Climate change, development and growth are cutting deep into society’s psyche, and hospitality industry leaders want to be a part of the solution by using community, culture and innovation.
The Alliance for a Blue Economy, or All Blue, is a local, multidisciplinary initiative to establish Wilmington and Southeastern North Carolina as a national and global leader in the Blue Economy, which focuses on the preservation of jobs, livelihoods and the ocean environment.
Hospitality consultant Mike MacNair of All Blue recently discussed the need for communities to incorporate sustainable practices for future business and community balance.
“There are two ways to look at it. You can look at the negative impacts of tourism with carbon dioxide and trash and so on and so forth; plenty would expand on that list,” MacNair said. “Conversely, you can create something to end up with beautiful places.”
MacNair suggests that tourism’s stake in the land that it holds is dependent on a healthy environment: clean beaches, pollution-free waterways and more.
“Instead of land being used for a factory or plant, you could have tall buildings that generate some impacts, but why not sell to a business like hospitality that has a vested interest in what they’re really selling,” MacNair said. “Surely it’s going to have an impact, but compared to other opportunities in these beautiful areas, it can respect the environment.”
MacNair pointed to changes at the Blockade Runner Beach Resort that he said have made the Wrightsville Beach hotel “less impactful than residential development.”
The owners of Blockade Runner have made sustainability a priority.
“We have an amazing coastal location, and they have always been stewards of that,” said Kristin Jones, director of operations.
Reducing single-use plastic, recycling, composting and using energy efficient lighting are some of the ways the hotel reduces its footprint. In addition, the owners worked with the N.C. Coastal Federation and the town of Wrightsville Beach to build a cistern water filtration system that reuses ground water to water the hotel’s sound-side lawn. The system also helps prevent trash from going into Banks Channel.
Jones said that awareness is part of the larger movement to “enlighten guests that these businesses are participating in these efforts.”
These efforts include taking part in the All Blue model and the Plastic Ocean Project’s Ocean Friendly Establishment (OFE) program.
Hundreds of Cape Fear-area restaurants, museums, salons and businesses have become certified through the OFE program, a community- based certification earned by making changes to avoid plastic waste and become more sustainable.
“People recognize those efforts on social media and go to those businesses first,” said Karly Lohan, OFE coordinator.
The Blockade Runner is the only local hotel certified OFE, but Lohan and her team plan to create criteria for an industry-specific hotel application process.
Travel and tourism expert Helen Marano of Marano Perspectives said, “Tourism hasn’t been good storytellers. The general public do not know what they do in the back of the house. They should not be afraid to herald the good things they are doing.”
By being certified an OFE, businesses earn a sticker that lets customers know about their commitment to the environment. Another such effort is the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality’s NC GreenTravel Initiative website.
“Lodging properties, restaurants, parks, museums, attractions and all other travel-oriented businesses can apply for recognition by the NC GreenTravel Initiative Program,” according to the website. “Recognized businesses will receive a certificate and window decal denoting them as an NC GreenTravel business.”
When NC GreenTravel’s program director Tom Rhodes started to compile a list of green businesses, hotels were among the first to join the ranks.
“They are a great help with the program,” Rhodes said.
Rhodes described the variety of ways hotels are making a difference in protecting the environment with water conservation, waste reduction and creative recycling. The Environmental Protection Agency’s towel program, for example, reduces the amount of water used by not washing towels every day, and many hotels have a similar program with bed sheets.
“The average person produces 4.4 pounds of waste daily, and if a typical 200-room hotel is at 60% capacity, that’s 120 rooms, 528 pounds of trash per day,” Rhodes said. “But if they recycle 1.5 pounds per person, anything you can prevent from going in the landfill makes a big difference.”
Many hotels take part in the Save the World soap recycling program that sanitizes and repurposes leftover soaps and provides soap and handwashing education around the world.
“The program has protected and saved the lives of 9 million children annually by preventing all kinds of diseases with their cleanliness program,” Rhodes said.
Being a part of sustainability efforts is a guiding principle of many of these businesses that have pledged to be more environmentally friendly. Engaging with the community they share is also a focal point for the business owners, and experts explain the role they play in the community.
“Get the community to understand what they offer as a community and the assets they feel pride in and how to open up to visitors and to underscore the need to preserve and protect that and how it is not to be trampled,” Marano said.
Recognizing the impact tourism has on an economy has emboldened the new regenerative tourism trend that MacNair hopes will take hold in this area.
“‘Regenerative’ is a fabulous word. When ecotourism came out there, it was all about embracing the environment,” MacNair said. “This takes it a step forward from leave-no-trace. ‘Regenerative’ is about leaving it better than you found it.”
To be a part of the changes, Mac- Nair recommends that the community takes part in decision-making and thinks about types of development that will share community values.
He said, “Development is coming. Make sure you responsibly plan and place what you want to be there.”