Nestled in the rustic surf and wellness community of Nosara, Costa Rica, lies the world’s first LEED Certified surf resort — Olas Verdes. Sustainable surf resorts in small communities like this serve as an ideal classroom for studying surf tourism impacts, which is why Groundswell Educational Travel offers biannual trips there.
Set to have its soft opening July 1, 2015, Groundswell will be one of the first groups to visit Olas Verdes (July 23 to August 1) to see firsthand how surf tourism operators influence local communities and environments. After decades of surfers traveling the world, we are learning that surf tourism might have caused more harm than good, but luckily there is a sea change happening.
This change is being driving by entrepreneurs and NGOs working on instituting ways to be more inclusive of the local community and to tread lightly on the environment.
The community of Nosara is full of passionate individuals dedicated to improving local livelihoods while preventing unsustainable tourism development. I work with these nonprofits and community leaders to integrate service programs with Olas Verdes Resort and Safari Surf School staff and voluntourists. Groundswell leverages these partnerships between businesses and NGO’s to provide rich, hands-on experiences for students to work with local schools, reforestation projects, and Nosara’s recycling center so students can learn about the issues affecting surf tourism communities and how tourism operators can make positive change.
Groundswell’s first trip to Nosara in May 2014 saw the early stages of construction at Olas Verdes, but now students will be able to stay at the hotel and use the resort grounds as their ‘lab’ to learn about sustainable development and surf tourism operations. As Project Manager of Olas Verdes, I have had the fortunate opportunity of integrating sustainability from the ground up to ensure all facets of Olas Verdes will meet or exceed surf tourism best practices.
Pursuing LEED Platinum in a foreign country has proven difficult, but it also has resulted in what I had hoped—catalyzing sustainable design and construction in the region. We chose a local architect who embraced passive solar design and a local construction company that was eager to take on the challenge of meeting LEED compliance requirements. Now there are some prospective LEED Certified Homes being built in Nosara and there are plans for a new LEED Certified hotel as well.
While the LEED standards inherently mitigate construction impacts and reduce energy loads for the buildings, I have also used this opportunity to consider how the resort will include sustainable tourism practices in its design and operation as a prospective STOKE Certified resort as well:
Each building represents a different region of Costa Rica—color palettes resemble their respective landscapes and unique decor provide guests with a taste of the local culture.
Solar PV and solar thermal water provide nearly 20% of the resort’s annual energy use. Passive solar design, efficient appliances and lighting fixtures contribute to the potential offset of renewables.
State of the art wastewater treatment plant uses a natural aerobic process to treat greywater without chemicals and the recycled greywater is used for irrigation.
Rainwater harvesting systems provide water during the dry season that plagues most of Guanacaste and all water fixtures are ultra efficient to conserve water usage.
Native vegetation seamlessly blends the resort grounds with the neighboring Ostional Wildlife Refuge which separates Olas Verdes from Playa Guiones.
Due to the design and placement of the buildings, 90% of the existing trees on the property were preserved.
A small herb garden and orchard provide essentials for our locally owned restaurant.
Two murals made from recycled glass collected at the Nosara Recycling Center feature the work of a prominent local artist.
Between learning about Olas Verdes’ operations, volunteering for community service projects in Nosara, and poolside lectures between surf sessions, Groundswell students are treated to the complete package in just ten days. The whole idea behind Groundswell is to create a truly immersive experience for students. We don’t want to just lecture about sustainable tourism we want to say, “here, we are staying in a place that is walking the talk, what are they doing that is working, and what can they do to improve?” Lectures focus the discussion, but the lived experience is all apart of the educational framework, which requires that students observe and gather data from living in the facilities and interacting closely with the proprietors and staff.
If you, or anyone you know, is interested in being part of the inaugural educational experience with the opening of Olas Verdes, the application deadline for Groundswell’s summer programs for Costa Rica as well as Bali and Nicaragua has been extended to May 15. Learn more at groundswelltravel.com!