‘Walking the Talk’ with The Long Run Global Ecosphere Retreat® certification

In the context of today’s biodiversity and climate crises, there’s an urgent need for tourism to not only negate the impact of operations but to drive the conservation of landscapes, ensure communities are included and safeguarded, and to take it one step further and drive positive impact. With so many businesses now seeking to make environmental and social claims, greenwashing is rife and so accountability and transparency are more important than ever.

There are over 300 certifications in the travel industry alone, making it hard to know where to turn. Many involve ‘box ticking’ exercises with meaningless results. At Borana Conservancy, however, we aspire to the highest possible standards, and so chose a certification partner that does the same.

Recycling wine bottles to make tumblers for Borana Lodge
© Stevie Mann

That quickly led us to The Long Run.  

Borana Conservancy Managing Director and Partner, Michael Dyer's, comments, “When we were introduced to The Long Run in 2015, we quickly recognised that we were dealing with credible experts and that the 4C thinking was very much aligned with our ethos.” 

The Long Run is a community of properties, travel partners, and experts committed to protecting and regenerating ecosystems for the benefit of all. The organisation supports, connects and inspires members to operate according to a balance of the 4Cs — Conservation,Community, Culture and Commerce. By supporting members on this journey, TheLong Run ensures that travel experiences have a positive impact, and that conservation is socially and financially sustainable. Collectively, Long Run members safeguard over 23 million acres of ecosystems, protect more than 400 endangered species, and improve the lives of 750,000 people.

The Long Run was founded in 2009 by entrepreneur and property owner (Segera) Jochen Zeitz as a blueprint for tourism businesses to conserve wilderness in perpetuity. Over 50 members and supporters share a vision of business, nature and people working harmoniously together for a more sustainable future.

Before joining, each property must demonstrate a serious commitment to the 4Cs and ownership or influence over a significant marine or terrestrial ecosystem. The team carefully screen members via written application, background checks, and interviews, and a sliding membership fee structure ensures the organisation is inclusive of businesses of all sizes. As a not-for-profit, 100% of membership fees go to the mission and supporting members.

The Long Run’s team of experts provide tailored technical, onsite and remote support so that members can embark on a continuous journey of improvement via the 4Cs. A milestone in this journey is The Long Run’s Global Ecosphere Retreat® status — one of the travel industry’s most rigorous standards, recognised by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council. Borana Lodge was delighted to achieve this incredible recognition in 2020.

© James Lewin

But what does achieving the Global Ecosphere Retreat® standard mean?

As a Global Ecosphere Retreat® we are a global centre of excellence in sustainability and conservation, having demonstrated to external experts that our business practices meet or exceed best practices across the 4Cs of Conservation, Community, Culture and Commerce. This standard, measuring performance against 87 indicators across the 4Cs, is recognised by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC), and is ‘one of the world’s best standards for privately protected areas’, according to Dr Jeff A. Langholz.

The following characteristics set the GER® recognition apart from other contemporary tourism related sustainability assessment schemes:

·     It covers comprehensively the Conservation, Community, Culture and Commerce aspects of sustainability in tourism (adding culture and commerce to the more usual social and environmental aspects)

·     It is a vehicle for taking destinations on a journey of continuous improvement on the path of excellence in sustainability

·     It is not only about destinations minimising their environmental impacts, but it is about them positively contributing to the wellbeing of the planet and the people

·     It is earned through a highly rigorous assessment by accomplished experts and professionals

·     Recognised destination owns, manages or influences a significant landscape or seascape

·     GER® must be commercially viable or commit to attaining viability to demonstrate that conserving nature is an economic imperative beyond the ethical arguments of posterity

·     It is ultimately open only to the best of best in sustainable tourism business exceptionally motivated to be a force for greater good in the society


Beading with ladies from our local communities

Within the 87 indicators members must reach before becoming certified a GlobalEcosphere Retreat® are commitments to biodiversity conservation, environmental management, community relations, shared economic and social benefit, responsible work practises, conserving, enhancing, and sharing ethical cultural exchange, financial viability, and responsible business practises.

Michael Dyer explains a little more about the process, which took five years. He says,“The Long Run team did our initial assessment by coming to Borana and seeing our work across the 4Cs first hand. They also interviewed employees, went to visit community projects, and read relevant literature and reports to date. It was a really comprehensive audit of where we were at and what we needed to do to reach the Global Ecosphere Retreat® standard.”

“It became apparent that there was a lot we could do better… not only in how we finance conservation and interact with employees and community but in energy efficiency, waste management, and how we can make our business more environmentally sound.”

Izzy Parsons, Sustainability Manager at Borana Conservancy, adds, “The GER® framework helped us to put systems in place so that we could document and measure what we’re doing and set targets.”

 Working alongside The Long Run team for guidance and support, in 2020, Borana reached a place where it was confident it met the 87 indicators across the 4Cs. Delphine King, former Executive Director of The Long Run, commented, “For me, Borana is the quintessential example of what The Long Run stands for. Particularly in its approach to making conservation a long-term viable option through business resilience, strong community connections, and providing a habitat for the region’s most endangered species.”


So, is the Borana team putting its feet up now it achieved the Global Ecosphere Retreat® standard?

Sadly not! This achievement is not an end goal or a tick-box exercise; Global Ecosphere Retreat® is a framework that encourages and guides us on a journey of improvement. We will continue to not only mitigate any negative impacts but positively transform the well-being of the planet and people. As part of the Global Ecosphere Retreat® assessment, each member is reassessed every three-years with external assessors coming back every six.

Michael Dyer says,“It keeps us on our toes, and that’s exactly how we like it.”

Ruth Crichton, Regional Manager of Southern Africa for The Long Run
May 15, 2024