Social & Ecological Regeneration: A New Chapter

Over the last few years, I’ve been working in conservation and sustainable development on various contracts throughout Asia and Latin America. Through the work I’ve done, I’ve learned how complicated and challenging it can be to balance environmental protection and preservation with economic development.

Sustainable tourism has been a popular strategy throughout the developing world for facilitating economic development while preserving the resources on which tourism depends–both the physical environment itself as well as the well-being of the host community. However, sometimes sustainable tourism is not always the “win-win” solution it promises to be. Playa Viva is overly cognizant of this reality, which is why they created my role: Social and Environmental Impact Custodian.

Playa Viva’s sustainable tourism model is different than most, however. Rather taking pristine landscapes and developing them “sustainably” (i.e. use of local natural building materials, renewable energy sources, and minimizing waste), Playa Viva practices “regeneration”– a process of rejuvenating and restoring what has been lost through prior unsustainable practices.   

The tree house

Playa Viva’s land was once a monoculture coconut grove — a result of the boom-and-bust coconut oil industry that began in the 1920s and crashed in the ‘60s and ‘70s when coconut oil fell out of favor. Damaged from these extractive industries, much of the land in the state of Guerrero was left degraded and infertile.

Under the model of regeneration, we also use local natural building materials, renewable energy sources, and minimize waste, but we feel it is incumbent on us as environmental stewards to regenerate and restore this land to as close to its natural state as possible to ensure that both people and nature thrive. As such, the team here has been working diligently over the last decade to restore mangrove and coastal forest ecosystems, grow edible and medicinal crops organically, and foster better education, health, and economic opportunities in the surrounding community.  

Salad greens, vegetable garden, and tree nursery

So what’s my task here?  To establish a system for continuous monitoring and evaluation of Playa Viva’s social and environmental impact. They want to be absolutely certain that Playa Viva’s impact on the land and in the community is positive, sustainable, and adheres to the values on which we are founded.

The ultimate vision of Playa Viva is to create a model and living legacy for sustainable and regenerative resort development, whereby we revitalize and nurture the land on which we are built and the community by which we are surrounded.

To wrap my head around our “regenerative” concept and the whole systems thinking applied here at Playa Viva, I created a regenerative concept map. In this map you can see how PV’s core goals and objectives for social and environmental sustainability are interwoven and interlinked–how we are continually nurturing the earth and our community, and, in turn, our own lives and the people around us.


I have been here only a few short weeks and I’m already learning multitudes. I am continually impressed with all that has been achieved here in just eight years. I’m thrilled, excited, and overly grateful to be part of a community that is trying to better this world and heal our planet.

Solar Panels at Playa Viva

Conservation Role Models

AFAR Magazine included Playa Viva in a list of “Conservation Role Models” in a round up of hotels where you can “Go for Good”, a listing of hotels where you can stay and help support great causes.  Playa Viva support of great causes starts with creating a positive social and environmental impact in the local ecology  (watch these videos about Playa Viva’s work in the local community).

Just recently, Nick Wolf, with Gente Viva, our organic farming partner, asked if I knew of a company called Good Hospitality.  We first met this organization back in 2014, when they were trying to raise funds for a hotel in Antigua, Guatemala. The proceeds from the hotel operation were intended to support a local primary schools for children who need it most.

Dutch-based Good Hospitality has an interesting initiative. They have created a barge hotel, as a floating pop-up hotel. Another good part of the story – Good Hospitality partnered with a local hospitality school to train the under employed in local Amsterdam are in order to help them find more permanent work.  See this wonderful set of videos about the training workers for the opening of the hotel and the human stories around finding more permanent work.

Good Hotel Amsterdam Traineeship – PART 1 from Good Hotel Amsterdam on Vimeo.

Good Hotel Amsterdam Traineeship – PART 2 from Good Hotel Amsterdam on Vimeo.

The hotels covered in the AFAR Article as well as Good Hospitality are all part of of a trend, spending your travel budget to align with your values. We salute Good Hotel and Good Hospitality on the progress they are making in supporting education of those with less in order for them to make more of their lives. We hope you will join these hotels and Playa Viva and travel to locations “Where Your Vacation Meets Your Values.”

