Saving water is a top priority for some hotels and tourism companies

“Every drop of water that is saved is a help to avoid getting us into mandatory conservation measures in the summer,” said Ernie Lau, chief engineer for the Honolulu Water Department.

Lau asked Oahu’s tourism and business leaders to do their part to save water during a webinar hosted by the Hawaii Tourism Authority last month. He told attendees that drier conditions, the ongoing impact of the Red Hill fuel leak and high consumption could pose challenges to the cities of Honolulu and Waikīkī’s water supplies this summer.

The Board of Water Supply stopped pumping water from the Hālawa well last year as a precaution due to the presence of kerosene in nearby Navy water wells. The Hālawa Well supplies most of the water to the cities of Honolulu and East O’ahu, including Waikīkī.

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

Outside of O’ahu, the Maui Department of Water has issued a Stage 1 drought declaration for parts of West Maui and Upcountry. The Maui Water Authority is urging residents and visitors to conserve water while implementing some restrictions.

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

With local residents being urged to conserve water and the state anticipating a very busy summer travel season, what is the visitor industry doing to conserve water?

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

“We choose to be drought tolerant and have linen-on-demand policies in our hotels,” said Monica Salter, vice president of communications and sustainability at Outrigger Hospitality Group. “One of the biggest contributors to water consumption is laundry.”

Salter tells HPR that over the past decade, the hotel chain has actively made efforts to conserve water, reduce waste and be energy efficient in its operations. She says the group has conducted audits of its properties to measure their electricity use and environmental impact.

Regarding water use, she says the group has worked with the Honolulu Board of Water Supply to conduct water audits on its Waikīkī properties. According to Salter, the audit found that the hotel has already done a good job in terms of water efficiency and use.

“For example, when we renovated Waikīkī Beachcomber and Outrigger Reef, we replaced the showerheads with low-flow versions.

Outrigger is one of several hotels in the state participating in a public-private collective that encourages 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 not only to improve these practices, but also to recognize companies for what they do,” said Gail Suzuki-Jones, program coordinator.

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

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

Suzuki-Jones notes that there are some hotels on the island of Hawaii that use rainwater harvesting systems and recycled water for irrigation.

The Hawaiʻi Green Business Program has four categories to focus on – Hotels and Resorts, Restaurants and Offices, Events and Venues. The program recently recognized 14 hotels, companies, venues and events for implementing environmentally friendly business practices.

Nine of these were hotels – five of which are outrigger properties. Other recognized hotels include the Prince Waikīkī, the Volcano House in Pāhoa and the Westin Nanea Ocean Villas in Ka’anapali.

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

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

“Our next step in the plan is to create a green sourcing plan to ensure what we actually bring into the property is recyclable material — or ideally, eliminating single-use plastic,” she said.

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

Among other initiatives, the Outrigger also offers guests reef-safe sunscreen.

Salter informs HPR that the measures taken at its Waikīkī properties also apply to its hotels across the state, Fiji, Mauritius and the Maldives.

Outrigger Hospitality Group is the underwriter of Hawaiʻi Public Radio.

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