Designful

Sustainability

Singita Kwitonda Lodge
Singita Kwitonda Lodge

If we’ve learned anything from the current state of the world, it’s that now more than ever, design needs to be agile, authentic, purpose-driven, and sustainable over the long term. But Luke Bailes, founder and executive chairman of the award-winning luxury conservation and ecotourism brand Singita, has long been a staunch and vocal advocate of this view.

Singita Kwitonda Lodge
Singita Kwitonda Lodge

“When it comes to sustainability, the days of greenwashing are over,” Bailes says. “Ecotourism is the only way out of this, and companies that don’t have a genuine and sincere purpose will find themselves dead in the water.” Make no mistake, this is not posturing on Bailes’s part — it’s a certainty that comes with experience. Since its founding almost three decades ago, Singita has grown to 15 lodges, including seven private villas, across four countries in southern Africa. The brand is a pioneer in the development of a contemporary African design aesthetic, but more significantly, under Bailes’s direction, Singita has assumed guardianship of almost a million acres of wilderness area, while leading the way in the development of sustainability, biodiversity, and community partnerships.

Luke Bailes, Founder and Executive Chairman of Singita
Luke Bailes, Founder and Executive Chairman of Singita

“Our North Star is our 100-year purpose that we measure everything against,” Bailes explains. Working within Bioregional’s One Planet Living framework, Singita has adopted a flexible yet holistic approach to sustainability that is underpinned by science and backed by a ten-principle plan. “When we first started honing our vision of ecotourism, it felt foreign and quirky, but today we know it to be the most financially sustainable model around,” Bailes says. “We also know that establishing interdependence between sustainability, community, and biodiversity leads to sustainable economies.”

To this end, Singita’s consideration of everything from equal employment opportunities to buying local, employing solar power, reducing waste, and initiating water harvesting has seen them invest in several small to medium business enterprise developments. “Our thinking is that when there is an understanding that one’s success is dependent on the success of the other, that’s when we will be more aligned in a joint vision,” he says. This vision resonates with Kohler Co.’s own commitment to sustainability, which sees the company dedicating considerable resources to researching and developing innovative energy- and water-saving products, some of which can be found in Singita’s newest properties.

Community Project
Community Project photograph by Ross Couper

Singita’s rigorous commitment to sustainability sees the brand dig deep in every aspect of their business. But then Bailes’s roots in Africa run deep too: Almost a century ago, his grandfather bought land on what would become the Sabi Sand Game Reserve (where Singita Ebony, the group’s first lodge, opened in 1993).

“I spent many holidays there as a child and remember it as pristine, primitive, and remote,” Bailes recalls. “The animals were so wild that if you saw lions once or twice, it was a lot.” While his childhood instilled in Bailes a love of the land, adulthood brought with it the realization that the Africa he knew and loved was changing fast. “I began to notice changes in the river and saw how pools that were once alive with hippos and teeming with fish were becoming less so,” he says. “It was my ‘Aha!’ moment and I knew then that something had to be done.” With that, he began buying up land to add to what he had inherited from his grandfather, setting in motion a chain of events that would become his life’s work with Singita.

Elephants drink water nearby Singita Kruger National Park.
Elephants drink water nearby Singita Kruger National Park. Photograph by Ross Couper

But Bailes saw another opportunity: to make conservation, sustainability, and community-mindedness appealing in a new way. “I’ve always had an interest in design, architecture, and landscaping,” he says. “When I realized that my conservation ideals needed a platform, it became obvious that there was an opportunity to do something that hadn’t been done before.” Namely, to create a world-class hospitality experience to match the incredible safari experiences on offer. “When we started out, there was no such thing as plunge pools, or air conditioners, or wine cellars,” he notes.

Singita Kataza House
Singita Kataza House

Enter South African design studio Cécile & Boyd, whose design of Singita’s first lodge went on to single-handedly revolutionize the safari aesthetic. Now, 27 years later, the studio has designed every one of Singita’s lodges, collecting multiple design and industry awards in the process.

Singita Kwitonda Lodge bathroom overlooking the view of safari.
Singita Kwitonda Lodge bathroom
Singita Kataza House
Singita Kwitonda Lodge
Singita Kwitonda Lodge
Singita Kwitonda Lodge

Cécile & Boyd’s eloquent articulation of Singita’s vision through design has ensured that the Singita brand is synonymous with innovation and sustainable luxury ecotourism, and Singita’s insistence on a shared value system with the suppliers of hardware, furniture, and fittings further entrenches the brand’s 100-year purpose. As such, their latest properties in Rwanda, Singita Kwitonda Lodge and private villa Kataza House offer the best in everything from environmentally friendly energy and water systems (including several of Kohler’s WaterSense-labeled products, which are designed to conserve water) to the lodge’s on-site nursery that supplied more than 250,000 trees and plants in a reforestation project to expand the native gorillas’ natural habitat. While Bailes is aware that time may not be on his side, his vision of protecting as much wilderness as he can while opening visitors’ minds and hearts to the power of sustainable tourism is beyond inspiring.

Hillside Suite in Tanzania
Hillside Suite in Tanzania