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How Bali is becoming even greener
Some eco-conscious entrepreneurs on Indonesia's Island of the Gods are working to build a future in tune with nature
In Indonesia, the concept of green living is starting to take hold.
This archipelago of more than 17,000 islands stretched along the equator is home to Bali, one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, and it has seen resorts, tourist facilities, ugly hotels, clubs and all the trimmings that go with those developed over the last several decades.
Now, the island is not only pushing a trend to create structures that preserve the natural environment, it is also establishing new forms of education.
A school, new housing and an affordable luxury holiday retreat show how fast the movement is progressing.
Click "View Gallery" above for more images.
The modern concept of sustainable, or “green” living, began in 1954 when Helen and Scott Nearing published “Living the Good Life.”
Though some scientists, governments, companies and especially environmental organizations like Greenpeace have sought to confront the wider issues, individuals who simply want to live a more sustainable personal life have sought their own ecologically sound lifestyles.
In Bali entrepreneurial projects are now springing up to meet that demand.
Sixty-four projects recently competed in the Tri Hita Karana Awards, which recognize environmental management.
According to local environmental consultant Gove DePuy, founder of a green youth culture movement called PT Akarumput, "growth is most obvious in the 'buzz' at this point. Magazine articles, people discussing renewable materials in the cafes and restaurants, green-themed festivals like Ubud's Earth Day Festival.
"But along with that has come actual change. More people refuse plastic bags in the grocery stores, Hypermart now offers cloth bags at the register, Bali's first Green building supply store (Little Tree) has opened its doors and Bali now has a chapter of the World Green Building Council," says DePuy.
Organic food is being bought more often for both personal and commercial use, eco-hotels, resorts and green residential homes have shifted construction materials from concrete to sustainable materials like straw and bamboo, which, as DePuy says "makes a huge dent in the amount of resources consumed by older, less efficient construction."
Power to the various projects meanwhile is increasingly being generated by highly visible solar panels, water, geothermal, and
Inhabited mainly by Hindus, Bali and its culture is founded on the fundamental Sanskrit phrase "Tri Hita Karana."
Roughly translated, it means “to keep the harmony and balance between human to God, human-to-human and human to environment.”
"Human to environment" has been the guiding light for a number of eco-friendly property developers, with many implementing environmentally-friendly methods of construction while still serving the growing demand of Bali’s tourism industry to cope with increasing numbers of visitors -- temporary and permanent.
Green School is one such example. Built almost entirely of bamboo, Green School is redefining what children’s education is about.
Founded in 2008, the school teaches pre-school students through to grade 10, with grades 11 and 12 to be added in the next two years. Located between Denpasar and Ubud, the private school was founded and built by long term residents John and Cynthia Hardy who sold off their own successful local jewelry store before starting the school.
Its curriculum has a central core of English, Math, and Science but it also aims to prepare its pupils to be the green leaders of tomorrow via green studies and creative arts teaching.
Environmental leaders of tomorrow
According to the Green School manifesto, it aims to be “the number one model of sustainability in education in the world."
"This generation of children will be the first to grow up learning about environmental issues from their early years,” says Chris Thompson, father of two young students at the school, aged 4 and 7.
The background of families enrolling suggests the school has a wide appeal, with students from 45 countries attending, and parents with diverse career backgrounds. Chris Thompson is an experienced media consultant who sits on boards in Abu Dhabi and Singapore advising on investment, growth and development strategies.
“We need new leaders to bring change to the world. But these students don't need to become environmentalists to help the world," he says.
"They simply need to have a consciousness about the challenges so that they may apply them in whatever profession they may choose," says Thompson.
During our visit to the school in November 2010, we discovered its vast complex of classrooms.
There are both open-walled classrooms and even inflatable balloon-like classrooms to cope with the occasional extreme heat of the tropical forest, a hydro power vortex energy source to keep the school self-sufficient, organic plantation fields so kids can learn to grow their own produce and a conservation center of endangered avian species for children to observe and study directly rather than just read textbooks.
"Our aim is for environmentally off-grid power sourcing," says head of admissions and enrollment Ben Macrory.
The school is also home to what is thought to be the largest permanent bamboo building in the world, known as The Heart of School (click "View Gallery" above for pictures).
Names of donors to the school as well as the names of the first student of the school are carved in the bamboo poles that hold up the multi-level structure. Among the names, celebrity donors Sir Richard Branson, Donna Karan and Miss Japan 2009: Emiri Miyasaka.
Ben Macrory says the school now has 203 students representing 45 nations. It also has a scholarship program for local Balinese.
