Tag Archive for: solar power

Davinci decor

Being green or having any kind of sustainable practices has often been washed with the same paintbrush and seen as fringe, small-scale and, often, rural. But the times they are a changing, and incorporating any kind of eco or empowerment practices is gaining a cutting edge, urban and sophisticated feel to it. There are exciting manifestations of this in South Africa in so very many shades of green and while, yes, we do have the expected fabulous eco lodges along the Wild Coast, we also have the hip and happening – luxury to budget accommodation options in Cape Town too. And deep in the heart of the wealthiest square kilometre of South Africa, Sandton boasts the Davinci Hotel which oozes sustainability throughout its glamorous black and white themed glory.

Having to be in Joburg for an awards ceremony I grabbed the chance to experience how green can be luxurious, how green can be urban, how green can be large-scale and how green can be chic in black and white. The decor is clever and creative and makes you want to take a photo at every turn, mixing the glint of mosaic, the curve of baroque furniture and then clean lines highlighted with only African art. All in black and white. Sound like an intriguing mix? Well it’s worth the visit!

But far more intriguing for me was the manifestation of their sustainability practices. I can’t tell you the joy of running a rare indulgent bath  knowing that all the water had been heated by the 117 solar panels on their roof. They have enough solar panels to provide hot water to all their guests in over 200 hotel rooms and suites. I find that impressive. But what excites me most is that this stands as an exemplar to all other luxury hotels in our country, that going green does NOT mean having to compromise on the standards you would like to offer your guests, quite the opposite, it heightens them. The challenge is on to see which other hotels will follow suit.

Other elements I enjoyed were knowing that all the waste is recycled or composted, can you believe they have active worm farms to process the organic waste deep in the parking lot basement? How fabulous. And those small touches, like delicious homemade yoghurt for breakfast in small re-usable glass jars just made me smile and realise this is a big city hotel with a heart. My only advice would be that they come up with creative ideas to do away with any single-use plastic in their system, such as plastic water bottles, but this is a challenge we all face and I don’t doubt that Davinci will rise to the occasion as they have to other sustainability goals.

So, if you find yourself needing to stay in Sandton, ask the right questions and make sure that the hotel you choose meets your needs as well as those of the planet. Your night’s sleep, I promise, will be all the more sweeter.

To find out more about Davinci Hotel’s eco and empowerment practices or make a booking click here.


A luxurious bath with solar heated water and aerated taps to save on water.


davinci 2

It’s in the little things, locally produced natural yoghurt in re-usable glass jars.



My time at Terra-Khaya was a little like stepping out of the box where things you thought were just imaginings become reality and the possibilities for living lightly on the earth are endless. It’s amazing how simple everyday elements like a beer bottle top, a horse’s halter and a solar panel can be seen in a completely new light because of the beauty and exquisite experiences they can manifest when put to good use. This is how it unfolded….

The principles of living lightly are evident everywhere at Terra-Khaya, from the characterful cottages made from salvaged wood, road signs and other unique upcycled elements, to the recycling zone which is an everyday changemaker’s dreamland. Absolutely NOTHING is thrown away at Terra-Khaya, everything is sorted into categories in bright yellow old oil drums nailed to the wall so that the lids, bottles and corks can be given new life or recycled. So when it came time to mosaic the freshly daubed inside wall of the  new lodge, built from the ground up on natural building principles, it made perfect sense to use the colourful, shiny metal bottle tops from beers and ciders. They were easy enough to find in the well-categorised drums and while the mud wall was still wet we pushed them in gently to create a glittering tree of life in celebration and in preparation for the reforestation festival that was about to start. That weekend, along with Greenpop, 250 of us planted 2 400 trees on that land and not only did I discover first hand the power of a human chain to move trees up a mountain and how many hands, including little ones, make light work, but I will never again look at an insignificant bottle top in the same way. It really is not something to be thrown away, it can be given new purpose in the tree of life, and it was.


Being aware of our footprint on the Earth comes down to reverence and respect for all life and Shane Eades, founder of Terra-Khaya, expresses this compassion beautifully through his natural horsemanship techniques. There are no bits and bridles at Terra-Khaya and horses are guided by your body, your voice and your respect for them. I grew up riding bareback on ponies, but I had never before been on an outride without the control of a bridle and so when Jeremy Loops, one of the local musicians performing at the festival and co-founder of Greenpop, was keen to swop out his surfboard for a trusty steed I was glad to get a chance to try the natural riding with just halter and reins. Riding through the tall tree forest and enveloping mist at dusk and feeling the freedom where horse and rider become one was truly memorable and the pure exhilaration was balm for the soul. What we think we know because that is the way it has always been done does not have to be so….


And of all the out-the-box experiences of my time there, one of the most heartening for the future was the vote of confidence in renewable energy and what it can manifest. Terra-Khaya runs purely on solar power and fire from alien tree wood. This includes cooking, hot water and computers being powered by sun and fire. And while the sun luckily does not have an off button, it seems neither do musicians. Jeremy and James were not going to be held back by our mental dependence on Eskom electricity to make a music video they urgently needed to send to  America. So they proceeded to film it, cut it and mix it using GoPros and their computers fueled by the stored solar energy. So the Jeremy Loops video you see below is made purely on solar power and a whole lot of love right there on Terra-Khaya. Now that is something to get excited about, the innovations, the reverence, the creativity is there and waiting, all we need to do is step outside the confines of what we think we know and create the future beautiful we’re all dreaming of. Who’s game?




