Water conservation is the most important thing for some hotels, tourist companies

“Every drop of water saved helps us avoid having to go into mandatory conservation measures in the summer,” said Ernie Lau, chief engineer for the Honolulu Board of Water.

Lau asked Oahu’s tourism and business leaders to contribute to water conservation during a webinar hosted by the Hawaii Tourism Authority last month. He told attendees that drier conditions, the continued impact of the Red Hill fuel spill and high usage could create water supply challenges for urban Honolulu and Waikiki this summer.

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

In March, the Water Board asked residents to voluntarily reduce their water use by 10% to avoid short or long service interruptions.

Outside of Oahu, the Maui Department of Water has issued a Stage 1 drought declaration for parts of West Maui and the Upstate. The Maui Water Department urged residents and visitors to conserve water while enforcing some restrictions.

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

As residents are asked to conserve water, and the state anticipates a very busy summer tourist season, what is being done to conserve water in the tourism industry?

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

“We choose drought tolerant and have a laundry-on-demand policy at our hotels,” said Monica Salter, vice president of communications and sustainability at Outrigger Hospitality Group. “One of the biggest culprits in water use is laundry.”

Salter tells HPR that the hotel chain has been active in pursuing water conservation, waste reduction and energy efficiency efforts in its operations over the past decade. She says the group has audited their properties to measure their energy use and environmental impact.

As for water use, she says the group is partnering with the Honolulu Water Board to conduct water audits on its Waikīkī properties. Salter says the audit reveals the hotel is already doing a good job in terms of water efficiency and use.

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

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

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

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

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

“We watch the irrigation and check for leaks,” she said. “Obviously that’s one of the biggest culprits, leaks and irrigation.”

Suzuki-Jones notes that there are some hotels on Hawaii Island that use rainwater harvesting 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. The program recently 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 Prince Waikīkī, Volcano House in Pāhoa and Westin Nanea Ocean Villas in Kaʻanapali.

The program does not only focus on water conservation, but also aims to improve electrical efficiency and reduce waste.

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

“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, getting rid of single-use plastic,” she said.

Salter says the group has installed water filling stations at several of its properties. These stations can be used by guests who receive a metal water bottle and reusable bag upon check-in.

Among other initiatives, Outrigger also provides reef-safe sunscreen products to its guests.

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

Outrigger Hospitality Group is the underwriter of Hawaiʻi Public Radio.

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