THE PUNCH INTERVIEWS
Meet Troy Sinclair, founder of Batu Karang
Batu Karang Lembongan Resort & Spa gives priority to the environment as best as they can. Being located on a small island, the resort does its best to take proactive steps to ensure that both travellers and the resort’s impact on the island is as minimal as possible.
What is your story?
My name is Troy Sinclair, originally from Noosa Heads, Queensland, Australia.
I moved to Bali in 2003 to start a project with the family which has now become Batu Karang Lembongan Resort. My background is in hospitality; growing up in a touristic town, I worked in bars, restaurants and kitchens all the way through to management level. I did my first bachelor in business, my second bachelor in international business and then moved on to doing a MBA in hotels and tourism, which has become my career.
All those teachings and learnings have been used and put into place into creating Batu Karang.. I traveled quite a bit through Europe and Africa before arriving to Nusa Lembongan. I have been here ever since and loved every minute of it.
What is the story behind Batu Karang in Nusa Lembongan?
When we first arrived here, there wasn’t a lot of other properties; There was mainly surfing and backpacking kind of tourism. We saw an opportunity with the land that was available and went from there.
One of the key things that we were focused on from the very start was ‘how do we do this with best practice’? How do we ensure that what we do is in tune with the environment and the locals, so that we don’t end up ruining what we came to enjoy.
How do you address sustainability on a remote island?
Addressing sustainability on a remote island, or what we like to say ‘an island off an island’, is quite challenging.
Many of the challenges are from the lack of infrastructure; We have to do a lot of things by ourselves because there’s no existing infrastructure to plug into. That goes right down to water supply, electricity, waste management, even the supply of goods that don’t exist here on the island. A lot of that have to come from Bali and once it’s here, it’s got to go back because the island is limited in its space and ability to process waste.
What are some of your sustainable actions?
Some of the sustainable actions that we’ve committed to really came from the beginnings of the resort. We really wanted to make sure that what we built didn’t destroy what we came to enjoy.
There is a multitude of small things that we do to try and make a difference by looking at what our high usage is.
Small things like straws, how our goods are delivered, what they’re delivered in. Are they boxes polystyrene or are they boxes that we can reuse? We’ve done things like changing our bottles to aluminium cans that can be crushed and then given to the local recycler. We’ve used different straws, coffee cups and takeaway cups. We make sure that they’re biodegradable so that we’re minimizing our impact, especially on our general footprint for rubbish, waste, etc.
And that extends through to our cleaning products. We use a lot of bio products and that ties into the sewage treatment plant as well. Basically, if we’re using harsh bleachers, they’re not good for our surfaces, they’re not good for the environment and then they end up in the sewage treatment plant which is not good for the bacteria, which then create problems for our system. We grab all those little one percenters and put them together to make one strategy to make our sustainability as a whole entity better.
SEWAGE TREATMENT PLANT
Very early on, we planned for sewage treatment plants, water treatment plants, and how to recycle water, basically looking at what was missing in terms of the island’s infrastructure.
Nusa Lembongan doesn’t have PDAM water. We don’t have electricity and we don’t plug into a sewage treatment plant that is provided by the government. Therefore, we didn’t want to be that property that basically used septic pits that just sat there infested. We really wanted to do the right thing for the island and its environment.
All our sewage come down to various sum-pits which then get put up to a sewage treatment plant which uses bacteria to process that sewage before going through a final tank, an automatic sprinkler system. The water is then able to be redistributed back into the gardens and also put back into the water table. We draw a lot of the water out through wells so we try to put as much of that back into the water source so it can be used again.
Looking at our in room and looking at our consumption as a resort, the next thing that came along was water.
Drinking water usually comes in water gallons or plastic / glass bottles and while buying through suppliers with sustainable product such as recyclable or aluminum was a step forward, it still didn’t reduce our footprint because we had to use fossil fuel-based transport to bring all of this over to the island and to take it off the island.
So, what we’ve done is we’ve moved into doing our own water bottling plant. We have our own sanitized room and we have our own water supply, whereby we bottle all our own water and make sure that the bottles are always recycled.
The water available in the rooms is as sustainable as it can be, because the bottles are recycled and reused. The water is produced on site, sanitized on site, and remineralized on site, then given out for consumption.
This is cost effective for us, because now we’re not having to transport or pay higher prices for delivery of goods. Doing it in house makes sense and it’s better for the environment.
One of the other high use items that we have in the hotel is laundry. The busier we get, the more sheets we’re going through, the more pillowcases and towels.
There’s no commercial laundry here on Nusa Lembongan, and the local providers are not using good water. That became an issue for the quality of our laundry as it affected the softness.
