What the heck is a carbon-neutral safari anyway?

Emboo River Camp is seriously sustainable and we’re obsessed.
Written by Melanie van Zyl
30 May 2022

Combatting climate change is no easy feat, but Kenya has already taken major steps toward model sustainability practices. Did you know? Most of Kenya’s electricity is already generated by renewable sources and in 2020 all single-use plastics were banned in protected areas such as beaches, forests and parks.

In a much grander gesture, the iconic African wildlife destination made a pioneering commitment during COP26. The Kenyan government recently announced that all vehicles and operations across the Maasai Mara and other natural areas must only rely on renewable energy. Situated within the National Reserve, Emboo River Camp is one sustainable safari lodge that’s ahead of the game.

Kenya Map

 

Kenya has committed to Achieving Sustainable Tourism by 2030

In a ground-breaking declaration, the cabinet secretary for tourism in Kenya Hon. Najib Balala vowed to restrict the use of vehicular transportation within all National Parks and Reserves to those that only use non-fossil renewable energy fueling. He also confirmed that all hospitality and tourism facilities must adopt renewable energy and a circular economy in their operations by 2030.

Emboo River Camp Carbon Neutral
Hidden in a forest along a river, Emboo River is positioned in the heart of Kenya’s Maasai Mara | Source Emboo River Camp / Pie Aerts

“Kenya like most developing countries faces the most severe threats arising from change in climatic conditions and weather patterns caused by carbon emissions globally. It is imperative that as we demand for more action against emissions as well as resources to mitigate the threats to our economy and livelihoods of our people, we must likewise play our part in reducing our own footprint in any way possible”.

Africa carries the heaviest burden of the associated climate change effects, despite contributing less than 5% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Industrialised countries – namely China, the US, India, Russia and Japan – top the list in the emission of greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide. A SOWC Kenya Case Study report further states that “Kenya’s share of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) is less than 1% of total global emissions”.

However, one of the most under-told stories is how Kenya is decarbonizing its total energy supply while greatly expanding the grid providing access to electricity for all Kenyans. In 2018, 70% of the nation’s installed electricity capacity came from renewable energy sources (at that point, three times the global average). That figure has climbed significantly in just four years and today 86% of the total energy supply is renewable.

“KenGen is committed to ensuring a steady and reliable supply of competitively priced electricity to support Kenya’s economy,” said KenGen Managing Director and CEO, Rebecca Miano. Today, KenGen has an installed generation capacity of 1,818MW, of which over 86% is drawn from green sources namely: Hydro (826MW), Geothermal (713MW), Thermal (253MW), and Wind (26MW).

Emboo River Founders
During a dinner in the Maasai Mara in 2018, Loïc Amadò, Valery Super, and William Santian spoke about their frustrations regarding the status quo of the safari industry: wanting to see unique wildlife while negatively contributing to the ecosystem through polluting vehicles, solid waste, untreated wastewater leaking into the soil… It did not make sense. A few months after this dinner, Emboo was born | Source: Emboo River Camp

As the first lodge in Kenya to have its entire fleet of 4WD vehicles powered by solar energy, Emboo River Camp has been committed to making a difference since its inception in 2019. The lodge is now being used as a case study thanks to its innovative eco-minded solutions. The team behind the first fully carbon-neutral safari camp in East Africa is using on-the-ground expertise to counsel others in enhancing the Kenyan safari.

 

Wait, WTF is carbon-neutral anyway?

Carbon-neutral means that the carbon emissions of the camp (including all logistical, supply and conservation activities, right down to the air flights of guests and management) have been carefully calculated. Either, a camp must generate no greenhouse emissions or they are then offset to qualify.

Mara safari
Thanks to Emboo River’s unique sustainable set up, you can enjoy the beauty of the Maasai Mara and protect it for generations to come | Source: Emboo River Camp

Why does this matter? It lessens the impact of climate change. Carbon neutrality reduces environmental pollution significantly and thus increases biodiversity.

“In short: we are mainly focused on reducing our carbon emissions”, says Valery Super, Emboo River Camp’s co-founder. “The limited emissions that remain are being offset and we have a tailor-made carbon calculator to calculate our carbon emissions”.

 

So, what does it take for a safari camp to reduce carbon emissions?

Light on the earth takes on a whole new meaning at Emboo River Camp. This innovative stay is creating an entirely conscious carbon-neutral experience that weaves together culture and conservation. Let’s step inside the first carbon-neutral camp in the Maasai Mara.

According to Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol, carbon dioxide emissions can be divided into three scopes. Emboo River’s initial focus is on scopes one and two.

1. Get an electric fleet

There are some emissions that Emboo can directly control, which are filed under scope one, Instead of chugging across the zebra-studded plains, startling predators in a diesel 4WD, you’ll float through the grasslands of Kenya’s iconic Maasai Mara in a solar-powered cruiser. Emboo was the first lodge in Kenya with an entire fleet of game drive vehicles powered by solar energy.

Electric safari
Electric vehicles mean you can enjoy a silent safari that better allows guests to hear the sounds of nature | Source: Emboo River Camp

Most electric vehicles are converted or rebuilt from diesel-powered vehicles. When used, the carbon dioxide emission of the electric game drive vehicles is zero because they are charged using solar energy. In comparison, a regular game drive ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicle emits roughly 350g of carbon dioxide per/km. Then there’s the transport of the diesel fuel. A lodge with three safari vehicles with 70-litre tanks is typically being filled three times per week and would emit around 76 tonnes of CO2.

