US State Department Corporate Excellence Award 2005
Lapa Rios Ecolodge in Costa Rica has received the Secretary of State's Award for Corporate Excellence (ACE) 2005, for its exemplary business practices.
At an awards ceremony at the U.S. State Department Nov. 2, the eco-lodge was recognized by Secretary of State Condolezza Rica as a U.S. company operating overseas that exemplifies the highest standards of conduct in one or more of the following categories: good corporate citizenship; exemplary employment practices; responsible environmental stewardship and practices; contribution to the overall growth and development of the local economy; compatibility, and if appropriate, contribution to the local science and technology policies; compliance with U.S., international and local laws and standards, especially in regards to anti-bribery, transparency, and human rights and labor.
"The State Department's recognition of Lapa Rios Eco-lodge is a splendid tribute to owners Karen and John Lewis, as well as an official recognition that ecotourism is an important tool for both environmental protection and poverty reduction," says Martha Honey, Executive Director of The International Ecotourism Society (TIES). "Lapa Rios demonstrates the best of American values of caring for the people, caring for the land."
In 1990 John and Karen Lewis, life-long Minnesota residents, purchased more than 1,000 acres of Pacific lowland rain forest in the remote Osa Peninsula of southwestern Costa Rica. The Lewises shared their vision of conservation with the local community, and with their neighbors' assistance designed a business that would sustain and support the land they purchased.
"It is with profound gratitude to all who have shared our conservation vision that I accept this award on behalf of Lapa Rios," says Karen Lewis. "Lapa Rios is a small enterprise yet one that makes a big difference to people and the environment."
Nestled in the hills and surrounded by tropical rainforest.
The Lapa Rios Mission Statement is, “No matter how you cut it a rain forest left standing is more valuable than one cut down.” To achieve this goal Lapa Rios had to become a working model of preservation, ecotourism and sustainable development. The Lapa Rios project continues to demonstrate that such business practices can be profitable, practical and worthy of consideration in the overall scheme of environmental and cultural protection.
In 1990 John and Karen Lewis, life-long Minnesota residents, purchased over 1,000 acres of Pacific lowland rain forest in the remote Osa Peninsula of SW Costa Rica. Following the land purchase, the question, ‘What economic maintenance vehicle can support this land purchase?’ begged a response from the Lewises. Their intended solution included their neighbors. The Lewises shared the values of conservation within their community and invited their assistance.
Lapa Rios adopted ecotourism design standards proposed in 1991 by World Wildlife Fund and continues to apply values proposed by The International Ecotourism Society. Since 1993, the 16-bungalow ecolodge operation—together with its community residents—maintains the forest preserve offering high quality services and accommodations primarily to international guests seeking cultural and nature-based activities.
The Lapa Rios Rain Forest Reserve harbors flora and fauna species unique to the world and is contiguous to other first growth areas sheltering Corcovado National Park. The marine-buffered Osa Peninsula is one of the world’s most bio-diverse regions, and is under consideration for a UN World Heritage Site. The Peninsula is isolated and sparsely populated with mostly small scale or subsistence farmers, a few ranchers and increasingly, people involved in emerging ecotourism businesses or related services.
Inthe early 1990’s Lapa Rios committed to answer Costa Rica’s growing demand for ‘above-rustic’ wilderness destinations. Non-impact Osa design buildings were hand-constructed by locals using primarily the area’s renewable materials. The thatched bungalows provide simple-yet-elegant comforts in a spectacular natural setting. Friendly, always-improving staff offers highly personalized and professional service. Former farmers-now chefs prepare multi-course, gourmet meals, and certified organic foods are promoted with rotating menu choices reflecting Central America’s endemic fresh fruits and vegetables. Favorite Costa Rican recipes have added international creativity. Staff-naturalists lead educational rain forest and beach hikes dawn until after dark. Lapa Rios constantly tries to improve its product through education of staff and guests.
Lapa Rios Successes
Good Corporate Citizenship:
- With labor from the local community, volunteer organizations and its own staff Lapa Rios organized and funded the building of the Carbonera Primary School. In 1993 the school buildings were donated to the Costa Rica Government. School equipment, supplies and funds for an English teacher and cultural dance classes come from Lapa Rios and its guests. With help from the Costa Rica-Minnesota Foundation, the Lewises founded the travelers’ philanthropy La Asociacíon de Educación to raise awareness and funds to develop the Carbonera School.
- Lapa Rios contributes funds, supplies and labor to regional service providers like the area’s public schools and health clinic; the Pto. Jiménez police and Red Cross, its pre-school program and Children’s Library; the National Park Services; provides potable water to neighbors and the School; and maintenance to the only road and bridges. All lodge business deals directly with the village’s only bank. To add strength to the regional economy many supplies and food are purchased locally, even dealing directly with farmers.
- Lapa Rios initiates and funds community education: the DARE program; the Osa Campaign, to promote bio-diversity conservation; No More Garbage, a community recycling effort; and an area beach clean up to initiate development for the Blue Flag program. Lapa Rios-trained employees are backbone to local social improvement.
Responsible Environmental Protection and Practices:
- Lapa Rios established a 920-acre biological preserve with a conservation agreement with The Nature conservancy and CEDARENA (a Costa Rican Land Trust organization)) to preserve the land donation in perpetuity; committed a 5-year funded salary for an additional Corcovado Natl. Park guard; developed a Corcovado day tour and guest-support program for the Osa Campaign; and, created a community members educational guided forest hike.
- Lapa Rios employs 3 local naturalists who guide registered guests in the Reserve. To assist local economy remaining guest activities are outsourced to service providers and guides—horseback riding, fishing, surfing, a village walking tour in combination with a local farm visit, kayaking, yoga and massage. Lapa Rios and guests helped rebuild a locally run turtle conservation project.
- How will this decision affect the rain forest” drives all solutions. Lapa Rios developed comprehensive, environmental management systems, including: solar-heated water panels; a recycling program that includes bio-gas fuel generation from food scraps; and water and electricity conservation programs, an only-endemics ornamental gardens with plant identification tags. It sources and provides certified organic foods and biodegradable products, and continuously improves sustainable practices through staff and guest education. A guest-supported Volunteer Reforestation program uses Reserve-culled seedlings. The culture-honoring lodge design requires renewable natural building materials (palm leaves, cane, bamboo, etc.) and suppliers and transporters must be licensed. Only Rainforest Alliance-certified wood products are used but substitution with renewable materials drives construction, furnishings and hospitality accessories solutions.
Contribution to Overall Growth and Development of the Local Economy:
- The Costa Rican government, through the Costa Rican Tourism Institute (Instituto Costarricense de Turismo or ICT) awarded the coveted 5-Leaves Certification for Sustainable Tourism (CST) to Lapa Rios, one of the country’s only two hotels or lodges to win this ranking. This best practices-best product’s guideline improved the lodge’s internal audit and provably raised staff performance and service quality.
- Lapa Rios employs 53 permanent Costa Ricans, all but 2 of whom are from the Peninsula, and works with more than 40 area service providers. Continuous staff training and skills’ improvement is a part of the daily routine, and guest evaluations and suggestions augment the curriculum. Departmental cross training, English classes and promotions throughout the lodge has raised employees’ concept of day job to that of career. Thirty members live on site, a benefit available to all staff. The ‘day labor’ mentality of 1993 transitioned to ‘long term career’ within 4 years; many staff have worked 10 years, recognizing the sustaining quality of well paid career employment versus leaving the family for unskilled menial work.
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