There’s something hauntingly beautiful about mornings in Bali. Misty and mysterious, the air smells of sea foam or morning dew from the jungle—depending where on the island you’re staying—and lingering smoke from ritual offerings that take place at dawn.
On one such morning, Ronald Akili decided to take his eldest son for an early surf session. “On the water, we were about 500 metres from the shore, and we were still surrounded by trash,” he recalls. Just last year, it was reported that some of Bali’s most popular beaches were buried in up to 60 tonnes of plastic rubbish every day. “It was unbelievable,” he says.
Akili is the founder of Indonesian hospitality and lifestyle brand Potato Head, best known for its cult-favourite property on the shore in Bali’s popular Seminyak district, which comprises a beach club, hotel and several restaurants. The name, he says, is an inside joke among friends and has nothing to do with the popular Hasbro toy.
Like any good dad, Akili is committed to ensuring a better future for his children; he’s doing this by redefining how hospitality and tourism approach sustainability—not just from an environmental standpoint, but also by finding ways to sustain culture and community for generations to come.
History Meets Science
Potato Head’s hotel, Potato Head Suites, for example, was built using 1.5 million bricks, each hand-pressed by local artisans and fired using only biomass in a time-consuming practice typically reserved for Bali’s sacred Hindu temples. It was a decision in design that fulfilled both the artistic vision of Indonesian architect Andra Matin and Potato Head’s mission to embrace and preserve the island’s traditions.
“Mass tourism has been so destructive, and has taken away so much from certain destinations, but it has the potential to be something so positive,” he says. “If we don’t change how we do things now, the next generation won’t have anything left.”
In 2018, Potato Head became the first hospitality company in Indonesia to take the United Nations’ Climate Neutral Now pledge to measure greenhouse gas emissions, reduce them where possible and offset the rest.
Potato Head even has an on-site research and development facility, Sustainism Lab, which experiments with new ways of regenerating waste such as plastic and styrofoam washed up from oceans and rivers—and even oyster shells from its restaurants—into new products such as baskets, furniture and amenities used throughout its two hotels: Potato Head Studios and Potato Head Suites.