Sasaab Achieves Global Ecosphere Retreat® Status
The Long Run is a coalition of nature-based tourism businesses striving for a positive impact on people and places. The organisation’s Global Ecosphere Retreat® standard is recognised by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council and cited as the most rigorous standard for privately protected areas and nature-based tourism operators.
After passing rigorous onsite assessment by external auditors, Sasaab in Kenya, part of The Safari Collection, now joins ten other Global Ecosphere Retreats worldwide to become a centre of excellence in sustainability.
Not far from the Samburu National Reserve in Kenya’s Northern Frontier District, luxury camp Sasaab is a joint venture between The Safari Collection and the Ngutuk Ongiron Community. With far-reaching views across the Samburu region towards Mount Kenya, the reserve is home to the ‘Samburu Special Five’— beisa oryx, reticulated giraffe, Grevy’s zebra, gerenuk antelope, and Somali ostrich.
Designed to bring conservation, communities, and tourism together, Sasaab partners with the Samburu community who play a vital role in conserving endangered species and benefits from tourism. In consultation with the Ngutuk Ongiron board, Sasaab supports health and education projects that improve the lives of over 600 families. Since concerted community conservation efforts started in 2004, large mammals such as giraffes and lions are more frequently cited in the area.
Anne-Kathrin Zschiegner, Head of Technical Assistance at The Long Run, comments:
It has been incredible to see Sasaab’s progress and unwavering commitment to sustainability, now celebrated in becoming one of only 11 Global Ecosphere Retreat’s in the world. The Westgate Conservancy is a model of how tourism can support communities in remote areas via a mutually beneficial, long-term plan. Sasaab’s Footprint Foundation’s work has grown from strength to strength, not only behind the scenes measuring and reducing waste and energy but also in guest education and creating more transformative and sustainable experiences.
Here, we catch up with Mark Boyd, Director of The Safari Collection Footprint foundation, to discuss the journey.
Why did Sasaab join The Long Run, and what has the journey been like up until this point?
Sasaab joined The Long Run to embed sustainability into the core of its operations so that it could realise its mission to protect ecosystems in harmony with community partners in the long term. The journey has been incredibly inspiring, from being part of a network of like-minded members worldwide to problem-solving with the team on a very practical level. Aiming for the prestigious Global Ecosphere Retreat® (GER®) standard has driven positive change in every facet of the business.
What have been some standout moments?
Signing a new 30-year lease with the community in Samburu in 2022 has given the lodge sustainability in the truest sense. It means that everything we do in the 4Cs — The Long Run’s holistic sustainability framework Conservation, Community, Culture, and Commerce — has longevity; we’re creating something that will last over time.
We’ve been working with Ngutuk Ongiron for 14 years, so it’s a testament to good relations that they are happy to sign the lease for another 30 years. Conservancy work in Kenya is not without its challenges but underpins everything we believe in.
The Long Run and the GER® process helped us with this process by pushing us to make the agreement stronger than it had been and work to create something that works better for all partners.
The Long Run’s Regional East Africa group has also been instrumental, driving us forward to share and excel together. Likewise, annual meetings have been milestone moments distilling a mindset change.
What have been some of the biggest challenges?
One of the (surprising) challenges has been creating a company culture around sustainability in a country where people already live incredibly sustainable lives but often without realising it. Creating this bottom-up concept of sustainability throughout the property is an interesting task — how can we involve every single colleague in the process?
Whether it’s involving gardeners in water saving or guides talking to guests about fundraising and our conservation partners like The Long Run. It is critical to get employees to realise what they’re doing and be proud of it. We’ve worked hard to create an atmosphere and environment where everyone is part of a shared mission.
What are you proudest of?
I’m particularly attached to three of our community and culture projects. Firstly, our indigenous school uniform programme in Samburu, where we supporting our partners in the community to create a new style of school uniform that reflects their incredible cultural herirate. I’m also proud of the team for delivering 400,000 free school lunches per year, and our Conservation Scholarships, which have so far been awarded to over 30 students from across Kenya
What does the achievement mean to the team?
We all feel elated; this is what we’ve been working towards, and now external assessors have acknowledged that what we’ve accomplished is outstanding. It’s a great feeling! Incredibly rewarding.
Why do you think the Global Ecosphere Retreat® standard stands out compared to other certifications and badges?
It’s thorough; there’s no way anyone could greenwash their way through this because it involves on-site and off-site assessment with external assessors — this is the real deal. The focus of the five-day assessment was checking that we were doing what we had said we do.
How has The Long Run team supported Sasaab on the journey?
At the outset, The Long Run team came to Sasaab to understand the whole project and operations and establish what needed to be done to reach the GER® standard. Without this, we wouldn’t have passed the GER®. Still, more importantly, we wouldn’t have made so many changes that have improved the camp’s environmental footprint, our negotiations with the community, and our joint conservation work.
What does this achievement mean for people visiting Sasaab?
Part of the GER® standard is involving every member of staff and I hope that’s reflected in the guest experience. We encourage our team to share their knowledge around sustainability and the 4Cs. An exciting project on the horizon is a new 4C centre at the lodge, which will help to integrate The Long Run and the 4Cs into the guest experience. Beyond that, this holistic 4C framework means that Sasaab isn’t just an island in community land; the ecosystem, community and culture are central to everything we do. This must create more meaningful experiences for our guests.
About the Global Ecosphere Retreat® standard.
The Long Run’s members join as Fellow Members and embark on a supported, bespoke journey to work towards the Global Ecosphere Retreat® (GER®) standard. This standard is recognised by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) and only awarded to organisations that demonstrate a holistic balance of conservation, community, culture, and commerce (the 4Cs).
GER® is considered ‘one of the world’s best standards for privately protected areas’ (Dr Jeff A. Langholz). It is ultimately for those nature-based tourism businesses that are exceptionally motivated to be a force for the greater good and are the best of the best in sustainable tourism.
The GER® standard is unparalleled by any other standard in that it:
- rigorously covers all conservation, community, culture, and commerce aspects of sustainability in tourism with equal weight.
- is not merely about compliance but is a vehicle to support nature-based tourism businesses in their journey of continuous improvement.
- is not only about businesses mitigating their negative environmental impact, but about positively impacting the well-being of the planet and the people.
- is earned rather than granted following a highly rigorous assessment by accomplished experts and professionals.
- requires businesses to own, directly manage, or influence a significant landscape or seascape making GER® specialist and committed to driving meaningful change.
- requires businesses to be commercially profitable or commit to attaining commercial viability, demonstrating that conserving nature is an economic imperative beyond the ethical arguments of posterity.
Once a property achieves GER® status, it is granted for six years with a compulsory mid-term (three year) review to ensure compliance and review where needed. To find out more, please contact The Long Run team.