Friday, 18 July 2008

Artha, Not Your Average B&B!

One of the unique eco-friendly B&Bs featured on the ecobookers site - Artha - tell us how it all began...

Artha Sustainable Living Center, USA, has just achieved the highest certification rating with the ‘Travel Green Wisconsin’ program, a program designed to protect the beauty and vitality of Wisconsin’s landscape. Here they tell us what led them to start this unique B&B.

“Artha is not only a Bed and Breakfast, but also an education center. Bob Ramlow bought the farm in 1975 with the goal to live off the land. This idea attracted many to come and learn. During this time period Bob learned about solar and made this his life’s passion.

Bob and Marguerite’s dream was to build a zero energy home showcasing sustainable building practices and materials. As a trial run for their new home a studio was built in the second story of the barn, utilising straw bale construction and radiant floors. This studio is now used for yoga classes and workshops, an amazing space!

They then took the plunge and built a new home, also utilising straw bale construction with a high mass solar thermal heating system. The home was built with all local labour, hand making all of the doors, cabinets and floors from sustainably grown and harvested wood from the Menomonee forest here in Wisconsin. Linseed oil was used on the wood and milk paint for the ceilings.

The question then was what to do with the old home. During this time both children, Leif and Chamomile, had moved back to Wisconsin, along with Chamomile’s husband Benjamin. The family decided to start a business based on the idea that they all loved to teach and wanted to create a centre where people not only learned in a classroom setting, but also by example. The old home was turned into a B&B so those who came to take workshops would have a place to stay, and those wishing to see how and if renewable energy really worked could stay in a home run by the sun.

Bob teaches about solar thermal energy not only here at Artha, but all over the United states and is the author, along with his son-in-law Benjamin, of the book Solar Water Heating: A Comprehensive Guide to Solar Water and Space Heating. Benjamin does some teaching, but is Artha’s primary solar thermal consultant, designing systems for homeowners and business all over the world. Marguerite teaches weekly yoga classes along with workshops on organic gardening, herbs and yoga retreats. Marguerite and Chamomile maintain the B&B and make delicious vegetarian breakfasts, utilising local organic produce and dairy products. Syrup for pancakes and waffles is made from the sugar maples that grow on the 90 acres here at Artha. Leif maintains the grounds and gardens, making Artha a beautiful place to visit. The family has found great joy in working together on things they truly care about.

Artha is a place that strives to exist in harmony with the environment. We here at Artha hope to lead by example and we offer our experiences and expertise to those who wish to learn from us. Please come and visit, you might just leave with some inspiration!”

Saturday, 12 July 2008

Eco tips for your Summer getaway

If you’re reading this blog it is highly likely that you enjoy travelling to new destinations, experiencing the local culture and marvelling at the natural beauty, but that you want to do all of these things in a way that doesn’t have an adverse affect on the local environment or culture.

Booking your holiday at an eco-friendly accommodation is a great way to start, but they can’t do all the work for you! Here we look at a few measures you can take before you set-off on your travels, and during your time at your destination, to make your holiday as eco-friendly as possible:

Before you go
Once you’ve decided on your destination and sorted out your flights, there are a few things you can think about and prepare for before you go.

Firstly, you can research the cultural does and don’ts of the local population. For example, in some countries it is rude to point at things with your feet, to touch people on the head or to drink alcohol. By researching things such as this before you go, you can be respectful of people and their culture when you arrive.

Dress code is also an important factor – if you are travelling to a country where it is disrespectful to show certain parts of the body, it’s best to know this before you go so that you can pack accordingly.

Learning a few words of the local language before you go will help you to interact with the local people.

You may also want to look into local methods of transportation so that you can transfer to your accommodation and travel around the country both conveniently and responsibly e.g. take public transport instead of a private taxi to reduce carbon emissions.

If you plan on taking tours during your holiday you could research local companies who use local guides and try to protect the environment, rather than booking trips with companies who give nothing back to the local communities.

And of course, you can use to find an eco-friendly accommodation and review its policies, ensuring it meets your criteria!

While you’re there
When you arrive at your destination, the important thing is to make a positive rather than a negative impact by being culturally and environmentally aware.

Cultural considerations
You could find yourself in a very different situation to that which you are used to back home, but you must remember that this is normal life to the people who live it, so be open-minded.

Traditions, culture, religious beliefs, clothing and food may all be very different to what you are used to but be respectful. Respect people’s wishes and ask before you take photographs. Try getting to know people - you may learn something about their way of life and they may be able to give you insider info on where to go and what to do that you won’t find in the guidebooks!

When you are buying goods, using services such as tour guides or eating in restaurants, try to spend money that will benefit the local communities.

Giving money to people begging is not usually encouraged as it does not promote self-sufficiency, although this is down to your own ethical beliefs. However, if you do want to give something back in a more sustainable way, some of the accommodations featured on the ecobookers website are involved in projects where you can volunteer and others will be able to give you advice on how you can help.

Environmental considerations
The majority of eco-accommodations have processes in place to recycle, conserve energy and water and to limit damaging waste. You can help them along by using water and energy as efficiently as possible e.g. don’t leave taps running or lights on unnecessarily, by taking shampoos etc. with you that are bio-degradable, by never littering and by recycling anything you can (if there are no facilities for recycling certain products e.g. plastic bottles, where you are, take these home with you to recycle).
So that you don’t upset the natural balance or cause erosion, stick to marked trails (both when walking and driving) and don’t take any souvenirs from along the way.

Also, don’t buy anything that has come from an endangered animal species, or a protected species of plant and don’t support shows where animals are used for entertainment.

These are just a few ideas to help you to be a responsible traveller, which will not only benefit the area you are visiting, but which will also help you to get the most out of your experience. Enjoy your trip!