What’s It Take to be Green?
A pilot project for eco-tourism in Hawaii, The Hawaii Ecotourism Association’s (HEA) green certification program recently awarded 14 tour companies their first-ever green certifications. Funding for the project came from the Hawaii Tourism Authority, and Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz presented the winners with a proclamation of recognition. HEA celebrated the inaugural class of Certified Ecotour Operators with an awards banquet.
Annette Kaohelaulii, one of HEA’s board of directors, says, “The requirements for this certification process are designed to cover a lot of eco-tourism principles that would set companies apart from those who are less concerned with sustainable practices.
“People might be surprised with companies like Atlantis who are very sustainable. They choose battery power over fuel power, and they care about educating their guests. When Kualoa Ranch first started out years ago, it was searching for ways to generate income. They had jet skis and helicopter rides, but they’re changing a lot these days. They’ve included grass-fed beef in their operation and bird watching tours are replacing some of the other less sustainable tours.”
Kaohelaulii, founder of Annette’s Adventures (a winner) says that she wasn’t that concerned with being certified green, and didn’t think she should even apply.
“I do bird tours for very small groups,” she says. “I drive them in my Prius to see Hawaii’s birds. I’m not an expert, but I can talk about natural history, political history and cultural history. My office is my house, and everything from my lightbulbs to my bamboo floors to the attic fans and solar panels have been chosen to make my office and home more sustainable.”
Loreen Matsushima, director of advertising and public relations for Navatek I, which is owned by Atlantis Adventures, explains how Atlantis’ cruises received their gold certification from HEA.
“The review process this year was conducted by Linda Cox, who served 27 years as a community economic development specialist at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, Department of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources,” says Matsushima.
“To qualify for certification,” she says, “each applicant is required to meet the minimum set of sustainability practices outlined in the program by answering a series of questions pertaining to the operations of the company. The minimum standards and practices include a sustainability plan that guides the company’s operations, principles of ecotourism, standards of recycling, environmental management and more.”
HEA is a nonprofit organization whose members include government agencies, educational institutions, environmental organizations and others.
HEA’s requirements for green certification include:
*Providing a direct, personal experience of nature for customers
* Having a written sustainability plan that guides the applicants’ operations and demonstrates commitment to HEA ecotourism principles.
* Contributing to conservation outcomes annually to statewide and/or local community-based environmental conservation initiatives.
* Contributing to the local communities in which the applicant operates.
* Demonstrating effective management in their operating principles regarding the environment.