Many dive operators are interested in setting up conservation initiatives and becoming more sustainable as an operation overall. But what does it take to become a sustainable operation and where can you begin this journey?
To get some insights, we spoke to Petra Schmiedl, General Manager of Lembeh Resort in Lembeh Strait, Indonesia. Petra was hoping to make her resort more sustainable but just didn’t know where to start – until she attended one of The Reef-World Foundation’s Sustainability Events at ADEX. Together with members and partners of the UN Environment’s Green Fins initiative, companies and dive operators were invited to share their challenges, successes and learnings when it came to becoming more eco-friendly.
For Petra, this kick started the beginning of Lembeh Resort’s sustainability journey. Here, she tells us their story.
What inspired you to set up your conservation initiatives?
I always wanted to change our resort to become a sustainable operation. I particularly remember one marketing meeting where we were discussing what we chould be post on social media with regards to being eco-friendly and everything we came up with were things we had been implementing for a long time already. So, we started looking into how we could move forward and become even better but our enthusiasm didn’t change the fact we were limited not only in resources but also knowledge. I found a few things online on what others are doing but never dared to approach them and ask them how to do things. Also, finding local, eco-friendly suppliers and products was a big challenge - just finding a supplier for glass straws in Indonesia was very difficult but we really did not wanted to import them because we understand in being sustainable we must empower local economy.
Six months later, Chloe from The Reef-World Foundation invited me to attend the charity’s very first Sustainable Diving Think Tank at ADEX. This event was an eye opener for me. There were so many people facing the same problems as me and, on the other hand, many who had already made changes and were not shy in sharing their knowledge and experience. I know it might sound like a small thing but this event changed everything. I got information on networks which exist in Indonesia, such as IWP, where people exchange knowledge and news on a daily basis.
This is really how it all started. Just being able to join a network and exchange knowledge. I really don’t know whether we could have accomplished all we have without the spark that first Think Tank lit up.
Can you tell us a little about your Foundation and its initiatives?
The Lembeh Foundation, founded in 2018, is an independent registered Indonesian charitable organisation working alongside local communities on Lembeh Island to provide environmental and economically sustainable solutions to waste management. The core aims of the Lembeh Foundation are to reduce plastic waste through recycling and repurposing; and increasing the sustainability of natural resources by creating non-evasive / non-destructive social and economic opportunities within local communities. Our vision is to develop a blueprint model on Lembeh Island, which can be implemented in communities across North Sulawesi and further afield in Indonesia.
We firmly believe that sustainability encompasses more than just environmental issues and we work alongside our local villages to find economically sustainable options which empower all members of the community, through education and providing practical and workable solutions, regardless of age, gender and ethnicity.
Lembeh Foundation is currently focusing on two major projects in the village of Pintu Kota Kecil; a trash bank and associated “Funplastic” pilot initiative, and the construction and creation of a Green Library learning centre. Alongside these projects, the Lembeh Foundation also has core initiatives which are ongoing throughout the year. Core initiatives include regular clean ups (both underwater, beach, coastline and village) and the provision of school supplies to families who need additional support in both villages of Pintu Kota Kecil and Pintu Kota Besar.
Since the creation of the Lembeh Foundation, life in Pintu Kota Kecil village has changed beyond what could have ever been initially conceived. Pintu Kota Kecil has around 300 residents and, in recent years, had become overwhelmed by plastic waste with little or no education or solutions to relieving the problem.
The village was consuming vast amounts of single-use plastics from water bottles, plastic cups and straws, plastic bags and plastic wrapped produce. All Lembeh Foundation workshops have been used as demonstrations as to how these items can be eradicated by other, more sustainable and cost effective, options. When events are now held in the village there is no single use plastic to be seen – the local people have adapted to using large refillable water containers, re-usable plates and cutlery and the need for a drinking straw has seemingly disappeared.
Meanwhile, we are also happy to announce that we have a second resort joining our Foundation. Now we have two resorts following our standards of sustainability and diving Code of Conduct and another one already is lined up to join.
Which of your initiatives are you most proud of?
We are most proud of our own “Green Library” and learning centre. Here, kids learn in a bi-monthly extra curriculum about all facets of sustainability. They start from learning what an eco system is to finding out about endangered species, plastic pollution and much more. Pintu Kota Kecil does not have a village school and the Green Library, which is located adjacent to the village church, will be multi-functional and fulfil a much-needed role in the community. Obtaining Green Library status has involved months of dedication from Helen Pananggung who has been spearheading the project. Helen is passionate about educating future generations and creating awareness about the environment, wildlife and ecology of Lembeh Island.
And, secondly, we’re really proud our very own waste bank. This is the first waste management facility on Lembeh Island. The “Bank Sampah” (trash bank) is a pioneering scheme which will provide villagers with a place to take their sorted and cleaned plastic waste in return for cash. Collected plastics will be shredded and compressed into blocks which will be used for a multitude of purposes including building blocks and molded items which can be sold. The aim of the trash bank project is to not only reduce and re-use plastic waste but to provide an economic benefit to the community in doing so.
For you, what are the main benefits of actively working towards sustainability?
It’s very simple. There just isn’t a Planet B. The challenge is that, in countries like Indonesia, people still worry about putting food on the table for their families. This is also the reason why we always try to offer an alternative livelihood or additional income. Only when essential worries are gone will people care about other issues. We’re helping them learn is it possible to live sustainably and make a living.
How have guests responded to your efforts to become more sustainable?
I can’t put a number on it, but guests react very positively and I believe when they go somewhere else they will talk about us and give us as a recommendation to others. Guests definitely feel proud to be part of this by choosing us for their stay and, therefore, helping us to continue our work.
Did you meet any challenges along the way?
Trying to keep our beautiful resort as green and environmentally sustainable as possible is not a small task. We are constantly trying to identify areas in our operations where we can reduce emissions, plastic, water and non-renewable energy. It’s a never-ending process. When new technologies develop and become available in Indonesia, areas we previously thought we couldn’t improve on, we suddenly can. We are constantly researching new green innovations, revising our methods and implementing changes.
For the resort, it is still an immense challenge to convince our suppliers to not plastic wrap everything. This is an ongoing battle. Also, not everything is available so we have to order things specially; for example, finding paper Q-tips (cotton buds) in Bali because we do not like to give out the plastic one. To overcome this challenge, we talk to our suppliers and the hope is that with more resorts join our Foundation, more of us are demanding an eco-friendly supply chain and more eco-friendly products. I think it soon will change. Some things have change already. Baby steps!
What are you working on now?
At the moment, we are working on making more resorts follow our footsteps and join the Foundation. Working together helps us become more effective and have more impact as well as giving us a stronger position when working with the authorities.
Has it been easy to work with other resorts and businesses?
All this has been a group effort; I just set a spark. I have an amazing and dedicated team around me. I would like to thank other resorts who so willingly shared their experiences with us such as Misool Eco Foundation, Green Books or Six Senses Laamu in the Maladives.
I would also like to shine a light on the Indonesians. The government really put up some efforts to fulfil their pledge to the Clean Sea campaign and the locals are ready to make the change towards a more sustainable future. In a very short time, we have seen transformation in many villages. That Helena – who comes from a very small village on Lembeh – won the “Personality Award” at ADEX 2019 is a huge thing here and give so much motivation for others to follow in her footsteps.
For more information about the Lembeh Foundation, please find them on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/lembehfoundation