“Where Your Vacation Meets Your Values” — voting with your dollar (investing and spending)

Recently, I’ve been reading alot about the growth of the social impact investing space and wanted to address this in the context of social impact spending and how we vote with the dollars we spend as much as those we invest.

JuluchucaSaltIn an article by Stephanie Cohn Rupp of the Threshold Group,  she addresses the size of social impact investing marketplace and key bottlenecks to growth.  Similarly, in an article by Colin Close with InvestCloud, he discusses how impact investing is moving from fringe to mainstream.  The basic idea is to invest your dollars with your values.  Original SRI (Socially Responsible Investing) was mostly values based with churches and other groups putting up “negative” screens and asking investment advisors and portfolio manager to exclude certain investments which did not match with their values such as guns, tobacco, alcohol, gambling, etc.  The market has moved from exclusion to inclusion, from “screening out” to “advocacy”, as many of these same financial advisory groups are advocating for companies they invest in to make “positive” changes related to corporate governance, community engagement and environmental impact.

It all sounds great especially when you read that the returns from ESG/SRI has been as good as or better than the market in most cases. How do they define this? They take one index (basket of stocks) and compare it to another. One that broadly represents the market like the S&P 500 and the iShares MSCI KLD 400 Social ETF. Go look it up, here is how it is described:

  1. Exposure to socially responsible U.S. companies
  2. Access to a broad range of stocks that have been screened for positive environmental, social, and governance characteristics
  3. Use to invest based on your personal values

Now, take a look at the list of top 10 companies. They include Coca-Cola and Pepsico. I don’t know about you, but the sale of sugar water and bottled water is not in alignment with my values. Sure, I guess I could ask for a further screening to exclude these two from the top 10. But, if these are included, who’s making the list and what are their values based on?

Julia with Odin at Playa Viva
Julia with Odin at Playa Viva

When Playa Viva was just building it’s first buildings, we had a special guest,renowned American environmental activist Julia Butterfly Hill, who was pondering moving to Playa Viva to live. During our time together Julia taught me what is meant by really living by your values and doing as much as you can, and should do, to save our planet.  I do aspire to many of her choices and the discipline she exercises in the execution of those values. The key to what she taught me was — We make small decisions every day in how we act, what we chose to do, and not do, how we plan ahead, how we make the hard choices in order to live with little to no impact on the earth.  We invest in impact by the daily decisions we make, by the way we spend (not just invest) our dollars.

pv_3We, at Playa Viva, have developed a motto over the years — “Where Your Vacation Meets Your Values.”  We know we are not perfect and much of what we do is aspirational at best. So when you look to make your vacation choice, we hope your vacation investment looks deeply at your vacation decisions. We ask that you engage with your vacation choice, hopefully it is with us, about your values to make sure we are in alignment.   Sure, I cringe every time I look under the bar and find a few cans of Coca-cola products. But they are under the bar, specifically for those customers who just can’t live without their fix. While on top of the counter is always a glass “jarra” full of Aguas Frescas, fresh water/juices, made with locally harvested fruits.

What do you reach for to quench your thirst? Does your vacation meet with your values?


Been Too Long Since We Blogged…so Restarting with “Award Winning”

Why has it been so long since our last blog post? Simple, we revamped the website about a year ago and the blog was not part of the new site. But many of you were still searching, finding and commenting on content on our blog; so we decided to bring it back and incorporate it into the new website. While much of our content updates have been visual, posting photos on our Instagram page with links back to our Facebook page, we still have a need for words, for WordPress and for non-visual content that provides a narrative update for what we have been up to at Playa Viva.

So what have we been up to since the last post? Stay tuned as we provide updates on the same topics we have covered before: Green, Sustainable and Regenerative Travel, Architecture, Building, Community Development, Volunteering, Local and Organic Agriculture, etc.

One notable item is the new Treehouse at Playa Viva. It was designed by Kimshasa Baldwin at Deture Culsign and the construction was completed by Will Beilharz and his firm ArtisTree.  The end result is stunning and has become an iconic image for Playa Viva.

