At Opuntia, we are committed to environmental and social sustainability in all aspects of our operations. We believe that tourism has the power to make a positive impact on communities. The Galapagos is a particularly fragile environment, and one in which tourism has a major influence. We believe that it is the shared responsibility of the tourism industry, local community, and travelers to ensure that this influence is a positive one.
When we first introduced active land-based Galapagos programs in 2003, nearly all standard Galapagos tours were cruise-based and revenue-contained. Opuntia tours were conceived to rival cruise boats in quality, comfort, and service, but were also an opportunity to improve the Galapagos experience in terms of social and environmental sustainability.
Our most important step in making Opuntia tours sustainable was to integrate the community as stakeholders, something that cruise-based tourism tends to avoid. By including locals in our business model, we provide employment and training that empowers the community to benefit from and care for their natural environment. We believe that this collaborative approach to sustainable travel provides the only viable future for Galapagos tourism.
Our land-based model offers tangible benefits to local communities in the form of employment and training, helping the Galapagos shift from a relatively poor fishing community to a prosperous, tourism-based economy. By forming partnerships and developing our collaborators, we are helping to transfer the responsibility and profit of Galapagos tourism to the Galapagos itself. As this process continues to evolve, the locals assume accountability for the preservation of their livelihood, leading to a balanced future for both the community and their environment.
We are dedicated to safeguard the fragile natural environment that makes the Galapagos so special. In addition to empowering and educating the locals, we abide by the “Leave No Trace” environmental standard, recycle, compost, reduce consumption wherever possible, and travel in small groups in order to leave a smaller footprint. As a part of the collaborative process of sustainability, we also educate our clients so that they can minimize their individual impact during their Galapagos experience.
Hacienda Tranquila Partnership
We also partner with Hacienda Tranquila, a local charitable organization focused on environmental and social issues in the Galapagos. Our partnership with Hacienda Tranquila promotes local farming and provides a market for locally-grown organic fruits and coffee. In addition, we recently launched a native plant reforestation/carbon neutrality project, through which we are planting ten endemic Matazerno trees each month. This project provides dual benefits by offsetting our CO2 output and restoring San Cristobal’s highlands to their natural state. We hope that our partnership can serve as a model for how businesses and conservation organizations can work together to brighten the future of our planet.
Behind the Scenes
Our commitment to sustainable tourism goes beyond the field and behind the scenes. We preside over Ecuador’s Ecotourism Association (ASEC) and invest an important part of our work day to create and promote sustainable policies, tools, and best practices for any operator who wishes to be part of this cause. We are members of the International Ecotourism Society (TIES), Sustainable Travel International (STI) and are certified as sustainable tour providers by the Rainforest Alliance.
CASA OPUNTIA – AN INDUSTRY LEADER
We have done everything possible to make Casa Opuntia a leader in sustainability practices in San Cristobal Island. We have introduced numerous programs and continue to look for ways to innovate and move this ongoing process forward.
Carbon Neutrality Project
Casa Opuntia plays an important role in our partnership with Hacienda Tranquila by funding our carbon neutrality and reforestation project. Casa Opuntia funds the planting and nurturing of ten endemic Matazerno trees each month. About three years after planting, each tree will absorb roughly 148 kilos of CO2 per year. This should make Casa Opuntia carbon neutral by 2015 and carbon negative by 2016.
In addition to fighting climate change, this reforestation project helps to restore San Cristobal Island´s highlands to their original state. San Cristobal’s tortoises, finches, and other native species depend on endemic forests for survival. By 2020, Hacienda Tranquila aims to reintroduce Galapagos tortoises to the land they have restored in San Cristobal Island.
At Casa Opuntia, we never sell a single plastic bottle. We invite our guests to fill their water bottles from our jug of purified drinking water and we sell beer and soda in reusable glass bottles. The field lunches that we prepare are packed in reusable plastic containers with metal silverware. Casa Opuntia strives to produce zero plastic, paper, cardboard, or Styrofoam waste from these lunches. We also separate recyclable glass and plastic, and our organic waste is separated for use as feed for San Cristobal’s livestock.
Water, Electricity, and Cleaning Products
We hang our linens, towels, and bed sheets to dry whenever possible. Casa Opuntia also has motion sensors on our hallway lights, a towel reuse program, low-flow shower heads, and energy-saving CFL bulbs to help us conserve water and electricity. We regularly check and maintain our air conditioning system in order to ensure that it remains energy efficient. We use biodegradable cleaning products stored in reusable containers and provide biodegradable soaps and shampoos in each room.
Our partnership with Hacienda Tranquila is also based on the farming and consumption of local, organic food. By purchasing the organic coffee and hand-picked organic fruits that they grow, we ensure a market for their products and provide security for Hacienda Tranquila’s farmers. We also purchase and serve local chicken, fish, eggs, and other foods when available. When dining at Casa Opuntia, make sure to ask for our local, organic menu.