Business

Green retreat

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Businesses seeking sustainable solutions could do worse than book in at Green & Away – Europe’s only tented conference facility.

 

In a field where innovation is highly prized, the Green & Away conference centre is exploring the boundaries of sustainable living. Here air-conditioned meeting rooms and excessive corporate facilities make way for wooden cabins, organic bars, solar-powered showers and compost toilets. The reason, says co-ordinator Helen Cranston, is simple: “We want people to make changes in their lives to be more sustainable by experiencing low-impact living.”

Green & Away was set up for a camping weekend in 1990 on a farm in Gloucestershire, England. It has since grown into a full-scale conference centre that offers workshops, management meetings, training courses and team-building weekends. Recent guests include Friends of the Earth, the National Trust, and the New Economics Foundation. Not bad for a site run entirely by volunteers.

Everything here is ecological. Hot showers are powered by heat from the burning of wood. Solar panels and a wind turbine heat water for the kitchen. The food is vegetarian and organic wherever possible. Some is grown on-site. The bar offers organic wine. There are educational workshops, guest speakers on sustainability and musicians available for evening entertainment. Sometimes even a campfire storyteller is on standby.

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“Things aren’t necessarily cutting-edge technology, but everything has been thought through from an environmental perspective,” says Cranston. “You have to make trade-offs sometimes between having local stuff, seasonal stuff and keeping a healthy diet for people on the site. All these things have to come into play.”

Running the camp requires a large workforce. Some 50 volunteers are present on the site at all times. Throughout a summer, about 100 volunteers donate their efforts. Because of its camping theme, the centre is open only from late June to late August. There is a capacity of 140 guests. Prices are low, with costs per night varying from £10 to £35 per person ($15 to $50). That is sound value.

Notable organisations are taking advantage. In July and August, scheduled guests include ACT Alliance, an influential humanitarian NGO; the Resurgence Summer Gathering, a network of ecologist readers, speakers and supporters; and Friends of the Bees, a campaign group. However, the ultimate target is to convert some of the more commercial companies.

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“There is an element of preaching to the converted,” says Cranston. “We have had some non-NGOs come to us before and we’d love to extend that. It’s quite a big step for a company to come somewhere there is camping. And the more mainline the company, the less likely they are to take that step. So it’s a tricky one.”

But make no mistake; Green & Away has catered for NGOs that were previously apathetic towards ecological principles. Several have been converted, or at the very least swayed in the right direction. In order to attract corporations, however, Cranston believes they need to target a specific demand.

“Where we could be providing more of a service is within the team-building world,” she says, “where you need to get managers, CEOs and directors away from offices and the normal boardroom corporate environment and get them relaxing in a natural environment where creativity can bubble to the surface a lot more. That could be our niche market.”

Photos: Rachel Hembury.

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