Most recently, the treehouse can now be called “award winning.” NEWSFLASH: the “Treehouse Suite at Playa Viva has been selected as one of the finalists in the Lifestyle Guestrooms category…,and all winners and finalists will be featured in the June issue of Hospitality Design magazine.”

Also, Kimshasa and Will along with David Leventhal of Playa Viva also presented at the Boutique Design Magazine’s BDWest conference. The session was entitled: “EARTH STAYS: MAKING SUSTAINABLE DESIGN HAPPEN IN A NANOSECOND.”  The focus was how an introduction by Mary Scoviak of Boutique Design in April of 2015 lead to the design and construction of the treehouse opening in October 2015 (a nanosecond in hotel design and building).

More about the design and building process in future posts. Please come experience the Treehouse for yourself.

Treehouse 1

Photo by Leonardo Palafox




What To Do With Too Many Mangos

IMG_6945Ernesto Leon Sandoval, more commonly known by his nickname, Pato, lead a workshop at Playa Viva recently that included dehydration, chutney and frozen puree as methods to preserve excess mangos harvested at Playa Viva.  See photos below along with the comments, in Spanish, from Julia.  As sustainable and regenerative hoteliers, the best part of this entire process was the news at the end of Julia’s comments, that even though the process of dehydrating fruit was new to the staff, they were so excited by this workshop that they are want to take this process home and apply it to the excess fruit on their land.

Here is the Pato’s recipe for the Mango Chutney pictures below:

para 5 kilos de mango – for 5 kilos of mangoes
5 cucharadas de aceite de oliva o mejor de coco – 5 Tablespoons of oil, either olive or better yet coconut oil
5 cucharadas de canela molida – 5 Tablespoons of ground cinnamon
IMG_69492 barras de piloncillo rallado – 2 Bars of grated piloncillo (brown sugar bars which can be purchased in a Mexican food store)
un diente de ajo grande – One large clove of garlic
el jugo de 5 a 10 limones – Juice from 5 to 10 limes (green Mexican limes)
4 cucharadas de clavo picado – 4 Tablespoons of ground clove
4 cucharadas de pimienta molida – 4 Tablespoons of ground black pepper
4 cucharadas de jengibre picado – 4 Tablespoons of chopped ginger
It appears that Abraham, Playa Viva’s chef, added raisins and black sesame seeds to taste.
Pato provided the ingredients only, seems that these are all mixed together and cooked to desired consistency and then placed in jars which are then sealed (if not familiar with this process see canning instructions available elsewhere on the internet).
IMG_6960 IMG_6963 IMG_6964 IMG_6996
Julia’s comments about the workshop: ​Es un taller muy sencillo y muy facil de comprender así como muy útil, porque nos va a permitir aprovechar la fruta madura, en lugar de dejarla podrir ahora la vamos a poder deshidratar y comer durante todo el año, queda muy sabrosa, dulce pero natural. Es bueno aplicar esta técnica sobre todo al tipo de productos que se cosechan una o dos veces por año solamente y no los puedes guardar en su estado natural por tanto tiempo, ni refrigerar porque no hay espacio.
El equipo lo tomó muy bien, abraham se comprometió con su equipo de cocina a hacerse responsables del procedimiento, ya que por razones de higiene es mejor que sean ellos mismos quienes la procesen. Claro que el equipo de Permacultura estuvo presente, participó  y aportó todo lo necesario, Serafin y Arturo  construyeron la mesa y también estuvieron interesados en el proceso.
  Lo interesante es que ahora ellos quieren hacer lo mismo en sus casa para aprovechar los frutos de sus parcelas.IMG_6936IMG_6926IMG_6943

2015 Mexico Peace Index

Reposted from Borderland Beat from content developed and distributed by Vision of Humanity’s Mexico Peace Index.  Playa Viva is located in the State of Guerrero which is rated as the Least Peaceful state. It appears that the factor contributing most to this rating is the high rate of homicide (most likely taking into consideration the 43 “disappeared” students). However, taking into consideration the other 6 evaluation criteria, Guerrero would rank closer to the middle.”  While safety is the number one concern of our guest, the overall trend shows an improvement in the Peace Index (and correlated safety in Mexico) and tourist areas such as Playa Viva continue to be safe for tourists.  We hope this provides valuable information to help you make an informed decision about traveling safely to Mexico and Playa Viva.

