The Natural Step
Further ecological light was thrown on the business when they did a sustainable business course through Otago Polytechnic using the ‘Natural Step’ framework.
“Any smart business is taking sustainability seriously,” says Phil. “It’s about being at the front of the curve rather than lagging at the back.”
Part of the course was identifying one’s ecological footprint and the Otago Polytechnic had just finished a study that identified half of New Zealand’s ecological footprint was food.
“We thought ok, we are doing a lot in other areas but all our guests are bringing in packaged, processed and imported foods and we have to deal with the waste.”
That was the beginning of the café. Up until then there was no food offered on the property. It also made good business sense, adding to the experience of guests.
The café is vegetarian and sources most of its herbs and about 25-30% of its fresh produce from the surrounding garden, with the aim to increase that percentage.
During his favourite summer at
Solscape, Phil took on a different role and says it was wonderful.
“I was the gardener! If people wanted to talk to me they came and talked to me in the garden. It was fantastic!” Solscape is run through ‘a permaculture lens’ using the three ethics: earth care, people care and fair share, and it affects all their decision-making says Phil.
“The whole thing around permaculture is closed loop systems where you’re not leaking resources. It can apply to a business, the economy of a community, a water system – anything really.”
Phil says permaculture is a lot more than organic gardening.
“It’s a lifestyle – it’s about how we exist on the planet.”
In 2009 Solscape ran its first two-week intensive permaculture course and for many on the course, it was a life-changing experience.
“It can’t help but be transformational.” Phil is an activist. Alongside developing Solscape, he has spent half his working life with KASM (Kiwis Against Seabed Mining), heading it up for three years. Solscape has provided a balance in his life to “stopping the bad stuff.’’
“Solscape is a creative outlet – it’s about regenerating things.”
On his yearly walk-about with Year 10 girls from Waikato Diocese School, Phil asks them questions, like what do they think about the state of the planet.
“They are scared about what the future holds. They know the issues, but they don’t know how to address or explore them, they’re not empowered. The curriculum doesn’t address the issues they know are there.”
Usually about half way through the tour, they find some hope.
“The pieces start falling in place and for the last half they are really engaged. We talk about Raglan’s world class recycling which diverts about 75% of waste from landfill.”
What started as a two-person dream has evolved into a big operation. In the early days Phil would put up a sign saying
‘Back at 3,’ load the kids in the van and take off to the beach for a few hours in the middle of the day. Those days are gone.
Today Solscape is a complex operation, one of the larger employers in Raglan with 6-10 full-time equivalents which translates to 25-30 people on a weekly basis through summer.
There are also anywhere from 8-12 people on site volunteering their time. It’s a popular destination for the WOOFERS scheme ( Willing Workers on Organic Farms) and they may get up to 10 applications a day.
“At some level I miss it (the lifestyle). The loss of that was unintentional. I would advise people to be wary of that. It can quite quickly move beyond a place where it’s fun.”
His habit of biting off more than he can chew has resulted in a large loan that’s getting larger. For now, Solscape is in a consolidation phase, buttoning down and getting rid of some of what Phil calls their “big nasty debt”.
He’s also aware of the need for a healthy work/life balance and reins in his salaried staff when they exceed a 35-40 hour week. For the last two years, with minor exceptions, he has taken weekends off and always makes sure the family has a good break.
But there are no regrets. He describes his time stewarding Solscape as a privilege and an “awesome learning experience.” ■