Ecotourism Australia interviewed Innes Larkin, Founder and CEO of award-winning Mt Barney Lodge.
Innes and his family are actively engaged in supporting the welfare of their community and work closely with the local council.
They are involved in an array of environmental projects and think globally and act locally in the Scenic Rim.
Ecotourism Australia (EA): With a history of environmental involvement in your community you and your family have been increasing your commitment to sustainability through diverse methods. Recently, you started reducing your carbon footprint by selectively choosing your food and beverage suppliers, how do you do that?
Innes Larkin (IL): In 2015 Tracey Larkin organised a grant which then got 10-20 tourism businesses in the Scenic Rim to participate, it was facilitated by the Ethos Foundation and the winner was awarded a free Ecotourism Australia application fee for certification. Mount Barney Lodge abstained from the competition as we were the organisers and were already EA members. The grant was mostly about food.
We coined the term SLAPPPED – as if we had just slapped a meal together as a way of softly starting the conversation. It stands for Sustainable, Locally Sourced, Australian grown, owned or made, Palm oil free, Plastic free, Plant based, Environmentally friendly, Delicious.
We have since gone even further with the SLAPPPED acronym and other measures.
EA: Do you use a specific platform, or do you look for suppliers yourself (online, word of mouth, media, NGOs)?
IL: We do our own research but using SLAPPPED as the criteria. We start with local providers, ask them if they have what we’re looking for and then only get products from multinational providers when we have no local option.
EA: Local products can be expensive, is the price difference included in visitor fees or is it covered through absorption costing methods by the business?
IL: A bit of both, some products can be cheaper and sometimes they’re not. Our price has not gone up since we introduced this SLAPPPED. We know our business is working harder within the local economy and is becoming a positive by-product.
EA: In order to explain that purchasing local products is worth doing, either financially speaking or through the visitor experience, what key words would come to mind?
IL: It comes down to your business philosophy. We see our business as an extension of our personal philosophies so there is no point in finding the cheapest product if that money does not help our region. “Living local economies” is what we are aiming for.
EA: As a tourism business owner, what would simplify your task when ordering local / organic food and beverage?
IL: Our council Scenic Rim Regional Council has been proactive in promoting eat and buy local. We can learn heaps by just being engaged!
If each council was asked to include eat local spreadsheets, local initiatives and local product contacts, this could help the tourism industry to adapt easily.
EA: On your website, you showcase a permaculture garden that you and your family built during the COVID-19 lockdown, this seems like a wonderful idea, as it reuses your composted food scraps to feed soil biology and capture carbon while providing organic food for your Lodge and adds an attractive feature to your business. How long did it take to design/build and who is maintaining it?
IL: The clearing of the site, and building took us probably one full week of work with help from Tracey and Connor. The planting is Tracey’s baby and all green maintenance is also her passion, but if there is construction maintenance, that will come back to me or the outdoor team.
EA: Building soil and planting could be a carbon offsetting program for visitors, what comes to mind that could make this difficult to achieve? Costs, visitor interest, carbon footprint calculation?
IL: I think visitor interest is growing but most of these activities are being done by us because we love them, not because we want to calculate the carbon offsetting amount. I would say that there is a lot of things we do (composting, recycling of waste, plastic bag recycling, gardening) without calculating the actual carbon return but are just doing it for the positive benefits and because it’s fun!
EA: What’s next on your agenda?
IL: We are working with multiple stakeholders to improve our bushfire resilience in the Scenic Rim and researching better water reliability and availability.
EA: Any advice to other tourism business operators?
IL: Sustainability is a continuing journey, allow yourself the time and priority to just do it. Educate your guests on what you are doing as their enthusiasm will stimulate your enthusiasm. Get involved with your local community, participate in workshops and cooperate with other businesses!
Mt Barney Lodge team is committed to sustainability so Innes and his team added a ‘buy local’ policy. Some of their major initiatives include:
- Waste management: all green waste generated on a 60km round trip is carted by the business and guests receive explanations about sustainability efforts implemented by the Larkin family and their staff;
- Food: increase onsite food production through the permaculture garden; reuse green waste (compost) to improve soil organic carbon content in the property; reduce meat portions in the menu and introduce vegetarian options with locally grown produce;
- Transport: change vehicle usage habits through carpooling, central parking location and limiting vehicle usage on site.
- Bushfire resilience: after the 2019 bushfires, ‘Barney Bonds’ were released for people to be able to come back after fires. Mt Barney Lodge also contributed to and was featured in the Australian Bushfire and Climate Plan (2020).
If you would like to know more about the direct and indirect costs of food production on human health and the environment, have a look at these two articles (UN environmental programme):
- 10 things you should know about industrial farming
- Why sustainable food systems are needed in a post-COVID world
For more information visit Mt Barney Lodge’s website.
[Images: Mt Barney Lodge]