Debate: how sustainable can an eco-hotel and permaculture community be if it’s for Brits in Portugal?

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Posted Jan 14 2018 by Peter Hall of the Green Man Hotel

We were approached by Peter to ask if we would help promote a proposed eco-holiday complex and permaculture settlement in Portugal. I replied that I didn’t think we could, as I have strong reservations about this kind of eco-hotel development, and explained why. Peter came back with some counter-arguments, and I asked him whether he’d be happy to have this debate in public – he could post around 500 words in favour of the scheme, and I’d do the same, outlining my reservations. That way, he would get exposure for their project (which does indeed involve lots of low-impact materials, design and activities), and I would be able to outline my objections, so that we wouldn’t be accused of supporting something that people see as ultimately unsustainable. I thought that the debate could prove interesting for our readers, who could hear both sides of the argument and make up their own minds.

Peter was a good sport, and agreed, and so you can see both of our arguments below. I think it’s a very interesting debate, and one that can continue in the comments section below – and of course, you can join in too. I genuinely don’t know whose side people will take, so it will be very interesting to find out. Before we start, I’d like to say that I think Peter is a good guy trying to do the right thing, and so hopefully, we won’t fall out. So first, over to Peter.

Peter’s proposal for an eco-hotel complex and settlement

As someone who is very conscious of the damage we humans are doing to this wonderful planet I am always looking for ways of reducing not only my own carbon footprint with better life style choices, but also seeking ways and means to minimise the overall impact our healthy living hotel development will have on the environment. We are still in the final detailed planning phase and able to modify our plans if more beneficial processes become available.

A brief outline of methods we intend to take to potentially make this the greenest, the healthiest, the most sustainable, the lowest impact as well as the most eco friendly and user friendly hotel in the Algarve or anywhere else in the world, tall order I know but have every confidence we can do it.

Hempcrete will be the cornerstone of this low impact hotel construction which will give us a head start in our ambitious plan to be the greenest on the planet, this will be a 100% carbon negative footprint, a wide range of other carbon neutral benefits will be outlined on a web page linked below.

A smart low tech building design will minimise electric and plumbing pipework runs, low voltage lighting all round, heat pumps to heat the water and maybe for some air-con if required, the hotel infrastructure is maximum two storey build though mainly single storey in blocks of two or four with detached and semi detached units close by.

The hotel will be situated in a beautiful river valley with panoramic unspoilt views all round, also is located in the middle of a nature reserve and even better on a permaculture farm that will be able to supply all organic produce for the kitchens, same day fresh, no air miles involved, no fossil fuels either.

As a low impact developer we will be offering like minded people first opportunity to become members of the hotel club which will be providing low impact, low cost, high value, healthy living holidays in this perpetually sunny area in southern Europe.

Another opportunity we will be making available is a fractional shareholder offer for individuals who may have dreamt of buying land, creating their own permaculture farm and living the good life, planning to build a home there, trying to market their produce in competition with others at the local market, then on reflection realise that this is such a daunting prospect that it will forever remain a dream or goal beyond reach.

However, Ta da, here comes the cavalry with a low cost easy and painless solution, up to 25% of this fantastic project will be up for grabs for permies, greenies and all low impact, sustainable living, non materialistic, eco friendly, off grid and nature loving individuals and even better no marketing required as all produce will be allocated to the adjacent hotel enterprise.

Here’s a more detailed version of this article; you can also email us for more info at [email protected]

The site of the proposed eco-hotel in the Algarve, Portugal

Dave’s reservations

Sure, the hotel will be more sustainable than most (and probably all) others on the Algarve – but the problems surrounding this project go deeper than that for me.

Coincidentally, we recently blogged an article about another foray into Portugal by Brits, and my reservations about the hotel I think can be best illustrated by comparing that project to this one. The article is here, and it involves a UK co-operative bringing olive oil from small farmers in Portugal by sailboat. Below are the differences:

1. Portuguese farmers: the Sailboat Project is helping Portuguese small farmers by finding customers for them in the UK, and paying them up front. In contrast, the hotel project is pushing up land prices for Portuguese farmers. I know that many northern Europeans are buying up land in Portugal for holiday homes, for resorts or for sustainable settlements. All these projects will cause the same problems.

The Reigado family – olive oil producers for the Sailboat Project.

2. Fossil fuels: each Sailboat Project trip transports 3000 litres of olive oil by sail, and that’s 3000 litres that won’t have to be delivered using fossil fuels, so it will reduce fossil fuel use overall. In contrast, the hotel project will encourage hundreds, perhaps thousands of individual flights per year, but will make people feel that this is OK because the resort itself is low-impact. Even for Brits who will end up living there, I can’t believe that they won’t fly to the UK regularly, and have their friends and family fly out to visit them regularly too. Flying is one of the most environmentally-damaging things that people can do, and if, as the UN say, the global population is going to peak at over 11 billion, then if we want to survive, we have to stop flying. That means all of us, unless we want an even more elitist world where a tiny minority can fly, but the rest can’t. 11 billion people all flying regularly would be suicidal.

3. Co-operatives vs investments: the Sailboat Project is a co-operative, and therefore part of the ‘Solidarity economy’, in which no-one makes money from anyone else’s work. In contrast, the hotel project is asking for conventional investments, which will increase the wealth of people with capital, and give them greater control over the business – rather than those who do the work. In fact that wealth will ultimately be extracted from the people who do the work (where else?). This is the most difficult of the three arguments to comprehend, but we support, and would like to help develop the Solidarity economy, including co-operatives, community land trusts, self-employment, ‘commons’ (Wikipedia and free/open source software , community energy, community-supported agriculture, credit unions and more) – structures that are non-hierarchical and non-extractive (money stays in communities and with people who do the work, rather than being extracted from both by investors).

Yes, this is better than the usual Algarve holiday, but why not set up a co-operative venture in the UK? I’m a member of the Ecological Land Co-operative, who are helping people do just that.

What do you think?