Topas Ecolodge

Sustainable supply



Location: Sapa, Lao Cai, Vietnam

Sector: Sales and services (Hotels / Catering)

Date of creation : April 2003

Analysis by the association: April 2019

Maturité du projet: Mature et pérenne

Topas Ecolodge is a hotel nestled on the heights of Sapa, in northern Vietnam. It has set itself strict rules in terms of social and environmental responsibility and aims to achieve zero waste while integrating local communities.


The lodge was created by the Danish firm Topas Travel. After discovering this exceptional place, the company began to organize tours in partnership with a local ethnic family. Then, the idea of creating the lodge emerged to make it the base camp for trekking in the region. Following the tourist boom in Sa Pa in recent years, the lodge has expanded but always respecting its surroundings and the surrounding communities. In 2018, the lodge was certified as a « Unique lodge » by National Geographic. In addition to the prestige provided by this certification, it also imposes very precise environmental specifications, in which the lodge has made considerable efforts in terms of sustainable supply, waste, water and energy management, particularly over the past three years.

  • 53 customers per day on average, or 19,000 people per year.
  • 57,000 breakfast, lunch and dinner per year.
  • 100kg of waste per day.
  • 75% of waste reused or recycled
  • 80 employees from local ethnic groups
  • Sustainable supply
    • For food: the hotel raises hens in the open air, buys meat and vegetables from the neighbouring farmer.
    • For energy: hydroenergy


  • Eco-design

The buildings are recovered from the old houses of the local ethnic groups.

  • Recycling

Crushing used glass bottles and donating the sand created to the neighbouring farmer, recovery of metal cans by the neighbouring tribe for recycling.

project operation

In 2018, after being certified as a “Unique Lodge” by National Geographic, the lodge made considerable efforts in sustainable supply, waste, water and energy management, particularly over the past three years.

  • Supply :

2 wells located at the entrance of the lodge collect water from a groundwater table 80m underground. The water obtained, although drinkable, is filtered before being used in the hotel’s restaurant,

  • Treatment :

Filtration basins are installed outside, just next to the kitchens. In each basin there is an accumulation of stones, sand, chips, living biomass… the whole thing has been installed by the French film EpurTech. The lodge sends about 1500L of water per day. The water is then returned to the environment.

  • Supply :

The supply (mainly food) has been designed to be sustainable and to support local communities. Almost all the food is bought at the Sapa market, except for some products not specific to the region such as wine, and the lodge has also made an agreement with neighbouring villages for producers to sell them a share of the production. Unfortunately, this poses some difficulties, especially in terms of regularity, as the villages do not have a constant production and are not used to selling their production. The hotel’s cook has set up a small vegetable garden and a henhouse on the site. Chicken droppings are used as natural fertilizers for crops.

  • Waste:

The lodge produces about 100 kg/day of waste, mainly organic. To limit waste, food is transported and stored in bulk bins to avoid single-use packaging, except for some products for which hygiene standards require it (tofu, meat). The lodge is almost 0 plastic: garbage bags have been replaced by jute bags. To collect the linen from the rooms and the pool, the bags are made of cotton, and in the garbage cans of the rooms, the bags used are biodegradable.
75% of the lodge’s waste is biodegradable or recyclable.

  • Bottles :

In the rooms, there are still single-use bottles for customers, but which will be replaced as of 10.04.2019 by water bottles that customers can take home.
Finally, the lodge will launch its own water thanks to its wells, as well as its own brand of sparkling water, which will therefore be in reusable glass bottles. The glass bottles are returned to Sapa, and the few cans are sold on site to the Red Zhao community. Some bottles unfortunately cannot be recycled, like wine bottles. In January 2019, the hotel bought a glass crushing machine that turns the bottles into fine sand, which is then given to a farmer near the farm for various uses (e.g. in the preparation of cement). This cement does not have the necessary structural qualities to support solid foundations but it allows small works.

  • Organic waste :

Most of the waste comes from the restaurant: peels, carcasses… it is recovered by a farmer near the lodge who uses it to feed his pigs, which once slaughtered are sold to the hotel restaurant.
In May 2019, the lodge will receive an incinerator for non recoverable waste. The filter captures 95% of the particles and the rest will be recovered as ash sent to landfill. This system was favoured after finding that almost all non-recoverable waste is burned « wild » (by the roadside, in villages), which pollutes a lot.

  • Assessment :

Every month, a hotel employee between nature and the amount of waste produced on Singaporean software, Greenview, in order to get an overview of the points to be improved and allow decision-making.

The lodge initially tried to be energy independent through its solar farm. However, the location means that the hotel is very often plunged into the clouds, which makes this system insufficient. It was therefore decided to keep this farm for posts that require little energy (road lighting) and to obtain hydroelectric energy from the dam at the bottom of the valley for the rest (air conditioning, machinery…) The pool is heated by an air/heat heating system that saves 85% compared to a conventional heating system.

sustainable approach

  • Recycling : 80% of the waste is organic and composted. Thus, on an average of 5597.2kg of waste per month, 4341.4kg is composted. On the remaining waste, the metal cans are recycled by the neighbouring village inhabitants. The glass that cannot be reused concerns wine bottles, which are then transformed into sand for concrete production.
  • Extraction/Exploitation and sustainable purchasing : The lodge has its own henhouse and vegetable garden, which are still too young to be assessed according to their potential.
  • Extension of the duration of use : Until now, the lodge provided plastic water bottles to all its guests upon their arrival. This represents 19,000 50cL plastic bottles that can be reused by them.
  • Territorial ecology : The lodge employs 80 people from the surrounding villages, who used to have no other source of income than agriculture. By providing them with social coverage and the education necessary to work in the tourism sector, they enable community members to open up to new sectors. In addition, by providing a portion of its organic waste to neighbouring farms and purchasing their products, the lodge is an important economic player in the region.

The lodge is located in the heart of rural communities in Sapa. Through its ecological approach and respect for local communities, it employs the inhabitants of the surrounding villages and carries out economic exchanges with them. By employing ethnic Vietnamese, it provides them with a better standard of living than before by providing a stable income, and the lodge’s ecological approach and great location make it an attractive place for tourists, who agree to pay a high room rate to support the lodge’s operations and enjoy the place.

replicability & future perspectives

The lodge is located in a very specific context, and the key elements of its success are as follows:

  • a relationship of trust with local communities
  • strong partnerships with neighbouring farmers for food exchanges
  • the location is attractive and the brand image developed justifies a high room and catering price
  • a necessary surface area is required for the establishment of rooms, wells, vegetable garden, henhouse, biofiltration area for wastewater and catering space

The hotel is in the process of changing to zero plastic. The next objective is therefore the production and sale of their own sparkling water sold in reusable glass bottles.

Copyright CirculAgronomie 2020