Imagine a zoo where all the humans are caged while the animals roam free. This is just one of the many ground-breaking concepts manifesting in the form of the World Wild resort designed by architect Bill Bensley. Bill is a renowned architect who has created some of the world’s most iconic hotels, resorts, spas, homes, and even palaces, but perhaps more importantly, he has a heart for conservation and bridging the gap between luxury and sustainability. In this episode, Bill talks to Benjamin Von Wong about his process of purchasing the property for Shinta Mani Wild and what he did to craft a one-of-a-kind experience for guests — including building the longest zip line in Southeast Asia — offering guest breathtaking views of the Tmor Rung River.
As listeners will hear, both the environment and community have benefited greatly from the job opportunities created by the resort, with poachers and loggers now being recruited as rangers and able to provide for their families. Bill gets into the White Paper he wrote on the pillars of sustainable design, the kind of conversations he has with hotel owners and developers who have only profits in mind, and how he came to have a say in how the properties he designs are operated. You can also look forward to hearing Bill discuss the value of curiosity, recreational painting, and the environmental goals he hopes to achieve in the future. Check out one of these links for the full episode:
Key Points From This Episode
How a hotel can be sustainable
There are many examples Bill provides of this, but one example lies in employment. Hiring people from a small town called Tmor Rung for his hotel Shinta Mani Wild not only helps workers provide for their family in a small town, but also turns people who may have been hunting or logging into rangers. This helps them make a living while also protecting the area.
Using research as a tool for curiosity
Bill comes up with these amazing, fantastical designs that you look at and think “how on earth did he come up with that.” Bill cites months of research in some cases. When a client comes to him, he’ll ask “what’s your dream?” and try to come up with something they never would have thought they wanted. Researching and curiosity fuel each other in the creative process that ensues, because wanting to know about the client’s background, culture, the wild animals from their area — you name it — over time gives him ideas to accomplish the end result.
Why you should make simple changes to the system from the base
Architects receive huge books on ‘building standards’ from clients that detail things like fabrics the client wants used. Bill noticed almost none of his books over the years mention sustainability. He went on to write a white paper about ways to be sustainable and why, to give hotels a tool that they can simply put in their building standards books going forward. It was met with success, and that simple act of providing the tool will likely go on to help more architects and builders be sustainable for years to come.
How to convince money-motivated people to be sustainable
It’s all about showing how being sustainable can make them — or save them — money. Bill suggests new architects point towards cases of success in building sustainability to lead the client to environmentally-friendly implementations. One of these examples could be Bill, who saw the waste from the millions of plastic water bottles that hotels purchased each year, using more space and money to store them on pallets. He began building bottling factories on-site, which are able to recycle their own glass. This ultimately saves the hotel money on purchase, shipping, storage, and disposal, while being much better for the environment.
It’s never too late to pick up a new hobby
Starting from scratch on something new when you’ve already been successful in other fields, especially later in life, is definitely humbling. At 59, Bill decided to pick up painting. It is a meditative process for him where he disconnects for hours from technology before going into work, but also a challenge. He’s on year 3 of painting now and notes greater ease in painting what he sees in his mind. The lesson here? It’s never too late to start.
“This little village, before we came, existed primarily on farming but also on pillaging from the forest and also hunting wildlife. Now we have the majority of the major hunters on our side as rangers.” — Bill Bensley [0:06:27]
“I’m not a philosophical guy. I’m just trying to do what I think is right.” — Bill Bensley [0:11:52]
“What I realized and the feedback that I got is that people don’t want to know about sustainability if it costs them money, especially owners.” — Bill Bensley [0:15:24]
“At this point in my career, I have a lot of clients that come to me because of my position, my stance about social responsibility and environmentalism.” — Bill Bensley [0:20:32]
“We all have to understand that our world has edges. It’s not a limitless world.” — Bill Bensley[0:37:48]
Coming Up Next
Next episode we’ll hear from an expert in management consulting, John Hagel. John has been a Co-Chairman for the Center for the Edge at Deloitte for over a decade, which looks for emerging business opportunities to bring to the CEO’s agenda. In his chat with Von Wong, he provides lots of ideas and frameworks for how one might find their passion. If that sounds like something you’re in need of right now, subscribe here.
Links Mentioned in Today’s Episode
Benjamin Von Wong
Bill Bensley on Instagram
Bill’s White Paper
Shinta Mani Wild
Four Seasons Tented Camp (Chiang Rai)
John Hagel on LinkedIn
Center for the Edge