Water conservation top of mind for some hotels, tourism businesses


“Every drop of water saved is a help to avoid us getting into mandatory conservation measures during the summer,” said Ernie Lau, chief engineer for Honolulu’s Board of Water Supply.

Lau asked Oʻahu’s tourism and business leaders to do their part to conserve water during a webinar hosted by the Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority last month. He told attendees that drier conditions, the continuing impact of the Red Hill fuel leak and high use could pose challenges supplying water to urban Honolulu and Waikīkī this summer.

The Board of Water Supply stopped pumping water from the Hālawa Shaft last year out of precaution, due to the presence of jet fuel in nearby Navy water shafts. The Hālawa shaft provides a majority of water to urban Honolulu and East Oʻahu — including Waikīkī.

In March, the Board of Water Supply asked residents to voluntarily cut their water usage by 10% to avoid short or prolonged service disruptions.

Outside of Oʻahu, Maui’s Department of Water issued a Stage 1 drought declaration for parts of West Maui and Upcountry. Maui’s water department urged residents and visitors to conserve water, while implementing some restrictions.

And on Hawaii Island, prolonged drought has increased the possibility of wildfires on the western part of the island.

While residents are being asked to conserve water, and the state expects a very busy summer travel season, what’s being done to conserve water within the visitor industry?

For one hotel chain, water conservation is one of several environmental efforts it is addressing.

“We are choosing drought-tolerant foliage, and we have wash upon request policies at our hotels,” said Monica Salter, vice president of communications and sustainability at the Outrigger Hospitality Group. “One of the largest culprits of water usage is laundry.”

Salter tells HPR that the hotel chain has been active in adopting efforts to conserve water, reduce waste and be energy efficient within its operations for the past decade. She says the group has performed audits of their properties to measure their electricity use and environmental impacts.

When it comes to water usage, she says the group partnered with the Honolulu Board of Water Supply to conduct water audits of its Waikīkī properties. Salter says the audit revealed the hotel was already doing a good job in its water efficiency and use.

“For example, when we renovated the Waikīkī Beachcomber and Outrigger Reef, we replaced the showerheads with low flow versions. And this is something that we will continue to do throughout our properties and planned renovations.”

Outrigger is one of several hotels in the state participating in a public-private collective promoting the adoption of green business practices.

The Hawaii Green Business Program was founded more than 20 years ago. The program is a partnership with water agencies within the state, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, the state Energy Office, and tourism agencies, associations and hotels.

“The goals are to not only improve these practices, but to recognize businesses for what they’re doing,” said Gail Suzuki-Jones, program coordinator.

When it comes to water conservation, Suzuki-Jones says there are a lot of hotels can do. From changing aerators, faucets and showerheads to limiting water use in rooms, to using endemic plants that are drought resistant.

“Looking at irrigation and checking for leaks,” she said. “Apparently that’s one of the biggest culprits, is leaks and irrigation.”

Suzuki-Jones notes there are some hotels on Hawaii Island that use rainwater catchment systems and recycled water for irrigation.

The Hawaiʻi Green Business Program has four categories it focuses on — hotels and resorts, restaurants and offices, events and venues. Recently, the program recognized 14 hotels, businesses, venues and events for implementing green business practices.

Of those, nine were hotels — five of which are Outrigger properties. Other hotels receiving recognition include the Prince Waikīkī, Volcano House in Pāhoa, and the Westin Nanea Ocean Villas in Kaʻanapali.

The program doesn’t just focus on water conservation, but it also aims to improve electric efficiency and waste reduction.

At Outrigger, Salter says the group also implemented measures to address these impacts, especially in waste reduction. She says the group recycles cardboard and glass products, which they will continue to practice and expand upon.

“Our next step in the plan is to create a green procurement plan to make sure that what we’re actually bringing into the property is recyclable material — or ideally elimination of single-use plastic,” she said.

Salter says the group has installed water fill stations throughout several of its properties. Those stations can be utilized by guests, who receive a metal water bottle and reusable bag upon check-in.

Among other initiatives, the Outrigger also provides reef-safe sunscreens to its guests.

Salter tells HPR that the measures taken at its Waikīkī properties are also in place at its hotels across the state, Fiji, Mauritius, and the Maldives.

Outrigger Hospitality Group is an underwriter of Hawaii Public Radio.

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