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Singita Annual Review 2019/20

Singita is a conservation company that’s preserving more than one million acres of African wilderness. It supports its sustainability efforts and community outreach by providing environmentally conscious hospitality in 15 lodges across the continent.

Singita’s Southern African operations have been using Bioregional's One Planet Living® framework since 2016 to support its sustainability efforts. This report shares Bioregional’s review its progress towards One Planet Living over the last year, highlighting successes and challenges, and making recommendations for accelerating change.

Andrea Ferry, Sustainability Co-ordinator at Singita

I started working on Singita’s sustainability programme ten years ago, and it’s amazing to look back at the changes made – both in terms of infrastructure and culture.

Although sustainability has always been part of Singita’s DNA, One Planet Living has helped immeasurably in actualising our vision.

We’ve seen good progress on our 2025 targets, especially reducing single-use plastics. Our solar energy production is growing, we’re increasing rainwater harvesting and improving recycling infrastructure. Water use and carbon reduction remain a challenge, but we continue to persevere.

While these big strides are important, it’s the smaller things that cross my desk which bring me great joy – brightly coloured One Planet Living murals, guests leaving positive comments about our sustainability efforts and my colleagues taking One Planet Living into their own communities, like Auto Mthenjane (see interview below). These show a sustainability culture that is alive!

Our post Covid-19 future will require us to focus even more strongly on ways to heal the planet and our communities. With many years of One Planet Living experience under our belts, we are ready to do more ourselves. We want to show and encourage guests and staff to live sustainably, and to hold strong to our ideals and values, despite the current significant economic stressors in our industry.

I cannot wait to be part of this future; the one where the right things are valued and we see even more clearly that sustainable living is the only way to be safe and thrive – for ourselves, our families, communities and the planet.

Ben Gill, One Planet Living Manager at Bioregional

Undertaking this review during the global Covid-19 pandemic, it’s clear how quickly things can change. Just a few months ago, public awareness for the climate emergency was at an all-time high and it felt as though we could see real change.

Unquestionably the world has changed with Covid-19 and we will need to respond in kind, but we cannot allow our focus to shift away from impending climate and ecological breakdown.

Industries that have been affected will need to regroup and rethink their future. Tourism and travel is one of these industries - highlighting the need to rethink how and why we travel.

We know people will continue to want to travel. But I’d like to see more destinations follow Singita’s lead, where the carbon invested in travel brings maximum benefit while minimising its impact. With Singita’s focus on local job creation, supporting local economies and conservation, its guests are bringing greater benefit than a similar holiday elsewhere.

Operationally 2019 has been quite a challenging year at Singita, with an increase in carbon emissions and water consumption at the whole company level. Yet, with years of groundwork, Singita has many specific examples of significantly reducing its environmental impact that it can draw on.

Singita’s challenge is to take these individual examples and make them the norm across all its properties. We believe it can do so and continue to act as a leader in sustainable tourism.

One Planet Champion: Auto Mthenjane - Banakeli (Butler) at Ebony Lodge, Singita Sabi Sand

As part of Singita’s One Planet Living staff engagement programme it identifies One Planet Champions – people who embody One Planet Living in their work and personal life to engage other people and create sustainable change.

We caught up with one of Singita’s recent champions, Auto Mthenjane who was nominated for his efforts on creating change in his local community by engaging young people to reduce waste.

“A whole community coming together means you can make a real difference.”

Tell us a bit about yourself

I’ve been at Singita for almost 10 years as a Banakeli (butler) at our Ebony Lodge at Sabi Sand in South Africa. I learned about environmental issues at school but have really broadened my horizons at Singita with its One Planet Living initiative.

What are the biggest sustainability challenges in your community?

There’s a huge amount of pollution and litter. We have a lack of waste disposal infrastructure which means that people burn rubbish, creating toxic fumes.

So, I’m especially passionate about reducing waste and educating the younger generation about what they can do - both my own kids, as well as other local children in the community.

I’ve started to go into schools to share the importance of recycling and illustrating how they can make a difference by creating their own eco-bricks. These are reusable building blocks created by packing clean and dry plastic into a plastic bottle.

Eco-bricks are a great way for us to reduce the rubbish that goes into landfill, as well as making visible just how much plastic we actually use. They’re also a lot of fun for kids to make and get them to think about reusing materials.

Have you noticed a change in your community in the years since you’ve been creating awareness of environmental issues?

I’ve noticed a huge change in my home. My kids are more passionate and educated about the environment. This is probably helped by the fact that I give my kids R10 for every eco-brick they make!

It’s important to spread the word about things like this so I have been teaching my neighbours about the importance of not burying tins and rubbish to keep our soil clean. I’ve also been involving my whole street and community to make sure our road is litter-free.

Since teaching local people, including shop owners, how to make eco-bricks, and the importance of collecting rather than burning waste, the collection of plastic has increased dramatically.

How do you think people can make the most change in their communities?

Leading by example is the most important thing. You must practice what you’re telling others to do. Now my kids know about these issues, I’ve seen them showing their friends what they can do too.

A whole community coming together means you can make a real difference.