“The Mexico Peace Index, produced by the Institute for Economics and Peace, provides a comprehensive measure of peacefulness in Mexico from 2003 to 2014. This report aims to deepen the understanding of the trends, patterns and drivers of peace in Mexico while highlighting the important economic benefits that will flow from a more peaceful society.”
  • Mexico has experienced a large decrease in violence since 2011, with the national level of peace improving by 16 percent.
  • Progress in peace has plateaued in the last year; it is too early to determine if this is the start of a new trend.
  • The level of peace as measured by the 2015 MPI is still 18 percent lower than in 2003.
  • The most peaceful state in Mexico is Hidalgo, followed by Yucatán, Querétaro, Campeche, Tlaxcala, and Chiapas.
  • Of the 76 largest metropolitan areas of Mexico, the most peaceful is Orizaba in Veracruz and the least peaceful is Culiacán in Sinaloa.
  • The eastern region remains the most peaceful in Mexico, while the northern region is still the most violent, although the gap between the north and the other regions is now at its lowest point since 2004.
“The Mexico Peace Index (MPI) derives from the work of the Global Peace Index, a leading global measure of peacefulness that has been produced by IEP annually since 2007. The Index follows a similar methodology to the United Kingdom Peace Index and the United States Peace Index, also produced by IEP, and defines peace as ‘the absence of violence or fear of violence’.
The MPI measures peace at the state level in Mexico. A key reason for choosing this unit of analysis is that, similar to the United States, Mexico’s state governments have wide-ranging powers allowing them to have a significant impact on the level of violence, therefore the response to violence may differ significantly from state to state.”
The Index is composed of the following seven indicators:
— Homicide rate per 100,000 people
Source: Executive Secretary of the National System for Public Security (SESNSP)—cases being investigated by the State Prosecution Authorities
— Violent crime rate per 100,000 people
Source: SESNSP
— Weapons crime rate per 100,000 people
Source: SESNSP
— Number of people sent to prison per year, per 100,000 people
Source: National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI)
— Federal Government funding to States for the Public Security Contribution Fund per 100,000 people
Source: Secretaria de Hacienda y Crédito Publico (SHCP)
— The number of extortions, drug-trade related crimes, organized crime offenses, and kidnapping per 100,000
Source: SESNSP
— Proportion of convictions for homicide to total homicides
Source: INEGI
“All indicators are scored between 1 and 5, with 1 being the most
peaceful score, and 5 the least peaceful. After the score for each
indicator has been calculated, weights are applied to each of the
indicators in order to calculate the final score.”
There is a wide range in levels of peacefulness across both indicators and states in Mexico. A higher score indicates lower peacefulness. Scores out of five.
Most and Least Peaceful States
With a few exceptions, states in the southern and eastern regions of Mexico are more peaceful than the western, central, and northern regions. Of the ten most peaceful states, only two, Querétaro and San Luis Potosí, are not from the south or the east, while Guerrero is the only southern or eastern state amongst the ten least peaceful.
In the last two years, the most peaceful states, while decreasing very slightly in peacefulness, have had only small changes in rank. There has been a much higher degree of variance amongst the least peaceful states. Guanajuato and Michoacán have steadily declined to now be amongst the five least peaceful states. Juxtaposed to this, many of the least peaceful states have recorded large reductions in homicides and violent crime over the last two years. Tables 2 and 3 show the scores and ranks for the most and least peaceful states, both for the overall index, and each of its seven indicators.

Full Report:

We’re Sprouting!


Plava Viva prides itself on providing its guests with healthful, nourishing, delicious food. Our permaculture gardens provide a good portion of this, and what we can’t produce ourselves we get from trusted local producers and the small farms surrounding the Joluchuca area.

The latest addition to the Playa Viva table is thanks to the work of one of our volunteers, Silvio, who had a notion to provide our kitchen with a steady supply of fresh sprouts! With the help of Serafin, our resident carpenter, Silvio created a sprouting frame which now sits in the kitchen and is home to several jars of soon-to-be delicious sprouts.

Here are some shots of the project taking shape:

Yet another delicious reason to join us at Playa Viva!