Ecolodge introduces sustainable building technologies in Zambia

Eco-tourism company Green Safaris recently opened their first lodge, Ila Safari Lodge, in the Kafue National Park in Zambia. We had a chance to catch up with founder and investor Vincent Kouwenhoven, with whom we’re currently also working together as Africa Funded.  


Vincent Kouwenhoven, a venture capitalist focused on investing in mobile internet companies across Africa, calls his sustainable tourism investing "my most passionable side project", as it is one he is very involved in. With seven years of safari business experience it became his mission to create lodges with as low as possible impact on the environment.

In Zambia's Kafue National Park Vincent Kouwenhoven initially sponsored a number of other lodges and operations. Eventually he decided to found Green Safaris, focusing on deploying sustainable technology to reduce the footprint of tourism, whilst aiming to deliver inspiring safari experiences.

Electric land rover, CO2 neutral lodge

As a first initiative Green Safaris originally developed the eLandy, the first electric land rover game drive vehicle in the world as far as the team ascertain. "This was the start of thinking of becoming greener and greener", Vincent Kouwenhoven explains. "We simply took the traditional engine out of a land rover vehicle and replaced it with an electrical engine, using batteries instead of burning a lot of diesel." Using solar power to recharge the batteries, the eLandy completely functions on solar power, and is made for ‘silent safaris’ without any emissions or noise pollution. The silence enables the vehicle to approach animals with minimal disturbance, a potential revolution in the safari industry. A team of Dutch engineers developed the eLandy and Green Safaris plans to expand their vehicle fleet in the coming years.

Two years ago the Green Safaris team thought about building a lodge that would be CO2 neutral in every aspect, taking their activities further than the electric car. This year Green Safaris’ first lodge is launched: the Ila Safari Lodge, a high-end eco-lodge. The lodge is set on the banks of the river in the heart of Kafue National Park, Zambia. Kafue National Park (KNP) is the largest and oldest park in Zambia and the third largest park in Africa, home to over 500 different species of animals and birds. The lodge is located 265 kilometers from Zambia’s capital Lusaka (a 3.5 hours drive or a quick flight).

Vincent Kouwenhoven explains: “A country like Zambia, where the economy is very dependent on copper as their core mineral, benefits a lot from increases in tourism, but tourism can have disastrous effects on the environment too. By using a specific setup, architecture and operation, we aim for minimal ecological impact. And if the lodge ever closes down, let’s say fifty years from now, it should look like the lodge has never been there. Everything has to be completely recyclable and with minimal impact.”

What makes the Ila Safari Lodge sustainable?

Various sustainable technologies are used in the Ila Safari Lodge. Solar power is used to generate electricity and to heat and pump water. Waste is fermented to generate biogas, which is used to generate gas for cooking. Electronic vehicles and boats are used. The total operation will become carbon neutral.

For the construction eco-friendly building techniques and principles were used too, such as a revolutionary method of sandbag building, combined with canvas tents. The lodge is built predominantly with materials from the direct surroundings. "Building a lodge in a park usually asks for many truck loads of bricks from a near town”, Vincent Kouwenhoven explains. “The first thing I thought was: can we use materials that are available in our own vicinity?” This led to a sand bag building method: “Instead of driving in tons of truckloads of material we only drove in one van with empty bags and dug a sand pit a couple of kilometers from the building site.”

Also the food served in the lodge is locally sourced. “We set up a site outside the national park where we grow our own vegetables - again to prevent that we have to drive 265 kilometers on a daily basis to get the necessary produce and to create employment in the vicinity of the farm,” Vincent Kouwenhoven explains.

Apart from the eLandy electrical vehicle, an electrical boat (‘eBoat’) was developed, the first of its kind in Zambia. This silent, peaceful and eco-friendly boat was developed by a South African company called Freedom Won, and built by a company called Aliboats. 

The lodge building construction

The lodge building features ten luxury safari tents, each on their own wooden deck, and a central 'boma' building with facilities like a modern pool, an open air restaurant, bar and lounge, a boat jetty, a fireplace and a firepit area for after dinner gatherings - all with a view over the river. All large original trees on the site have been incorporated into the building. All of the ten tents have been individually designed to the surroundings and two larger family suites are included. All the tents feature en suite bathrooms, outside showers or baths and other conveniences. The tented camp style of building leaves no permanent footprint.  

The main 'boma' is built from locally sourced materials and using an eco-friendly sandbag building method. Sandbag building is a process where by sandbags are filled with earth or sand and used as the core of the main building structure. Over this is a thin layer of plaster for finishing purposes.

Social impact

“We employed fifty to sixty employees from the start”, says Vincent Kouwenhoven. “During construction phases we had about eighty people employed for the last eight to nine months. Fully operational the 24 bedded lodge will employ fifty to sixty people, for rural remote areas in Zambia that’s quite something”. Using an integrated training program, Green Safaris trains en employs local people many of whom have not previously been employed in the service industry.

Green Safaris has also chosen to be certified - by environmental management company Heritage, specialising in independent review and certification of environmental performance across the services sector. “Once our goals have been achieved and are functioning within Zambia we plan to expand our business and vision into neighboring countries”, says the Green Safaris team.

See the Green Safaris website and Facebook Page for more info on this company.  

Friday, August 19th, Africa Funded is hosting a Free Feedback Friday (FFF) session with Vincent Kouwenhoven (eVentures) and Saskia Reus-Makkink (Africa Funded). Connect with our Skype address (FreeFeedbackFriday) to reserve your slot. Mention: Mobile.