Founded by Jeroen van Drunen and Lennard de Klerk, Irota EcoLodge is a small-scale sustainable holiday resort in Northern Hungary that opened in July 2016. In just a few short years, the’ve already set an example in the European tourism industry for sustainable hotel management.
I spoke with Lennard about their vision for the resort, their current green initiatives, and their plans for the future.
The Irota EcoLodge story: How it all started
With a background in electrical engineering, Lennard’s career has focused on developing projects to reduce carbon emissions and save energy. Prior to Irota EcoLodge, he worked for a consulting company, the Dutch government, then founded his own company.
“My partner and I always had the dream to get out of city and move to the countryside, renovate an old mansion, and see if we can develop something on the tourist side. And that’s exactly what we did.”
Lennard and Jeroen had been regular visitors to Northern Hungary for a while, but it was a certain deserted, yet promising mansion that led them to the small village (only 50 inhabitants!) of Irota.
The three years they spent turning the mansion into an eco-friendly home gave them the experience and expertise needed to build the three holiday villas that make up Irota EcoLodge today. They began construction in the spring of 2015 and finished in just one year.
“I wanted to make it climate neutral. I helped other companies reduce their their CO2 emissions. But now for ourselves, I wanted to make sure the renovation was energy efficient.”
What do they actually do?
Greenwashing is an unfortunate reality in the hotel industry. But Irota EcoLodge was designed with sustainability in mind. It’s in their DNA.
“Our underlying vision with Irota EcoLodge is to show that luxury and sustainability don’t oppose each other. We wanted to set an example in the tourism industry: you can have a good life in a sustainable way.”
Everything from the building materials to the laundry system is sustainable. The bearing structures are made of wood and they used cellulose insulation, which is made of old newspapers.
A major challenge was building a sustainable accommodation in Irota using the latest technologies, as the village is so isolated. “If this project was done in Budapest, we’d have a lot experience and capital available, but we’re really in the boonies here.”
They were, however, able to mix new and traditional technologies, such as firewood for heating. Irota EcoLodge also uses rainwater to flush toilets and supply the washing machines. They have a biological swimming pool, use a biological wastewater treatment facility, offer guests free mountain bikes, and decorated the villas with local and sustainable furniture.
The resort also generates its own energy. They use solar panels to generate electricity, and each house is equipped with solar collectors to heat water.
Irota EcoLodge has been well recognized for their efforts: they recently won a green award from OzoneTV, a Hungarian TV channel. Out of the 69 participants, Irota EcoLodge got the silver medal in the small and medium enterprise category. The jury in particular praised the fact that Irota EcoLodge is the first, and so far only, climate-neutral accommodation in Hungary.
How do they communicate their green initiatives?
For Irota EcoLodge, sustainability is not just a buzzword used for marketing purposes. They’re the first and only climate neutral accomodation in Hungary and in the larger region. To prove they are indeed climate-neutral, they publish a Carbon Footprint Report each year.
While guests can read about Irota EcoLodge’s sustainability credentials on their website and in brochures, the only thing they ask from guests is to separate their waste. After all, the main reason travelers come to visit is to relax in luxury. But Lennard found that after staying for a while, guests become interested in the resort’s green initiatives.
“They come with lots of questions: How does it work to use rainwater to flush toilets? How does filtering the swimming pool water work? They get interested and wonder ‘How can I apply this at home?’ It’s a very sneaky way of educating people.”
As more and more companies are realizing the importance of sustainability, Irota EcoLodge also offers corporate retreats. Heineken, for example, recently had its annual management meeting at the resort.
“If companies want to go to a nicer environment for their annual meeting (not a stuffy air conditioned meeting room), they could come to us.”
Their plans for the future
When it comes to future plans, Lennard highlighted three concrete areas they want to improve.
Next year, they’ll start using soap nuts for laundry instead of using powder detergent for a more natural way of washing. They’re also looking into options to reduce the waste generated by their guests.
“We do recycle, but the best thing is to avoid generating waste in first place.”
Thirdly, they plan to swap out their current diesel company car for an electric one.
The benefits of eco-friendly hotel management
Besides reducing their negative impact on the environment, focusing on sustainability helps keep the resort’s operational costs down.
“Our water consumption is very low and our heating costs are low. We make money by selling electricity to the grid.”
While some larger green initiatives can seem like a huge investment, it’s these projects that will often save you the most money over time. “What seems expensive now will pay itself back.”
Their green initiatives also draw in the growing eco-conscious crowd and set their resort apart. Today’s travelers increasingly see sustainability as a requirement. In the Netherlands, for example, employees of governmental agencies have to stay in accommodation that meets specific eco-friendly requirements.
“Sustainability helps improve your profile. It really helps to show you’re different.”
For more sustainability tips and expert advice check out:
- 10 sustainable tourism heroes to watch in 2018 and beyond
- How to make your hotel eco-friendly in 5 easy steps
- Top 10 environmental hotel management practices
- 5 low-cost sustainable hotel trends you should adopt immediately
- 6 hotel sustainability challenges and how to overcome them
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