The program is intended to stimulate awareness of green issues among the local community by making the education affordable to Balinese. Regular fees range from US$5,000-10,000 per year.
Click "NEXT" below for more on homes in the jungles of Bali.
Homes in the jungle
Furthering the positive response to the Green School, John and Cynthia Hardy have expanded this eco-friendly sustainable bamboo obsession into building Green Village.
The village is a network of bamboo homes in a complex also set to contain its own restaurants.
Currently under construction, it lies about 15 minutes from the school but is built to attract all kinds of private buyers, not only families with children at the school.
Currently four of the 27 villas have been sold and are near completion. The eventual owners of each can specify their own design criteria during the construction process and the buyers so far include architects and designers as well as foreign families.
Lead designer Macarena explains “one of our villas was bought by Singapore Ecological Company and they requested an office space, so we constructed an open-walled circular space on the top floor.”
In order to reduce the ecological footprint of the villas, each villa is built off the ground on bamboo sticks so as not to disturb the natural contour of the land.
Being made of bamboo doesn’t mean that the villas are without the convenience of modern appliances. However, their usage is reduced to create the lowest impact on the natural environment.
The air conditioner blends into the natural design and is covered by a draper as it reduces the space to be cooled which in turn reduces the power used.
New creative ideas are constantly being added during the construction process making each of the properties distinctive from each other; from the circular rolling doors, spiral bamboo staircase, black bamboo flooring and concrete-less swimming pools.
Each villa costs about US$350,000-500,000, depending on the designs, specs, and the option of land lease chosen, and surprisingly they can be built fast, within just a few weeks.
Macarena explains that the use of bamboo is due to it being "incredibly strong and long-lasting -- it's a wonder why it's not used more often."
While the team have concentrated first on ensuring that the construction process and materials used have minimal environmental impact, they will then look to employ similar techniques to reduce power consumption and use natural power.
Click to the next page for more on green hotels in Bali.
Idyllic green tourism at The Springs
While the Green Village offers a permanent greener life in Bali, if you wish simply to step with ecologically friendly footsteps while traveling, Bali also has alternatives offering idyllic and green luxury at affordable prices.
Situated in a valley facing Ubud, the green heart of Bali, The Springs offers lodgings made out of natural materials: coconut wood and bamboo with thatch roofs.
The views are astonishing. There's Mt Agung, Mt Batur and Mt. Abang, rice paddies, a river gorge, all right in front of the private villa cluster which is itself a dirt-track drive from the main streets.
“We have tried to maintain a pristine environment here that would be conducive to people's well-being and inner peace,” says owner Farah Kimball, who recently returned from Iran where she sat on a panel titled "A Culture of Peace" for World Philosophy Day.
“With that in mind we have developed a restorative and healthy live food menu, have organic vegetables and fruits growing on the property, use natural materials and environmentally friendly buildings,” says Kimball.
The Springs outdoor lights are all solar powered and Kimball is planning to generate all electricity from solar. They have their own well for water usage and created two waste water gardens to ensure no waste pollutes ground or river water.
Ranging from US$275-375 per night, the cluster includes three bedrooms, one reading room, and an expansive deck with open-aired dining table, benches and hammocks.
According to Kimball, "Most people come here to be in the natural paradise setting and for rest from the hustle and bustle of their travels. Some people are of a spiritual bent and find the energy here very powerful."
A private natural pool
Down through fields, guests can enjoy a private plunge pool filled with water flowing from a natural spring.
Cut into the rock-side, the pool overlooks the river Wos and is placed directly across from a waterfall.
"We use almost all natural materials for building and very little cement. We use coconut wood, bamboo, recycled teak, river stones for steps, lava stones in the bathrooms, and local woods (lychee and suar) for counters. Our roofing material is thatch (alang-alang) which we grow and harvest on the property a few times a year," says Kimball.
Located 10 minutes away from Ubud center, The Springs makes sure that even in the natural atmosphere you are still connected to the world with free Wi-Fi and loan of a local mobile phone.
Other organizations have also begun tackling local pollution, such as Eco Bali Recycling. Established in 2005 in response to the urgency of waste management problems, it has a team of professionals experienced in environmental and educational programs, and has teamed up with drinks packaging giant Tetra Pak to increase recycling.
Despite the growth of green projects though, Kimball feels there is much yet to improve.
"There is very little trash pick-up so people throw trash by the side of hills or into the river. Pesticides are heavily used in almost all rice growing. Septics are polluting the ground water so people get sick from drinking polluted well water even," says Kimball.
"I applaud the good work of those doing [these projects] but there is still more momentum through education needed to get everyone on the bandwagon," says Kimball.