We spoke with The Safari Collection about the conservation, community and sustainability projects they are involved with.
Operations & Marketing Development
25 Sep 2020
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As part of Far and Wild’s ongoing commitment to champion organisations who actively work towards being sustainable, I spoke with Mark Boyd, The Safari Collection’s Footprint Director to ask about the conservation, community and sustainability projects they are involved with.
The Safari Collection is a well-established and very successful safari company in Kenya who have world-famous properties such as Giraffe Manor, Sasaab, Sala’s Camp and Solio Lodge as part of their portfolio.
Mark has an established career with renowned Safari Collection – starting his journey as the community and conservation manager which entailed fundraising and implementing community and conservation programs throughout Kenya. His role diversified and developed to the Footprint Director and Sustainability Manager for 'Our Footprint' – the sustainability and community arm of the organisation, who have a long history of creating and supporting a diverse range of conservation, health and education projects across Kenya. It’s through these projects that the they strive to have not only an ecological balance but also living in harmony with the environment whilst having a positive impact on the communities they work alongside.
Q. What initially made the Safari Collection strive to become sustainable and eventually carbon neutral?
The Safari Collection was founded twelve years ago by three directors have always had conservation and a strong community ethos at the core of the company beliefs and over the years it has greatly developed. They’re always looking at ways to innovate, making the company as sustainable as possible ranging from plastic reduction measures, water saving and recycling, migrating to renewable sources of energy such solar power and so forth.
"Sustainability isn’t a destination, it’s a journey which develops year on year with constant improvement and re-evaluation of business practices – not just on a company level but on a personal level also".
Any organisation which claim to be sustainable and care for the environment but is not carbon negative or carbon neutral cannot truly claim to sustainable as they are polluting the planet. This is at the core of why we are striving to be carbon neutral and eventually become carbon negative, over-compensating for the footprint that we create to make up the impact we have already created.
"Rather than working towards being carbon negative – we’re striving to be climate positive. Positive connotations work better at getting the message across rather than negative ones".
Q. By the end of 2020 – The Safari Collection hopes for all of its properties to be climate positive, what were the main difficulties you faced and overcame to make this happen?
The collection of data was tricky to really quantify properly. We can accurately calculate the use of fossil fuels and even staff commuting to and from work, but the food journey calculation is very difficult, as the measures are not in place in Kenya today.
Offsetting carbon is also difficult. Rather than subscribing to international plans to obtain carbon credits (*an explanation about carbon credits is below*). We are trying to go the route of reforestation projects in Kenya, specifically in the environment which we are close to and have connections to. We are working with land owners and having firm contracts in place for it to properly qualify as carbon offsetting. This is probably our biggest issue. We’re trying to revitalise and create habitats for endangered species by planting trees.
There needs to be a change of mindset also, organisations can calculate their carbon footprint and then work out how best to offset this but there needs to be a reduction in emissions as well, there needs to be an ethos of trying not to produce carbon as well as offsetting what is produced.
The cost of ecology efficient the technology is very high, if it was more viable then a lot more organisations would be able to afford to put measures in place. For example, the cost of converting a safari vehicle to electric is over USD $50k – if you have a fleet of 20 safari vehicles, that soon becomes a cost which not many organisations can afford. The cost of technology is slowly coming down all the time so there’s hope.
*Carbon credits explained - A carbon credit is a permit which is issued by an international auditing body, it allows the holding company to emit a certain amount of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gasses by offsetting their carbon footprint by either the planting of trees or investing in to environmental projects to balance out their carbon footprint.*
Q. Small measure can make a big difference, what was the most ingenious, out of the box initiative that has been put in place?
Across the company we have an annual stipulation for every member of staff to complete one act of sustainability or kindness, this is agreed in their annual review and what it will be. It could be anything from creating a tree planting program in their community or taking clothes to a local orphanage. It’s a great initiative because it means that everyone in the company is doing at least one good thing a year – many people go over and above this. It ties people into the company’s ethos, spreading the conservation and community mindset through every level of the company. It’s designed to drive an understanding that it’s everyone’s responsibility to be more sustainably minded.
