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A sustainability journey in the desert

Interview by Rebecca Woolford | Kiwano
Published 12 October 2023

We love to tell a positive impact story, especially the sustainable journeys of friends and users of Weeva. We recently joined forces with Kiwano to power sustainable storytelling of tourism efforts in practice. “Behind the Green” visited Namibia to take a deeper look at the power of long-term sustainable thinking in one of the world’s harshest deserts.

Wolwedans is a collection of camps in the middle of a serene desert – the NamibRand Nature Reserve – and the largest private nature reserve in Southern Africa. This conservation and community-focused property has a humble yet rich history with no signs of slowing down.  Since its inception 25 years ago, Wolwedans has been on a sustainable journey guided by an approach where people, planet and profit are all equally important. Protecting and preserving Pro-Namib Nature Reserve for future generations has long been the focus of Wolwedans.


Decades of long-term sustainable thinking


Stephan Brückner, director of Wolwedans, is from a generation of long-term thinkers. Stephan’s father initiated The NamibRand Nature Reserve project in the early 80’s and 90’s. When Stephan joined the family business, he was tasked with developing tourism, which at the time was very much in its infancy in Namibia. Wolwedans started with just four igloo tents and a campfire back in 1995. Today it is one of the most successful sustainable tourism initiatives in Africa with a small collection of award-winning camps.


Holistic sustainability


In 2007, with the understanding that it was not only about conservation and ‘saving the Oryx’, Wolwedans decided to give back to the community. It registered the non-profit Wolwedans Foundation and initiated the Wolwedans Desert Academy.

In 2011, Stephan was one of a handful of like-minded individuals involved in founding The Long Run and the 4C framework of Conservation, Community, Culture, and Commerce. Wolwedans’ unwavering commitment to the 4C’s was only the beginning.


Impact strategy and reset


2019 was a striking year for Wolwedans. Inspired by the book ‘The Second Curve’ by Charles Handy, the time had come to reinvent and re-engineer after what Stephan calls “a period of being too complacent”. They began refurbishing all the camps as well as changing the mindset of their teams through facilitated workshops. The focus of the business changed from the quest for profit to the pursuit of happiness. And then COVID happened… but the timing was perfect. The pause in tourism gave Wolwedans time to figure it all out. It was the end of a chapter and the beginning of a 12-18 month transition period before ‘pressing go’. Looking to its future, Wolwedans decided to introduce a 5th C: Consciousness.

If you take those 5 Cs and put them all together in a blender, what comes out is what we call the Matrix 25. It’s the evolution of the Arid Eden project.” – Stephan Brückner

One of the areas Wolwedans decided to invest even more into was education. They had done vocational training for years but wanted to take it to the next level and scale. For the past 12 years, Wolwedans had been supplying its lodges with fresh herbs and salad. With the reset, Wolwedans also wanted to think about food miles in a much wider sense, aiming to, within 5 years, only serve guests ingredients fresh from their local Hardap region. For starters, this meant changing the drinks and juices they served.

“We are trying to entice local farmers to make concentrates here, whether it’s from lemon or prickly pears, and then mix that with safe borehole water, its carbon footprint is tiny compared to the fruit juice that’s produced in Cape Town and trucked all the way to Wolwedans.

If someone is visiting the Namib desert in February they shouldn’t expect orange juice no matter how much they pay. Enjoying fresh orange juice in February in the Namib desert means that those oranges have travelled all the way from Israel, Spain, or maybe even Panama. The same goes for French champagne. We will no longer serve French champagne because it has an incredible carbon footprint and has clocked up serious food miles.”

Wolwedans salad and lettuce harvesting
wolwedans garden herbs harvesting
Wolwedans eggs harvesting
Wolwedans kitchen garden harvest

Wolwedans team members harvesting fresh produce.

Wolwedans’ future


Stephan has a big vision for Wolwedans’ future and gets excited about matters such as food security, regenerative agriculture, producing healthier organic foods, and making people – both locals and tourists – more conscious about this global challenge.

In addition, Wolwedans is committed to helping build more inclusive and equitable tourism economies. Probably one of the most impactful projects they are driving is ‘RuralRevive – Building a desert-based economy’. It ticks all the boxes and addresses many global issues, ranging from climate change to wealth inequality, rural exodus/decline, and waste.

It comes as no surprise that Wolwedans was nominated for the Tourism for Tomorrow awards, awarded one of the highest accolades in the Namibian eco-tourism travel industry, and was one of the very few accredited Global Ecosphere Retreat® by The Long Run.

Wolwedans desert walking guide
wolwedans kitchen garden vegetable growing
Wolwedans educational guide

Images supplied by Wolwedans.

 Read the full interview here.

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