Listen to an interview of Jim Spear by Bruce Connolly of Radio Beijing in 5 parts.
–The schoolhouse project at Mutianyu
–Creating a sustainable business model
–From Schoolhouse to Brickyard
–Restoring but maintaining links with the past
–Encouraging people to discover more of the surrounding rural area
Our business philosophy is sustainable tourism. We support our local community, leave the land in agriculture, use existing buildings, adopt green practices, and source food products locally, serving real food. We also sponsor educational and cultural exchange programs that help visitors understand village life and that foster broader horizons for our rural neighbors.
These simple guiding principles act as the cornerstone for our business practice. We have found they do a good job in helping us pursue a broader philosophy. Nowadays rural communities are shrinking as the young flee to jobs and excitement in cities and the rural population declines and ages.
Our main concern is the preservation of the village and its surroundings. We have recognized the importance of respecting the village and the locals who host it, and our primary goal is to provide guests with an authentic village experience by housing them in existing structures that haven’t changed the profile of the village.
We continue to work closely with our neighbours, the village governments, and park authorities to ensure our developments fit into the community and contribute to helping Mutianyu become a distinctive and sustainable Great Wall destination. No one has been displaced by any of our development projects and we have used existing footprints right in the villages instead of tearing down or building greenfield.
Buildings are all leased at market prices directly from individual peasant families who have used the proceeds creatively to set up businesses, to educate their children, or to care for their elderly.
Our mission is to combine quality and responsibility, offering our guests the best service and respecting at the same time the surrounding environment and the community that hosts our business. We are happy to share with the public our achievements
in some of the areas that characterize sustainability in order to provide evidence of what we actually do at The Schoolhouse and to simplify the process of improvement over time, because “if you can’t measure it you can’t manage it.”
All of our business properties started off from run-down buildings. Each of the homes at Brickyard was leased at market prices from individual peasant families who received the proceeds directly. No one has been displaced by any of our development projects.
Though many of the new structures are built of brick, most of the bricks were salvaged from the area, cleaned and reused. We also used our tiles from the factory and other materials where possible.
Where we couldn’t use salvaged materials, we did our best to adopt as many local materials into our designs including native field stone, slate, gravel, brick and fruitwoods in the design of our buildings.
Like most businesses we do purchase from wholesalers and bulk suppliers, but where possible, we preferentially source goods and services from local suppliers. For example, a tailor in an adjacent village makes our spa pajamas, kitchen uniforms, and other textile items.
The Schoolhouse’s mission is to thrive alongside the community that hosts it, and support the economic development of the village through the tourism it promotes.
We serve foods homemade from scratch using mainly local ingredients, compost our organic waste and operate a kitchen garden on organic principles.
We employ local builders and craftsmen to realize the design of our projects.
We offer challenging internships to international students who can bring talent, hard work and a willingness to learn and share to our cross-cultural team. Tailored programs include mentors from our management team providing guidance and encouragement outside daily operations. We also offer unpaid internships based in Beijing.
Watch the TEDxVictoriaHarbour talk by Schoolhouse founder, Jim Spear, on the value of interns.
We hire locally where possible, but also want to be open to diversity. While more than 50% of our employees are locally hired, the goal is to maintain the number of local employees above 75% which we need to work harder on.
Meet our Sustainability team:
Approximately 70% of our employees are women, which is great compared to the tourism industry worldwide average of 56%!
Our design maximizes natural light and ventilation and incorporates insulation and thermal-paned windows and doors throughout. The lighting is nearly 100 per cent LED with some fluorescent. Hot water production is decentralized and uses a combination of storage units and in-line heaters. Heating and air-conditioning is produced and controlled in each room. Electricity usage is monitored regularly.
Our rule on waste reduction starts with minimizing waste production. We use bulk soaps and shampoos and only offer pre-packaged amenities such as toothbrushes and razor by request, and change linens weekly or upon request. We filter local spring water to avoid plastic bottled water. We compost our organic waste and recycle waste fiber, glass and plastic.
Water is conserved through selectable toilet flushing and rainforest shower heads. Phase 2 of our design includes a grey water processing system and we are exploring adding rainwater harvesting as well. In addition, water usage is monitored.