Luxury Draped in Green: Costa Rican Hotel-Farm an Example of Sustainability

Glenn Jampol says that when he came to Costa Rica from the United States, he was a treehugger, “one of those hippies from the University of Berkeley, California, in love with nature,” he says with a broad smile. While the former hippy/artist/entrepreneur is joking, the truth is that his eco-loving background explains the key to the success of his “temple dedicated to nature,” Finca Rosa Blanca Coffee Plantation & Inn.

Photo by Finca Rosa BlancaFinca Rosa Blanca is a small, boutique luxury hotel wrapped in a landscape of volcanoes, forest, and coffee farms in the town of Santa Bárbara de Heredia, in Costa Rica’s central highlands. The business was founded in 1989, four years after Glenn, his wife Teri, and mother Sylvia dreamed of building their home and lodge as a firm and exemplary commitment to environmental responsibility.

And so they did. Rosa Blanca was the first hotel to be certified as sustainable in Costa Rica by the Certification for Sustainable Tourism (CST), a national program that verifies the sustainability of hotels and tour operators. It is the only hotel that has obtained a perfect, 100% score, a rating it still maintains.

The hotel has 13 rooms and two villas, a restaurant, and a spa that exceed the best practices for environmental sustainability. It also has an organic coffee farm that has earned the Rainforest Alliance CertifiedTM sustainability seal. It also boasts BCS OKO Garantie international organic agriculture certification and is endorsed by the Center for Coffee Research (CICAFE) in Costa Rica.

Photo by Finca Rosa BlancaIts beauty, good service, and excellent environmental performance have brought Finca Rosa Blanca important international recognition. The Web site Trip Advisor placed it on its list of the ten best eco-hotels in the world in 2009; in 2008, The Guardian named it one of the five best plantation lodges; it was named the Most Memorable Hotel of 2007 in USA Today; and it was described as one of the ten best luxury eco-hotels by Forbes Traveler magazine in 2007. In 2009, Condé Nasté Traveler magazine said that Finca Rosa Blanca is an “ecological gem.”

The Rainforest Alliance has also recognized Finca Rosa Blanca’s impeccable track record by honoring it as a Sustainable Standard-Setter for 2010. This award is given to businesses and individuals with an outstanding commitment to environmental and social sustainability. “We are proud to have been chosen by the Rainforest Alliance. Ours is a small, personalized business whose essence is its people. Receiving this honor from an organization with an excellent reputation and global presence is a guarantee that our work to be sustainable is legitimate,” said Jampol.

Jampol and his family have every right to talk about legitimacy, as their story places them among the pioneers of ecotourism in Costa Rica. They bought the land for the hotel when it was seven acres (three hectares) of mud used for motocross racing. Jampol recalls that they saw a blank canvas where they could create a sustainable tourism destination. “When we submitted the construction plans, we called it the Finca Rosa Blanca Ecotourism Project. Staff from the institutions involved were scratching their heads because ecotourism was not a known concept in Costa Rica then,” remembers Jampol.

They launched an intensive reforestation plan, set up organic agriculture, used sustainable construction materials, built water treatment and recycling systems, developed an environmental education program, and hired professional architects and engineers to ensure a sustainable design, and employed and local community members on staff.

The property, which originally had only 15 trees, was reforested with some 300 fruit trees, and they built an extensive organic garden to supply the restaurant. Later, they acquired another 30 acres (12 hectares) of land to establish a coffee farm, where they planted around 5,000 native trees and created biological corridors visited by more than 130 bird species every day. Visitors can also go on a coffee tour in the company of an experienced barista and guide.

The farm is 100% chemical-free; everything is grown organically; and they use a recycling center, compost pile, and raise worms to convert all of the farm’s organic waste into fertilizer. The farm also houses a center where employees and their families can bring in their own inorganic wastes.

Photo by Finca Rosa BlancaThe hotel’s green design combines art and luxury. Rounded windows, along with a high roof and fans, reduce the use of electricity light and eliminate the need for air-conditioning. The walls are painted with non-toxic materials; the roof tiles, benches, and waste bins are made of recycled plastic that resemble clay tiles and wooden planks. Solar panels heat the water, a sewage treatment plant processes waste, and rainwater is captured to water the plants and crops. Even the water in the pool is natural, because, explains Jampol, they invested thousands of dollars in an ionization system that eliminates the need to use environmentally-harmful chlorine. Even though this was a major investment, he says that in 15 years he will have saved at least $50,000 in chlorine.

“One of the first principles of sustainability is obtaining financial sustainability,” asserts Jampol. “The innovations for being sustainable cost money and like any business, we have a limited budget, but we have discovered that these things eventually pay for themselves and we are lowering our costs while reducing our environmental impact.” To achieve this, Jampol is on a constant search for new “but pragmatic” ideas to improve his hotel and he confesses to being “in up to his nose” in the issue of sustainability.

In 1994, then-Minister of Tourism Carlos Roche invited Jampol to participate in sustainable tourism activities after having heard about the innovative work being done at Finca Rosa Blanca. Since then, Jampol has been giving talks and seminars; in 2004 he was appointed to the Board of Directors of the International Ecotourism Society, in 2006 he was a member of the National Commission for Accreditation (CNA) – representing the National Chamber of Tourism (CANATUR) – and in 2007 he was selected as president of the Board of Directors of the National Chamber of Ecotourism of Costa Rica (CANAECO).

He initially became involved with the Rainforest Alliance by collaborating with the sustainable tourism program. He then decided to participate in the sustainable agriculture program to improve the management of the coffee plantation and the quality of its coffee. After meeting a series of environmental, social, and economic standards for sustainable agriculture, the farm achieved Rainforest Alliance certification in 2007. This, says Jampol, doesn’t just fill him with pride; it also gives him important added value in the competitive U.S. market, where his coffee is sold with the Rainforest Alliance Certified seal.

Photo by Finca Rosa BlancaTo fulfill its commitment to sustainability, Finca Rosa Blanca has also been a good neighbor for 20 years. Most of the hotel’s staff members are from the local community. They receive such incentives as ongoing training in sustainability and in their vocational interests. The hotel supports the local economy and talent by buying most of its supplies from local purveyors and artisans.

The hotel donates 5% of income from its bar and restaurant to community projects; developed a recycling center; supports the local food bank, and involves students and local residents in reforestation, conservation, and environmental education projects.

“Glenn Jampol and Teri Osman have done a terrific job demonstrating that it is possible to have a successful, financially stable business that is fully committed to environmental conservation and community development”, affirms Ronald Sanabria, Vice President of the Rainforest Alliance’s Sustainable Tourism program. “Finca Rosa Blanca has become an inspiration for all that are committed to sustainable tourism development.”

“Sometimes the right thing to do is to follow your heart,” reflects Jampol. “Sustainability has always been my dream, and I was convinced that besides being the right thing to do, being sustainable is good business.” For his next challenge he aims to convince more hoteliers that being sustainable is well worth the effort.

Contact: Glenn Jampol, Finca Rosa Blanca Coffee Plantation & Inn, Heredia, Costa Rica. Tel.: +506/2269-9392. Email: jampol@fincarosablanca.com; www.fincarosablanca.com

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