Hilton Head is Seeing Green

gg_0112_digmag32-8.jpgHilton Head Island is known and revered around the world as a resort destination that has preserved its natural beauty through thoughtful stewardship.

Residents and visitors alike are well-acquainted with the Island’s effort to protect nesting sea turtles and century-old live oaks, to renourish its postcard- perfect beaches, and to provide plenty of green space for all to enjoy.

“We like to think of sustainability as being in our DNA,” says Susan Thomas, Vice-President of the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce Visitor & Convention Bureau. “It all goes back to Charles Fraser.”

Hilton Head owes a huge debt to Fraser, the innovative developer who was as passionate about preserving nature as he was about building a world-class resort that would endure for generations to enjoy.

“We are focused on taking Fraser’s vision to the next level to sustain places, people and profits for a healthy community,” says Thomas.

The state’s first Audubon Green Community

They are certainly off to a great start. This fall, the Chamber hosted the International Ecotourism Society’s annual conference. In addition to bringing over 350 eco-tourism attendees from around the world to Hilton Head to talk about travel and sustainability, the Island was awarded Audubon International’s Green Community designation. The town is the first in South Carolina to earn the award for its ongoing green initiatives.

“Hilton Head has demonstrated a strong commitment to embodying the ideals of sustainability—economic vitality, environmental protection, and social responsibility,” says Suzi Van Etten, manager of Audubon’s Sustainable Communities Program. “With the surrounding natural landscape of this barrier island, Hilton Head has much to celebrate. It is a unique destination filled with residents that care deeply about the place they call home.”

Working with Audubon, Hilton Head developed strategies for conserving energy and water, reducing waste, promoting renewable energy, and planning for green space and building design.

“Hilton Head Island is known for its golf and for its environmental sensitivity,” says Steve Riley, Hilton Head’s Town Manager. “The Audubon name is well-known for its environmental commitment. Locally, the Audubon name has long been linked to the Newhall Preserve and more recently with many of our most forward-thinking golf courses. Given those linkages, seeking the Audubon Society’s Green Community designation was the right choice for our Island.”

The best-selling author and naturalist Todd Ballantine, who writes the “Eco Vibe” blog for the Chamber’s website, adds “The modern history of Hilton Head Island was founded on the protection of natural resources, outdoor recreation, and creative development. In order for the Island to remain sustainable–that is, to be economically viable, maintain its recreation attractions, and remain a socially balanced community–its leaders must try new approaches to community management. If the will is there, then there will be a way.”

The Chamber and the Town have shown they have both the will and the way.

“Our efforts are all part of helping all of us to sustain our life here, reduce our carbon footprint, and ensure future generations will enjoy the same,” says Thomas.

Area golf courses are leading the way

Hilton Head is valued as a golf destination nearly as much as it is for its natural beauty. Never is that more apparent than during the annual CBS coverage of the RBC Heritage each April. The panoramic shots of the coastline, Harbour Town’s iconic lighthouse, and the photogenic Harbour Town Golf Links course have impressed audiences worldwide, especially in the era of high-definition television.

So it’s significant to note that the region’s golf courses are taking green initiatives seriously. Often, they have been ahead of the curve.

The most recognized initiative being taken is certification as an Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary. Audubon International awards that certification to golf courses that demonstrate efforts to protect the environment, conserve natural resources and provide wildlife habitats.

A number of local courses, including all three of Sea Pines Resort’s courses, have already been certified. In fact, the Ocean Course at Sea Pines has been certified for over a decade.

“We are proud to say we are fully certified as Audubon Cooperative Sanctuaries,” says Cary Corbitt, Director of the Sports Division and Director of Golf for Sea Pines Resort. “Nature is what Sea Pines is all about. That’s a testament to Charles Fraser. Everything he did here was nature-based and well thought out. With the Audubon certification, at the end of the day you know you are doing the right thing.”

But certification isn’t an easy undertaking (and courses must be re-certified every two years). To be designated a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary, a golf course must develop and implement an environmental management plan and document the results in six key areas: Environmental Planning, Chemical Use Reduction and Safety, Water Conservation, Water Quality Management, Wildlife and Habitat Management and Outreach and Education.

As part of Sea Pines’ environmental management plan, the water used to maintain its golf courses is reclaimed (filtered and reused). That effort not only helps conserve water, but manage its quality.

The benefits of this program are not just limited to the environment. A study by Audubon International reports a richer golf experience at courses that are in harmony with the environment. The study also cites better financial performance through reduced insurance premiums and reduced costs for energy, water, pesticides and fertilizers.

Last year, the Chamber sponsored a workshop for area golf course superintendents with the folks from Audubon to discuss how to get their courses designated as Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuaries. The goal is to get every local golf course certified, says Thomas.

That’s an achievement that would have certainly pleased the late Charles Fraser.


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