To maintain our standards, we started doing our laundry in house using the water supply that we’re already creating through our water treatment system. Doing that, our laundry lasts longer, comes back fresher, cleaner and we’re reducing our transportation cost as well. We get better value in the process.
We’re also created a new laundry area for commercial laundries to actually take that in house. It increases a little bit on our electricity but the long term benefit is good.
We’ve created a paper-less environment. Departmental check lists are now done through an application on the phone.
Our actions include who we work with for our rubbish collection. Currently, we work with Lembongan Recycling, who picks up our waste every day before going through a separation process. All the organic waste will be distributed to farmers to feed animals. Aluminium and plastic get recycled. They have contracts with people and companies in Bali to continue this process.
That’s important to us because while we can’t do that in house, we contribute to local businesses in the community.
STORM WATER SYSTEM
When you build a resort, you’re introducing a lot of hard surfaces that wasn’t there before. You’ve got roofs, you’ve got roads, you’ve got stairs and footpaths. And whilst you still do have your gardens and landscaping, it’s nowhere near the same surface area as what was originally open land, where water could soak freely into the ground.
That creates a little bit of an issue, especially when we get to rainy season. Big rains come and all of a sudden you have flooding happening through your property. Where does the water run off to?
Because we’re on a hill the water would essentially run to the bottom of the property and straight into the ocean which could affect the seaweed farms that are out in front of us. More importantly, the land and the water table won’t getting as much water back into it.
So, we created a stormwater system which plugs into nine absorption wells throughout the property. When the rain does come and it falls off our roof and onto our road, it runs to our stormwater system, which then diverts it into wells that are anywhere between 9 to 30 meters deep. The water accumulates into those wells, and slowly soaks back into the water table. So that way our existence isn’t displacing water that would have normally gone into the water table.
Very early on, we changed all of our lighting to LED lights to reduce our electricity consumption. We’ve done it pretty much throughout the whole resort, and some of our gardens are powered by solar lamps off the grid as well.
These small percentage changes, make a big difference as we’re freeing up electricity for the local community and infrastructure, where electricity is limited on the island.
Can you tell us more about your hydroponic garden?
Another high turnover item we have in the resort is obviously the restaurant and the produce that’s going out in the restaurant. A big challenge is bringing all of our supply over from Bali. There’s not much local supply for vegetables, fruits, even fish and meat here. Almost everything has to come from Bali, which can cause some headaches in terms of how fresh products can be. And when you’re trying to present a five-star product to the market, lettuce that’s been damage or edible flowers that have wilted on their journey over here doesn’t present very well. Therefore, you have a higher cost and higher wastage. So, we’ve created our own garden.
That garden is a hydroponic garden and we grow as much as we can in there, in particular the high use items, so that we can subsidize a lot of our supply and ensure that a greater percentage of our content can be as fresh as it can be. Each day, we have a menu board which says what we’ve harvested for that day and it actually labels to people which items on the menu have come from our harvests. The customers themselves can then get involved and say well, I’m going to have that today because I know that’s fresh from the garden today.
We can’t do all of our supply yet because we’re limited in the space that we have. But it certainly helps subsidize. And again, it comes back to those little one or two percenters that I’ve talked about already.
How do you set an example for the community?
I think that setting an example for the community is extremely important, especially when you are one of the biggest entities on the island. All eyes are on you and how you operate.
In terms of foreign investment in a country like Indonesia, it’s important that you bring best practice with you. The local community can essentially learn from that, take those learnings and install them into their own practices. We ensure that the practices we are putting in place are known to them, so that as their own businesses develop, they can implement similar strategies which are not only sustainable, but also beneficial for their own profitability and their own advancements.
So further down the track, you’re not isolated as the only property that’s making the efforts. Everything I’ve shared throughout this interview is made aware to the community with regular meetings or inviting the heads of the banjars to come in, as well. They get a tour of the property to see what we’re doing and so they can understand that we’re not just here to take advantage of the opportunity.
We’re here for the long term and we’re not here messing the place up. We’re here creating a business for their younger generations and generations to come.
What are you looking forward to in the near future?
If I look to the future and reassess what we’ve already done, one of the areas that we would like to focus on is how we can harness solar power and take as much of our electricity off the grid.
We’ve already started researching how we can do that. Hopefully in 2024 we can get our first couple of villas implemented and then slowly work through the rest of the resort after we get some successful testing.
The next one is to obviously look at our transportation and logistics to and from the island. It’s heavily fossil fuel based and difficult to assess how to do that economically viable while offering convenient for our guests.