‘Behind the Green’ is all about giving you more insight into the places we feature. Our interviews reveal what happens behind the scenes, tells the stories of the people on the ground, exposes the challenges they face, as well as the communities they impact; essentially the bits you don’t usually hear.
Meet David, the owner and founder of Playa Viva located in Mexico. Here he is collecting cacao pods in their cacao grove. He is a family man at heart and loves kayaking!
What has been the highest point so far in the last 10 years?‘When we witness our local staff take some of the sustainable practices they learnt with us back home to share it with friends/family, this knowledge passes into the local community and sparks change. It is one thing to create transformation for our guests, it is quite another for staff and whole communities. For example, some of our local farm team were initially using pesticides. After introducing and showing other ways of producing the same yield without the use of chemicals, they were inspired to share this knowledge back home, which spread into their wider community.’
What is the most challenging aspect of running a truly eco-hotel?‘Being green is aspirational, right? You can always be more green. We are regularly asked “could you be even more green”, and I always answer “absolutely”! The biggest challenge is sourcing, period. For example: weighing up in your mind whether you only use organic, 100% natural soap for guests, but in order to do so you will need to source it from elsewhere which involves transportation and sometimes creates more packaging; or do you source local soap which eradicates that problem but is not organic? It is a constant trade-off and considering which is less environmentally impactful.’
What’s the latest green initiative or practice you have introduced there?‘We are always questioning how to reduce single use plastic. One of our members of staff brought to our attention the technique of using a cloth with beeswax to cover the food and wrap over dishes instead of things like cling film. Which works really well!’
What’s the greenest place you have ever stayed in?‘I have been to many green hotels I like, but the one who I aspire to be like and look up to is Bambu Indah in Bali. The first thing most people do when they arrive at a hotel is to enter the lobby. The first thing I do is take a left and go round the back, this tells me everything I need to know. If a hotel is truly sustainable and has a real commitment to being green they have a flawless waste management process. When I did this ritual at Bambu Indah I saw how well they managed their waste streams, which were organised and well kept. Waste streams can be complex, it is not just garbage you are dealing with. If the hotel is engaged in composting there are several types and therefore multiple streams to consider including compost for worms, compost for chicken, compost for agriculture etc.’
What would you do differently the 2nd time around?‘We would have started a bit larger in all honesty, we only started with 5 rooms and on reflection 12 would have been far better. The building of the tree houses and the original design was one big learning curve. It took 7 years to figure out how to transform the trees and work with them without killing them. After changing architects and builders we finally realised we just had to give them plenty of water and their survival rate went up to 99%! If you look closely at the images you can see the trees sit inside the rooms, holding up the structure. Using the trees was a far better option than the cement piers.’
What is the best local dish you serve at Playa Viva?‘The Mole, it is made up of 21 ingredients, 5 different chillies, nuts and fruits. It’s a thick sauce, and very delicious. We encourage guests to try it here. Our food is so good we were asked to make a cookbook, so we did!’
What have you observed regarding impact on the community, has it changed their awareness and attitudes towards sustainability?‘We aspire to create the next generation of leaders, this mission brought us to hire a social impact officer who implemented a community impact study. As part of this we interviewed the folks in the nearby towns, we interviewed staff and a control group which was in another town near Playa Viva, but with no direct access. When we spoke to the elders initially we asked what their hopes and dreams were. They responded, “The town and community are dying, the younger generation are leaving for the cities.” The study revealed that these same communities saw Playa Viva as a catalyst to help bring these places back to life, people were deciding to stay in the local area. The 100-page report created from this study will now be repeated every 5 years as part of our commitment.’
What’s next for Playa Viva?‘We want to build occupancy as we currently have just 12 rooms, we started with 5. We plan to build more tree houses as they are the best way for guests to get close to nature. More treehouses mean more infrastructure, so things to consider include solar to generate more clean energy.’