An eco-resort like no other

Lapa Rios 1aDuring my recent trip to Costa Rica, I visited three eco-resorts. All were based around the idea of sustainability, but how this played out was gloriously diverse.

You wouldn’t call Lapa Rios – the 2nd eco-resort on my “tour” -a luxury resort. Yet its charm and beauty make it a first class green destination.

Unlike Arenas del Mar, the eco-resort I’d visited prior to coming here, there are lots of “not here’s” for guests to know. These include:

  • no TV
  • no hairdryers or curling irons
  • no internet
Lapa Rios in the midst of the surrounding rainforest

Lapa Rios in the midst of the surrounding rainforest

“Why have (piped music),  says General Manager Juan Pinto, “when you have the toucans, the macaws, and the howling monkeys?”

For those used to being  “plugged in”, it’s a system shock, but one guests surrender to.

Located on the southern tip of Costa Rica, known as the Osa Peninsula, the motto of Lapa Rios, says Pinto, is “Experience, Learn, Connect, Relax”.

““It’s important in the tropical forest to learn, to take something (back) with you,” he said.

Surrounded by rainforest – both primary (old growth forests) and secondary (former pastures that have been reforested) – and bordered by a private nature reserve with amazing wildlife and pristine beaches, conservation and sustainability are evident at this beautiful resort.

The exquisite Blue Morpho butterfly perched on a flowering plant in the rainforst

The exquisite Blue Morpho butterfly perched on a flowering plant in the rainforst

All the furniture is made from wood from sustainable plantations. Baskets and dispensers are made by local craftsmen. Footbridges that connect trails on the property are made from discarded railroad ties. All the electricity is generated via solar.

Lapa Rios  keeps pigs on the property (away from guests, of course). What leftover food they don’t eat goes to the  property’s biodigester to produce biogas for cooking.

The food at Lapa Rios was both beautifully prepared, delicious and organic. Buying locally, though preferable, can be challenging, Pinto says. Locals may have some but not all of what the resort needs. They make up the balance from San Jose – a ten hour drive.

But Lapa Rios encourages local vendors and suppliers.

Quality and commitment are equally important with their suppliers, Pinto explained.

If a vendor isn’t doing organic or sustainable practices and they switch, Lapa Rios will buy from them. Or, “if anyone comes with a quality product,” he said, “if it’s a little higher and (they) show commitment, we’ll change.”

Embracing the community is a sustainability trait I also found at Arenas del Mar. Though there’s a great deal more to come – about eco-resorts, the rainforest and sustainable business practices I observed – this expanded view of sustainability is one the U.S. would do well to consider investing in.

Southwest Airline "ups" their sustainability quotient

Southwest green plane 2Southwest Airlines, famous for their low fares and offbeat cabin announcements, is going boldly into the green horizon.

They’ve announced the addition of their green plane – a Boeing 737-700 which, they say, achieves a weight savings of of almost five pounds per seat, saving fuel and reducing emissions, and uses recyclable materials.

Some of these eco-friendly elements include:

  • recyclable floor carpet that can eliminate the total replacement of certain areas
  • recyclable, durable seat covers
  • Southwest green plane 1a lighter weight foam fill from Garnier PURtec for seat back covers
  • a bulkhead product that’s more long lasting than their current leather one
  • aluminum aisle strips versus the standard plastic ones, which makes them recyclable,  more durable and reduces waste

Sounds good so far. This adds to Southwest’s on-going environmental practices, which include water conservation, energy management and even noise reduction.

Way to go, Southwest. Now if you can just make the conversion to biofuel, I’ll really get excited!

New process uses less energy for desalination

Desalination – the ability produce much needed freshwater from seawater – has always been an expensive and energy-intensive proposition. But Vancouver, B.C. cleantech company Saltworks Technologies (http://3.ly/TXO) is about to revolutionize the industry.

Utilizing an innovative thermo-ionic energy conversion system, Saltworks will be able to reduce energy by harnessing low.temperature heat and atmospheric dryness. The system works best in the dry regions that need water.

“The greatest challenge for the desalination industry is to increase the energy efficiency of the process faster than the price of generating electricity from fossil fuels,” says industry tracker Global Water Intelligence (GWI) http://3.ly/R2p.

With their innovative Thermo-IonicTM energy conversion system, Saltworks’ patent pending technology will use up to 80 percent less electrical/mechanical energy relative to leading desalination technologies by harnessing low temperature heat and atmospheric dryness to overcome the desalination energy barrier.

For more on this exciting breakthrough, see http://3.ly/V4h.

First foam recycling facility opens in Illinois

Foam recyclingWanted to mention an update on a remarkable US company. Dart Container Corp,, on whom I did an earlier post has just opened a new foam recycling drop-off site in Aurora, Ill., their 10th such site in the US. These facilities accept foam food service containers, including foam cups, plates, take-out containers, egg cartons, and shaped or molded foam that’s used to package various electronics.

The foam must have the “6” symbol on it to be accepted.

Once more, Dart leads the way. Keep your eye on this progressive, difference-making  Michigan-based company.

Update on the Pacific floating garbage vortex

The Pacific "Plastic Vortex" is doubling every decade

The Pacific "Plastic Vortex" is doubling every decade

Since my last post on the Pacific Vortex – the floating heap of garbage that’s estimated to be about the state of Texas – recent stories in the New York Times and Scripps Howard say returning scientists report that the patch is doubling every decade.

The “patch” contains some large trash – including abandoned fishing gear, buoys and metal drums – but  consists mainly of smaller, confetti-looking plastic pieces that fish assume are plankton and ingest.

Plastic Vortex.2Researchers say it’s likely there are other smaller trash patches floating around a number of the world’s oceans, still waiting to be discovered.

Question is, what can be done about solving this disastrous environmental problem? And how soon?

KLM to boldly test the first biofuel passenger flight

KLM airlinesTaking airline passenger flights to a new height, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines will test their first passenger-filled flight on November 23rd, using a 50-50 mix of biofuel and regular fuel.

With the aviation industry’s recent commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, this is a big step forward.

KLM to use camellias to produce biofuel for their test flight

KLM to use camellias to produce biofuel for their test flight

KLM plans to use biofuel made from camellia crops, which don’t impact the food chain and don’t require large amounts of water or fertilizers. The bigger “plus” is this biofuel produces 84 percent less emission than other jet fuel.  That’s a pretty dramatic decrease.

You can be sure the aviation industry will be watching this test closely. If all goes well, and we hope it does, this could be the beginning of a big shift other airlines will be sure to follow.

Add salt to solar for light when the sun goes down

One of the toughest nuts to crack for renewable energy has been the inability of producing light from solar when the sun goes down. Solar Reserve, a Santa Monica, California company, may have solved this conundrum.

The key is salt.

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