One Planet Living highlights

  • Singita Kruger National Park continues to get +/-80% of its electricity from solar power
  • 120 staff volunteered to support local community development
  • No incidents of poaching of key species – rhinos, lions and elephants
  • 478 children took part in the Environmental Education Programme, designed to inspire a love of – and passion to protect - wildlife
  • 50% reduction in disposable nappies used by staff at Singita Pamushana and conservation partner, The Malilangwe Trust
  • 65% reduction in plastic waste at two lodges – Singita Sabi Sand and Singita Kruger National Park - since 2017
  • 78% of people employed by Singita are from the local communities

One Planet Living stories

Reducing disposable nappies at Singita Pamushana

Around 600kg of wood per month was being used to incinerate non-recyclable waste at Singita Pamushana – with disposable nappies the biggest consumer of firewood.

The Malilangwe Trust, Singita’s conservation partner, launched an awareness campaign in October and November to teach staff about the environmental impact and personal economic cost of disposable nappies.

Posters were produced in English and the local language, Shona, and evening discussions held at the various staff villages. Staff were offered modern washable nappies for purchase through the Trust on a monthly loan repayment scheme.

Nappy orders flooded in and by the end of December more than 900 pairs of fitted nappies had been sold to staff at a reduced, bulk-cost price. Since the project’s initiation in October, the mass of disposable nappies and firewood incinerated has fallen by about 50%!

Creating Singita’s Community Staff Volunteer programme – Shelly Alkema

"Throughout 2019, staff at two of our lodges were able to get involved with an exciting range of volunteering opportunities, including a range of educational activities with local young people, including Early Childhood Development initiatives (pictured above).

We also ran 6 School Safaris, which enable local children who’ve never had the chance to visit the iconic wildlife and wilderness near them to enjoy the natural wonders of the Sabi Sand Reserve.

A total of 120 staff volunteered or participated in these events and their feedback was extremely positive and encouraging. The programme not only inspires uptake of many of the One Planet Living principles among our staff but also in local communities, and demonstrates the significant impact we can all achieve when living our purpose."

Bioregional’s recommendations

Having reviewed Singita’s progress against its One Planet Living outcomes, Bioregional has specific recommendations for accelerating sustainable change:

Zero carbon energy

Singita has made excellent strides in incorporating renewable energy into its projects. Nonetheless there has been a significant increase in building-related emissions in 2019. Solar energy has been incorporated into many new and existing projects, significantly reducing carbon emissions from these lodges. A clear strategy for implementing solar projects at the remaining lodges would go a long way to putting Singita on the path to zero-carbon buildings.

Sustainable water

Water use has somewhat surprisingly increased in 2019. Given the importance of this issue locally, this needs to be addressed. This can in part be done using increased metering and rainwater storage capacity, but significant reductions in water use relies heavily on staff prioritising the issue more.

Culture of sustainability

Good customer service and style are ingrained into the way that Singita staff think and work - sustainability needs to become second nature in the same way. This can be done by:

  • Integrating One Planet Living into job descriptions and performance reviews
  • Embedding it into daily life, such as morning meetings with a sustainability award sitting alongside the ‘service awards’
  • Putting in place the procedures required to ensure staff think about sustainability at the correct stage of any project or process.

Improving retrofit

The recent upgrade at Castleton Lodge at Singita Sabi Sand aimed to address many of the One Planet Living principles, but the framework was not comprehensively applied. For example, non-endemic species were planted and opportunities for incorporating solar energy and grey water treatment were missed.

A simple process could be put in place to ensure that these opportunities are addressed at the relevant stage of the project lifecycle.

Local and sustainable food

The environmental impact of meat production is clear and it’s brilliant that Singita has a fantastic sustainable offer for guests. Staff food has been improved with initiatives like Meat Free Monday, but it’s fair to say that a low-meat diet is not the norm among Singita staff. More can be done to make the aware of the health and environmental benefits of a plant-based diet.

Travel and transport

Business air travel has increased significantly and it would be good to see Singita develop a clear strategy to address this. This was due to the opening of a new lodge in Rwanda and the need to induct new senior staff. Learning from the Covid-19 lockdown, remote meetings and ‘site visits’ need to be prioritised.

About Singita

Singita’s core vision is to preserve and protect large tracts of wilderness in Africa for future generations. Dedicated to environmentally conscious hospitality, sustainable conservation and the empowerment of local communities, Singita, meaning “place of miracles,” was founded in 1993. Its mission is to share a unique part of the world while maintaining respect for the natural environment and challenging accepted notions of luxury.

Today, Singita is the guardian of more than a million acres of pristine land in Africa and responsible for successful community development projects, making a tangible difference in the lives of the people living and working in and around its lodges. Singita operates 12 lodges and camps, each a unique experience in its own right, in five regions across three countries in Africa – including Singita Serengeti in Tanzania. The company committed to applying the One Planet Living framework to all of its operations in 2016.

About Bioregional

Bioregional is a social enterprise and registered charity which champions a better, more sustainable way to live. We work with partners to create better places for people to live, work and do business. We want to see thriving regional economies where we meet more of our needs from local, renewable and waste resources, enabling people to live happy, healthy lives within the natural limits of the planet, leaving space for wildlife and wilderness. We call this One Planet Living.