A Guide to Living Sustainably in Bali


July 2015, and it's our last full day in Bali before we fly back to Laos, and we're feeling dejected since we haven't found any land to buy that meets our criteria. Now, any sane person will say that buying land takes time, lots of time, which is true, even more so in Bali where an array of pitfalls awaits naive expats seeking to purchase a piece of paradise.

Before taking a job in Laos, my Indonesian wife and I lived in Bali for five years and our two sons were born here. Thus, we knew the geography of Bali fairly well and had narrowed down our land quest to an area north of Ubud on the way to Mount Batur, a simmering volcano with a pristine lake in its caldera. We had just seen property that wasn't quite right and it's late afternoon, and there's one last piece that the realtor, my wife's friend, wants to show us near a quaint village called Sebatu. And, when we arrive, lo and behold it's perfect, sitting on a high plateau, bordered to the north by verdant rice paddies and to the south by forest on a steep slope dropping down into a valley. The property is larger than we were looking for, slightly more than an acre and is worrisome because the price will most likely blow our budget out of the water. But again providence smiled on us and the owner was eager to sale at a price we could afford. While we planned to only build a modest house, the land can accommodate up to six compact bungalows allowing us to create a resort and hopefully provide a secondary income. Thus, our ambitious journey begins; one in which I'll be personally involved both in designing and building according to the Green Globe Standard for resorts, which applies stringent criteria to minimize environmental and social impacts.

Over the last three decades, I've spent the better part of my forestry career working with remote communities and forest industry in the tropics - assisting them to sustainably manage their natural resources, applying Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification. Therefore, when it finally came time to build my own house and what now we're calling a boutique eco-resort, how could I not practice what I've preached for so long. The Green Globe Standard, similar to FSC, is based on three pillars of sustainability -- environmental, socio-economic, and cultural/heritage. Building and managing a resort according to stringent sustainability criteria is increasingly important in Bali, where tourism has become a double-edged sword, bringing economic development, but also driving environmental degradation and straining the cultural fabric that has made this island so unique.

As with most people more than half-way through a career, I've strived to develop a guiding philosophy on work; which encompasses three aspects -- a sense of place, a sense of purpose, and a set of principles. I've been lucky to have had several great experiences where all those aspects came together, but that was some time ago. While my career has taken me to many exotic places, I've had to live a nomadic lifestyle, never being able to put down roots, nor feel truly part of a community. After some lengthy introspection, I decided late last year to take a career break to re-focus and re-align myself, returning to Bali in an effort to seek out both a sense of place and purpose, and be part of something that won't compromise my principles.

I've structured these journal entries into three categories that coincides with the aspects of my above-mentioned philosophy -- place, purpose, and principles. A sense of place takes root in my strong desire to be part of a community, and I'll describe Bali's beauty and tranquility, both in its landscapes and people, and how that has made it easy to feel at home here. I'll provide glimpses about what it's like living in a quaint but quirky Balinese village. Having a strong sense of purpose has kept me motivated into the third decade of my career, which has been mostly focused on conserving and sustainably managing extensive tropical forests. Forest conservation remains important to me, and the land my wife and I bought near Sebatu village is partially forested and bordered on one side by 30 hectares of secondary forest. We'll work with the local farmers to plant fruit and spice trees, along with other valuable tree species to increase their revenue, in turn helping to ensure this forest stays intact. We've begun to form a non-profit organization in conjunction with Balinese leaders with a goal to reforest one of Bali's most critical watersheds. Under the category of principles, I'll chronicle the architectural design and construction procedures devised to minimize water, electricity, and cement usage. I'll describe how we're building a natural swimming pool that filters the water applying ecological processes, along with our use of solar panels to power the pool pumps, and a waste water garden to naturally cleanse grey water. My hope is that readers with interests in Balinese culture and beautiful landscapes, along with sustainable architecture and construction practices, will find these journal entries interesting and useful.

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