Putting sustainability into practice and achieving awards are only part of resort operator Club Med's goals. One of its Asian resorts is pioneering efforts to educate guests and promote real-world knowledge of environmental issues. By Jeremy Torr.
Cherating, Malaysia, 13 November 2017. As part of its mantra to maintain “an ongoing pursuit of global environmental sustainability and social responsibility,” French resort operator Club Med has always looked at the sustainabile impact of its operations around the world. It has gained a string of Green Globe Certifications since it first applied to register back in 2011 and currently has eight certified resorts across the Asian region.
As part of the certification processes, Club Med has undertaken initiatives including refuse management, energy-saving equipment, and protecting local biodiversity on campus. It has also investigated and applied other local programs that positively impact the local community around its resorts. These include reducing carbon footprint, supporting local industries and workers, and promoting Agrisud, an initiative that helps local farmers boost their agricultural activities in a more sustainable way.
At Club Med Cherating Beach on the east coast of Malaysia, the company has taken a new step towards polishing its sustainable credentials. It has employed a dedicated staff member to promote its green message. Unetha Balachandran – officially titled the resort’s Green Gentil Organisateur (GGO) – is tasked not just with looking at how the activities and infrastructure at Cherating can be made more environmentally sensitive, but also with raising guests’ awareness of environmental and social issues.
“Cherating Beach was the first business in the country to be certified by Green Globe,” says Balachandran . “We are also proud that Cherating holds the title as Club Med’s very first eco-nature resort, with around 60 hectares of preserved primary forests within the 85 hectare resort.” The Green Globe certification process is also used as a tool to manage Club Med’s on-site sustainability strategy.
Balachandran has taken up the new role – a first at Cherating – to help manage the overall growth and development of environmentally friendly initiatives in the resort. She is in charge of coordinating sustainable activities within the resort, including staff training, waste management, training development, and promotional tools - as well as biodiversity research and conservation.
She also coordinates activities with the local Turtle Sanctuary, set up in 1972 to protect and promote the beachside breeding grounds of the endangered Green and Leatherback turtles. Playing a vital role in local fauna conservation, the Sanctuary is an established safe zone and has been one of the turtles’ favourite egg-laying spots for decades.
Faced with perils like poachers, shore erosion and natural predators, the turtles now get the benefit of protected off-site laying and nesting areas at the Sanctuary. This helps ensure the safe hatching and development of the young turtle hatchlings. By relocating the nests and releasing them when the nestlings are grown, more hatchlings are successfully released into the sea to ensure the species’ survival. The Sanctuary also acts as a research facility, and as a sickbay for injured turtles to be nursed back to health.
But Balachandran says turtle and jungle watching are just one part of her job. Just as important is the eco-education aspect of the job; in fact she describes it as key to her role. “It adds to the overall experience for guests and it truly is rewarding when guests return to share their experiences of the resort and its activities with their friends and family members,” she says. It’s not just about turtle and monkey selfies – it’s about spreading the word on the importance of cohabiting with the natural world.
Balachandran‘s new GGO role required specialised training from Club Med’s Sustainability Coordinator for South East Asia and Pacific, Lisa Bedez, who provided on-the-job-training for Balachandran over the first few months of her role in early 2017. Fluent in English, Malay and Tamil, she says the love for nature, culture and people were the biggest factor in applying for and accepting the GGO job at Club Med Cherating Beach. “This job was specially created to manage the growth and development of environmentally friendly initiatives in the resort,” she says, “and it’s and the best place to work in, with a myriad of opportunities to meet people of different backgrounds too.”
With the Club Med beach area making up nearly 75% of the turtle’s favourite nesting grounds, there is plenty of scope for guests to spot rare wildlife at nesting time, and to learn the differences between various species that use the beach. Balachandran also talks to guests about issues like pollution and illegal fishing which can threaten many forms of marine life, not just the endangered turtles.
However, the turtles are hanging in there. In 2016, close to 600 turtles made it up the beach to lay eggs in the sand, with hundreds of Club Med guests able to see and understand the value of the endangered species. And when they go back home, those guests have – if Balachandran has done her job well – a much deeper understanding of the ecology of the region, and the role that sustainable development can play in ensuring wild animals’ survival in a rapidly changing global environment.
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