Wolwedans – a household name in the Namibian tourism circuit – is more than a collection of camps. Its ethos lies in setting an example in sustainable business practices. During 2015 the entire Wolwedans Collection was audited by Eco-Awards Namibia and scored a five-flower rating at the very first go. This remarkable achievement affirms the leading role Wolwedans has adopted in running a sustainable tourism operation. How did this come about?
Since the early days, Wolwedans has been guided by an approach where people, nature and business were all equally important. The aim right from the start – apart from making money – has been to ensure the NamibRand Nature Reserve’s nancial viability, ensuring the conservation of the Pro-Namib for future generations. This approach was captured in Wolwedans’ earliest mission statement: “We are committed to sustainable growth by carefully balancing quality leadership, economic progress, social responsibility and care for our environment” (December, 1998).
In 2011, as a result of Wolwedans’ efforts over the last decade, it was chosen as a founding member of the Global Ecosphere Retreats (GER), an international sustainability initiative inspired by a vision of the Ecosphere (our planet and all of its life-sustaining regions) maintained in the healthiest possible state. GER’s promote an inclusive, holistic paradigm of conservation and tourism that enhances livelihoods and fosters intercultural dialogue. In short, a new way of going about doing business.
Committed to be “in it for the long run”, Wolwedans has adopted the 4C- model, which balances Commerce, Conservation, Community and Culture. This 4C strategy provides Wolwedans with a pertinent framework allowing it to effectively manage and monitor progress towards sustainability goals. What does this mean in terms of walking the talk?
Trading and the accumulation of wealth have been central to the development of civilizations over thousands of years and are likely to remain so. Uncontrolled, this commerce has had negative impacts, but conducted in a more holistic and sustainable way, it can be a positive contributor to a sustainable world. The commerce dimension addresses aspects that affect the financial sustainability of the business and its capacity to provide a source of income for those people that depend on it. Profits generated also enable Wolwedans to reinvest back into initiatives in the other 3Cs (Conservation, Community and Culture).
Wolwedans operates a number of tented safari camps and lodges within the NamibRand Nature Reserve, as well as the NICE restaurant and bar in Windhoek. The group employs some 150 Namibians, pays taxes and keeps on investing in infrastructure – hence contributing signi cantly to the development of Namibia and the wellbeing of its people.
Biodiversity is life. Conservation is safeguarding this biodiversity and the integrity of the ecosystem services it provides which support global needs. Conservation and the sustainable use of natural resources is a core component at Wolwedans. Activities in this dimension address issues related to biodiversity and ecosystem services as well as management of energy, water and waste, land management and carbon impact reduction.
Apart from being able to collect park fees on behalf of NamibRand Nature Reserve through the commercial activities, conservation initiatives include:
- Substantial investments into renewable energy (all camps by now run 100% on solar, both power and hot water);
- Professional water management (every litre of water is measured and accounted for);
- Low impact building style (all camps can be removed if need be without leaving any trace of human occupation);
- Complete recycling (no waste whatsoever remains at Wolwedans);
- Organic gardens (50% of all greens consumed by guest and sta alike are grown at Wolwedans, hence significantly reducing the operations’ carbon footprint); and,
- Environmental education.
People matter; it is the right of every person to have their basic needs met and enhancing the well-being of communities is a fundamental obligation of all. Wolwedans addresses fair working conditions, fosters local and regional relations, engages in capacity building and support for small and medium enterprises (SMEs).
When it comes to community support, vocational training in the hospitality sector is Wolwedans’ primary way of “giving back”. Since inception of NICE (the Namibian Institute of Culinary Education) and the Wolwedans Desert Academy back in 2007, some 200 young Namibians have received NQA-accredited training, got certified and successfully entered the job market. With institutional co-funding secured, the programme will be expanded to cater for 80 trainees by 2018, making vocational training one of the Wolwedans groups core focus areas.
The world is culturally diverse. Respecting differences is crucial to humanity’s future. Wolwedans – where ten Namibian languages are spoken – strives to strengthen intercultural relationships and understanding, to safeguard Namibia’s cultural heritage and peace. A variety of platforms are created (i.e. the annual Wolwedans Winter games) which support, advance and celebrate cultural diversity, and enrich lives by awakening people’s creative spirit.
In conclusion, sustainability entails more than solar panels (reduction of fossil fuel and carbon footprint reduction). Whilst the latter seem to be the core focus of climate change adaptation and mitigation interventions, the Wolwedans 4C model shows a new way of going about business.
About the author: Stephan Brückner is a third generation Namibian and holds a Masters in Business Communication. Stephan started what today is known as the Wolwedans Collection. Sustainability has been at the heart of Wolwedans since its inception some 20 years ago.