Ashram Receives BC Environmentally Responsible Tourism Award!

February 24, 2009 by Swami Sivananda
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Swami Radhananda receiving the awardIt isn’t what we expected, but when the Ashram receives one of BC’s most prestigious awards, we just have to stop for a moment, reflect…and celebrate!

It happened on February 12th at Tourism BC’s annual gala dinner at the Hyatt Regency in Vancouver—Swami Radhananda received, on behalf of the Ashram, the coveted Environmentally Responsible Tourism Award. This was in recognition of over a decade of focused efforts. “This is HUGE,” as one of our youth interns put it. And it is. All the more so because it was made possible by donations and the concerted, day-by-day efforts of many, many Karma Yogis.

The 2009 Tourism BC Environmentally Responsible Tourism Award acknowledges “outstanding leadership in environmental sustainability.” In presenting the award, Gordon Johnson, the Regional Vice-President & General Manager of the Delta Hotels (sponsor of the Award), cited the Ashram’s commitment to environmental responsibility in all parts of its operations, from planning and design and building retrofits through to operations, maintenance and guest services. Previous winners include Whistler/Blackcomb Mountain Resorts (twice), and the Vancouver Convention & Exhibition Centre.

Ashram group with the award!In accepting the award Swami Radhananda said, “We at the Ashram take sustainability personally and seriously. Living in BC, we are privileged to have beauty all around us. We feel that maintaining it is our first responsibility to our guests.”

From the Ashram’s perspective, environmental action goes well beyond conventional economics. It has more to do with social responsibility and ecological integrity. It is very much in keeping with the basic yogic principle of ahimsa. Although higher capital expenditures are often called for, the long-term benefits make these investments in our future worthwhile, and necessary.

geothermal heating system in the Mandala House basementThe Ashram conducted its first full energy audit in 1994. This resulted in a multi-year program for upgrades and retrofits of our buildings, including re-insulation, weather stripping, improved lighting and new windows. In the early part of 2004, we developed a more comprehensive sustainability program, bringing in the full range of considerations from menu planning, food ordering and housekeeping to sophisticated solar and geothermal heating systems. To financially support this initiative, the Circle of Sustainability donor program was introduced at the 2007 AGM.

But even this is just a beginning. The Ashram is now committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2013, our 50th anniversary. The most challenging aspect is guest travel. We estimate these CO2 emissions at 450 tonnes for every 1000 guests. Starting last year, we’ve been asking guests to voluntarily purchase carbon offsets as part of a two-year pilot project. Studies we are doing this year will help us develop this into a more targeted part of our guest registrations process.

andriko with a winter harvest of leeks and kaleBut there is one thing to remember–it isn’t all technology, big investments and complex programs. As well as expensive geothermal installations and big building retofits, the sustainability program includes many much simpler measures. 25% of all fruit and vegetables used in the kitchen are grown in the Ashram’s orchards and garden and a large amount is preserved for winter. We can expand this. And as many of our karma yogis know, vinegar, borax and washing soda, and non-chlorine bleaches are used as household cleaning agents. Even simpler–drying racks are now provided to reduce clothes dryer use. We see that even the smallest change contributes to the overall goal. We are learning by doing. Everything matters. Awards are an outward acknowledgment of the effort to bring quality and awareness into all our actions. This is basic: we honour Her—“May everything I do be taken as Thy Worship.”

ashram organic gardenOur 45th anniversary year has brought with it a widespread acknowledgement of what is being done at the Ashram. This latest Tourism BC award caps it off in a way. In October 2008, FortisBC presented the Ashram with its PowerSense Conservation Excellence Award for “outstanding achievement in energy efficiency.” In June, Reader’s Digest named the Ashram as “Canada’s Best Yoga Retreat,” and the Winter 2007/2008 issue of Canadian Geographic Travel carried a wonderful feature article about one woman’s experience of taking a retreat at the Ashram. Clearly, sustainability has an inward as well as an outward manifestation.

We appreciate these acknowledgments of work well done. Over the years, we’ve made great progress with the help of hundreds of donors – and many, many more karma yogis. Swami Radha set a lot in motion when she founded the Ashram in 1963. The teachings are alive and relevant today. What might be in store as we approach 2013, our 50th anniversary?

~Swami Sivananda


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  1. I find it amazing to read this account of all the recognition that the Ashram has received in the last year! I am excited at the idea of the Ashram becoming more visible to the general public and the potential energy that can come from it. Congratulations!

    Comment by Kevin — February 24, 2009 @ 7:55 pm

  2. Congratulations!
    I have to say it’s definitely my favorite spot in BC, even if I have to work! :) And it’s also the best place to heal. My Graves diagnosis was history after two months and I attribute this to the ashram- the chanting in the temple and swimming in the pristine lake. Hope to be back this summer now that I continue to be fit as a fiddle!
    Namasté, Heather H

    Comment by Heather Herington — February 25, 2009 @ 11:16 am

  3. Congratulations on such a meaningful and well-deserved award. The Ashram’s leadership influences my own efforts on sustainability in the city and strengthens my belief that indeed ‘everything matters.’ Although I haven’t done all the big improvements to my home, you’ve shown me the small actions count too – like composting, growing vegetables, wearing an extra sweater, buying natural cleaning products in bulk, using cloth hankies or biking & walking instead of driving.
    I am blessed to be part of such an innovative dedicated community. With gratitude and Light…

    Comment by Terri — February 25, 2009 @ 7:47 pm

  4. This is such good news. What wonderful validation for all of your careful planning and work. Your example also inspires me in my own life as I look for ways to decrease my carbon footprint. Jai Yasodhara!

    Comment by Deborah Rose — March 2, 2009 @ 8:37 pm

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