Q. Do you have any other initiatives which are currently being explored?
Yes – We’re looking at ways in which our guests can join us in a completely climate positive safari experience. We already offset the entire company operations and we’d like to invite our guest to offset their safari too, meaning it’s offset twice. We’re also looking at ways in which international and internal flights can be offset.
Q. Through The Safari Collections Footprint education programs aimed at both children and adults – how important is it to educate and empower younger minds about the importance of living sustainably?
One word. Huge. One of the good things is that the average Kenyan already lives a much more sustainable life than the average westerner so that’s a great start. The bigger issue is addressing human/wildlife conflict. We take a lot of children on safari each year, this helps us show them wildlife in a positive light rather than having a negative mindset especially with communities living on the fringes of conservation areas where elephants might raid crops or predators take their livestock.
We run a scholarship program and as part of that we take scholars away for a week long annual educational retreat to inspire them to go on to work in conservation, wildlife management fields. It’s getting the message of human/wildlife coexistence across and sharing resources.
Q. What has been the one stand-out, breakthrough success across all of the Safari Collection’s Our Footprint movement which you have been most proud of?
Probably watching the development of our conservation scholars grow, especially when they come from very traditional tribal societies. The program is designed to inspire scholars to continue their education overcoming the temptation to drop out, it’s a pipeline to helping talented and dedicated individuals, encouraging them to become wildlife warriors, conservation heroes and go on to study at university becoming the next generation of custodians protecting and looking after their wildlife heritage. One day, I hope one of these scholars will eventually replace me – now that would be a phenomenal success. A talented local student going through the scholarship program, on to university and then to educate others to live more sustainably. Imagine that.
Q. Are there other ways in which carbon footprints can be offset besides the planting of trees?
Yes – in fact one was conceived right here in Kenya called the REDD+ Carbon Project. In short, it’s protecting forested areas from being destroyed by making it more valuable alive than being chopped down for logging or agriculture. This is done through revenue streams paid directly to the communities living close by.
The project works quite simply; the amount of carbon stored within a forest is calculated and audited by the appropriate agencies and carbon credits are issued – these carbon credits can then be traded or sold – therefore making the forested area an investment to keep alive by the communities. The forests are continuously monitored to make sure that their status remains the same.
REDD+ stands for countries' efforts to Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation, and foster conservation, sustainable management of forests, and enhancement of forest carbon stocks.
Deforestation and forest degradation are responsible for around 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions, which is the second leading cause of greenhouse gas emissions after the transportation industry.
REDD+ projects are aimed at ensuring forested areas are protected - this has a quicker and greater impact than reforestation and other replanting initiatives.
Q. What three pieces of advice would you give any organisation who is unsure how to become more sustainable but wanting to start?
Start and aim to become climate positive right now. Even the small things make a difference, swapping from plastic water bottles to metal. Look how to start offsetting your carbon footprint and reducing your carbon emissions.
Get everyone in the organisation involved, right from the bottom to the very top. Ingrain the mentality of understanding why changes are being made not just what changes are being made and why they are important.
Apply for accreditation, join a scheme - whether it’s on a national or international level. They provide a really good structure to help lodges improve their sustainability. They have criteria which needs to be met, they provide assessments and they help show the way forward. These schemes have certainly helped the Safari Collection as an organisation to become more sustainable.
We’re finding that more and more of our clients are becoming interested in how their choice of travel destination impacts the environment. By choosing a travel company which has genuine sustainable credentials – in doing so, travellers are individually also having a positive impact on the environment.
Travel and safari companies throughout Africa have always had a mindset of sharing the natural world around them with wildlife, coexisting with as minimal an impact as possible. Yes, some organisations are better equipped than others but through the Far and Wild Sustainability Project, we want to share as many good news stories as possible – it’s about helping those who want to become more sustainable and connecting them with others who can share their experience.
Whether you’re a client wanting to travel more sustainably or a safari organisation looking to reduce your carbon footprint and become climate positive, get in touch, we’d love to share some good news stories, telling you about some of the amazing projects our suppliers are involved with to make sure that the planet remains a beautiful place for our children’s’ children and so on…