Emboo’s vehicles were converted by Roam, a company working to electrify Africa one vehicle at a time. The Chief Strategy Officer, Albin Wilson tells us that their main goal is transforming public transport, which is largely buses and boda-boda motorbikes (there are 150 of each on the streets of Kenya already) because these vehicles are some of the highest CO2 emitting vehicles on the market.

 the first African‍ electric motorcycle
There is a range of 200km on the first African‍ electric motorcycle, which was designed in Kenya | Source: Roam

“With tourism bouncing back, people are rethinking how they want to operate”, Albin said. “Fuel prices are rising, there are shortages and it just makes financial sense to make the switch. Interest in electric vehicles has definitely spiked because you can get closer to animals, emissions are low, you don’t have to transport fuel and it’s easy to maintain. When you experience an electric game drive, you realise this is how a safari is meant to be. Silent. Emboo is a great showcase for us and the future of this continent. An example of how we can harness our energy and accelerate change”. Another important part of the production process of these electric vehicles is the batteries. Emboo River’s batteries do not contain rare-earth metals. Instead, the batteries include Lithium Iron Phosphate cells.

However, going on a game drive in an electric game drive vehicle is just the tip of this eco-friendly iceberg. After all, what’s the use of having eco-friendly activities without attending to every other aspect of running a safari camp?

Also read:  The Legend of Notch, King of the Maasai Mara

 

2. Rely on renewable resources

The second emission area analyses Emboo River’s energy sources. In this case, all of them are fully renewable because the camp runs on solar power.

Emboo River Suite Room
Located along the river bend, your room blends in perfectly with the nature around it | Source: Emboo River Camp

 

3. Ask yourself: where does it come from? And where will it go?

Scope 3 emissions are emissions out of the camp’s direct control, such as the food that they might purchase,  but there’s an answer to that too.

Dining Maasai Mara
Emboo River has its own organic vegetable and herb garden – called ‘shamba’ in Kenya – with bell peppers, squash, rosemary, basil and a monkey proof cover. As Emboo River is in the Maasai Mara National Reserve, more substantial farming cannot and should not be done. Therefore, Emboo River has a second shamba outside the Reserve where vegetables, fruits and honey are produced | Source: Emboo River Camp / Svenia Krüger.

To avoid purchasing items that are packaged and require transport, Emboo River Camp grows its own food. Every dish is totally farm-to-fork meal and originates from their two organic vegetable gardens, booming with over 40 varieties of organic veg, fruit, and herbs. These are also cooked using biogas in an entirely eco-conscious kitchen where chefs have already booted cling film and tin foil replacing them with beeswax paper. The camp also harvests from their 17 traditional beehives. Electric motorbikes and bicycles are then used for smaller routes outside of the Maasai Mara National Reserve to shop for items they cannot make or harvest.

Another example of scope 3 emissions are the flights or road transport that guests book to travel to the Mara. These guests can then participate in Emboo River’s tree planting project. The camp operates a nursery and aims to plant 50 indigenous trees a month, which (according to their calculations) can grow up to absorb about 22kg of carbon dioxide a year.

Reforestation Kenya
Emboo River shares the coordinates and a GPS link of your tree, so you can always revisit your tree | Source: Emboo River Camp

Then there’s the waste. Emboo’s water treatment relies on local wetland plants identified with the Masaai community. After a solar-heated shower, the water ends up in lush lagoons flush with frogs and indigenous plants that filter all of the camp’s wastewater. Before reaching the lagoon, all the grey and black waters go via maintenance holes through an “unnatural material trap”, that removes plastics, for example, and a “grease trap”.

 

Leading the, er, charge

Emboo’s carbon calculator is tailor-made for the Kenyan hospitality sector and accounts for every part of the operation. Thanks to their success with sustainability, Emboo River Camp offers consultancy to help businesses in the tourism space and beyond to make their operations more environmentally friendly. During a recent follow-up meeting in Nairobi, Emboo River and the Kenyan Ministry of Tourism of Wildlife created an action plan with practical next steps to achieve their country’s goal of having a fossil-fuel-free wilderness by 2030.

Emboo River Camp
On World Environment Day, on 5 June 2020, Kenya banned single-use plastic in protected natural areas such as beaches, forests and reserves… including the Maasai Mara National Reserve where Emboo River is located | Source: Emboo River Camp/Brian Siambi.

“Emboo River supports other tourism actors via its Innovation Hub in the Maasai Mara. While Emboo River is proud to lead the way to sustainability, it is essential that all actors in the tourism sector and beyond follow a sustainable approach in order to conserve our planet for generations to come”, says Valery Super, Emboo’s co-founder. “Lodge managers, government actors, wildlife conservationists, community leaders, tour operators and others [the hub] to feel inspired, learn about our ecosystem and receive a roadmap on how to develop their own sustainable business, community centre or daily lifestyle”.

Emboo River’s daily operations are led by Owner and General Manager, William Partois Ole Santian. Being a Maasai himself, William has a deep understanding of the Maasai Community and its culture. Over the years William worked his way up from a nightguard to a guide to a manager and currently to an owner of a camp.

As the Maasai say, “Mataramat enkop pee eramat iyook.” This translates to “If you take care of nature, nature will take care of you.”

 

Kenya is committed to fighting climate change. Support this country’s efforts with an eco-minded trip. Plan your adventure to Kenya with all the inside advice. 

Book your next trip with us

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