Photo credits to Kate Janse van Rensburg, Jeremy Loops, Rhian Berning, Terra-Khaya and Wesley Davis.

If you would like to experience the Hogsback Festival of Trees for yourself, happening this month 24-27 September 2015, then visit their page on Eco Atlas to find out how to book your tickets, and just for luck enter the competition below and you could win two tickets!



Plant trees, dance to local musos, do yoga in the forest, eat healthy food, attend eco workshops and revel in the magic of Hogsback this September.

Here is how you enter, have fun!

1. Tag the person you would oh so love to go with in the comments of the Facebook post (feel free to add in a bit of poetree)

2. For an extra entry add a photo of a tree you’ve planted or tweet us on @EcoAtlas.

Share the love and share the Facebook post while you’re at it.

The prize includes…

Two three day tickets valued at R1300 from Thursday pm to Sunday lunch.

9 healthy vegetarian meals for two, tree planting, live music & Dj’s on Friday & Saturday Night, eco-workshops, yoga, meditation, discussion groups, upcycle art sessions & share fair. PLUS extra workshops on permaculture, natural building, making compost, building swales, forest hikes, food forest gardening, natural horsemanship & gardening with indigenous trees AND free camping on the Thursday night.

(The prize does NOT include transport to the festival or accommodation on the Friday and Saturday night, camping costs for the weekend at Terra-Khaya would be R200 in total for two people or you could find some magical accommodation in Hogsback village)

Winners will be announced on Friday 11 September 2015.


Irene Dell from Stellar Foundation at one of the estates during the launch of the off-the-grid project ©David Peter Harris.

Irene Dell from Stellar Foundation at one of the estates during the launch of the off-the-grid project ©David Peter Harris.


A few years ago I noticed a funky new wine brand at the bottle store; a red wine with a very interesting label called Live a Little. Quirky on the outside, this  wine was produced by Stellar Winery, South Africa’s largest producer of fine organic and fair trade wines. At the time, Stellar was one of the only of its kind for its innovation in winemaking (holding the organic certification and being vegan friendly) as well as its focus on people and their social empowerment.

The Live a Little label was on my mind during our drive to the cellar, situated at Kyshalte, just outside Vredendal in the Western Cape. I was about to put a whole lot of new faces to the name Stellar and it was exciting. I had been in contact with Irene Dell, a longstanding and empowering employee of Stellar Foundation, a non-profit organisation, and we had been invited to the launch of the renewable energy project.

On our arrival, Irene and I sat at her desk and she quickly briefed me on some of the social projects the Stellar Foundation runs; the projects are intended for the workers, their families and the communities within the area ranging from a free primary health care scheme, a judo club to vegetable gardens, a crèche in Trawal as well as the latest off-the-grid project. Irene’s passionate words made me realize how close she was to the issues we were touching on. One of the only women in a mainly man-workforce, I asked her what her secret is.

“I listen to what people’s needs are and I am familiar with their conditions and situations. Because of cultural differences, one should be careful not to impose ideas from one’s own cultural situation on others but see how a dialogue can bring issues and options up. Our biggest thing is to satisfy needs while communicating the responsibility on the other side. Giving responsibly paves the way for sustainability.”


The Consol lights are Phase I of Stellar's off-the-grid project. ©David Peter Harris

The Consol lights are Phase I of Stellar’s off-the-grid project. ©David Peter Harris


Stellar Multi-estate sources organic grapes from independent farms, which, together with the cellar, bottling and packaging plant make up a Fair Trade structure, Stellar Winery Multi-Estate. Workers on the farms and in the winery, including seasonal workers, together own 26% of the enterprise through shares in the Stellar Empowerment Trust. Irene, David and I spent the afternoon together, driving from one estate to another, officially launching Phase I of the off-the-grid project, which involved distributing the Consol solar-powered lights. I loved seeing Irene interacting with the workers. She totally gets them and cares so deeply about their upliftment and personal growth.

“We are not out to change the world. We are only hoping to better lives with what we do. It’s the small, the  little things we do”.

That night we were hosted by Willem Rossouw, Managing Director of Stellar, and his family. While sitting at the dinner table eating a typical Weskus snoek dish with fresh, homemade beer bread, I expressed my deep admiration for the  range and quality of the social upliftment projects that are ongoing.  William replied saying that “The most important project is the one you cannot see”, referring to the portion of the business the workers own through the Fair Trade shares. Agreed.

Everything about this short visit made a sound impression;  the affectionate relationships at the cellar, the motivation to improve lives in the area and the softness interwoven in it. Before Irene and I parted, she added something, which exemplifies her loving and passionate nature.

“There are always solutions to problems, you just have to ask nicely and they will turn up”.


Farm workers preparing and clearing the vineyards of any weeds or plants that will hinder their organic production©David Peter Harris

Farm workers preparing and clearing the vineyards of any weeds or plants that will hinder their organic production©David Peter Harris


I personally came a long way from the first Live a Little bottle label, and I spent the drive back thinking of the kind of impact we make, even when shopping for wine.

Get in touch Stellar Organic Winery via their Eco Atlas page and vote with your wallet when next you’re scanning the shelves for a good wine….