Kauai Sustainable Tourism
We’ve all heard the phrase “talk the talk, walk the walk” a million times. It basically means that a person (or in our case, a company) should support what they say, not just with words, but also through action. In this blog post, we want to touch on the sometimes-underappreciated importance of “talking the talk” and then list some ways that our company is earnestly “walking the walk.”
Well, what are we “’talking the talk and walking the walk” about anyways??? SUSTAINABILITY friends, sustainability.
At Holo Holo Charters, we wholeheartedly believe that operating our Kauai boat tour company as socially and environmentally responsibly as possible makes excellent business sense! We’ve seen it with our own eyes– consumer demand for responsible products and services is growing and as the years go by, more and more people are interested in knowing how the businesses they’re supporting are managed.
We believe that actively working towards sustainability increases our customer satisfaction, staff motivation, business efficiency, and frankly– gives us a competitive advantage.
These beliefs make us a natural fit as members of the Sustainable Tourism Association of Hawaii (STAH), with whom we recently earned our STAH Recertification, valid through December 2023. Happy dance!
Skeptics might think “Big-whoop, a fancy piece of paper, but does it actually mean anything– in real life?” The answer is, yes it does.
In the second part of this blog post, we’ll cover several examples of how Holo Holo Charters is “walking the walk.” But first, we want to “talk the talk” a bit– about the significance of the certification and the importance of starting conversations that normalize the energetic pursuit of sustainable business practices.
TALKING THE TALK
After graduating from Waimea High School, our company’s General Manager, Chandra Bertsch, studied Business Administration at CSU Chico, minoring in Managing for Sustainability. She got our company involved with STAH in 2016 and currently serves on the organization’s Board of Directors.
STAH’s mission is “to protect Hawaii’s unique, natural environment and host culture through the promotion of responsible travel and education programs relating to sustainable tourism for residents, businesses, and visitors.”
On the ground, STAH is basically a network of like-minded tour operators across Hawaii that can share ideas, inspire each other, and hold each other accountable when it comes to doing the things we can to lessen our respective impacts on Hawaii’s unique and amazing natural, cultural, and social environments.
We italicize the things we can because STAH members acknowledge that our first objective is staying in business. The solutions we implement in the name of sustainability must make financial sense. Obviously, there’s no need to talk about the sustainability of a business that went out of business.
And the more exciting reason we italicize the things we can is because the list of things we can is always growing with new ideas and new technologies. By being connected, learning, experimenting, and sharing information with each other, “fringe” new concepts, over time, become the things we can.
It’s 2022– look on the website of any company (from mining to cigarettes to boat tour companies) and there will be a page declaring their commitment to sustainability. But in many cases, that’s where it ends—just a couple paragraphs on a webpage.
With the STAH program, members must closely evaluate the ways we operate, make certain changes, and meet many criteria. If being certified by STAH was quick and easy, everyone would do it, but Holo Holo Charters is the only Kauai tour boat company to be STAH Certified.
Earlier this year, Chandra bestowed our company’s Assistant Operations Manager, Jess Rickard, with an additional title: Holo Holo Charters Sustainability Coordinator.
Wearing her Sustainability Coordinator hat, Jess logged more than forty hours gathering the documentation needed for our recent recertification. STAH recently integrated with Travelife, a global organization that helps tour operators manage and improve social and environmental impacts, and because of that integration– the process this year was more extensive and rigorous than ever.
We like to think that by talking loudly and proudly about best practices and by leading the way, other Kauai businesses (of all kinds) will be inspired to do the same. Absolutely everyone benefits when we’re actively working to protect Kauai’s natural resources and strengthen our community bonds.
Okay! Enough about talking the talk. Let’s start walking the walk.
Walking the Walk
Welcome to the second half of our blog post! You’ve made it this far and by now, you know how passionate we are about talking the talk, starting conversations, inspiring other businesses & organizations, and holding each other accountable.
Our Holo Holo Charters Sustainability Mission Statement:
To be the most ecologically conscious boat tour company on Kaua’i by providing a positive impact on our island resources and the local community. We believe that by taking people out for amazing experiences on the ocean, it will ignite an existing desire to protect the ocean and ecosystems.
Below are some examples (in no particular order) of how we’ve been walking the walk when it comes to realizing those values.
- On Saturday, March 12, 2022, we didn’t book any Holo Holo Kauai boat morning tours and instead, held a mandatory cultural training day for all of our employees. Of course, part of the fun of going on a tour is learning about the island, the landmarks, the history. At Holo Holo, we want to be absolutely sure that the stories and information we’re sharing as part of our trip narration are accurate, authentic, and honor the legacy of past and current generations. So, we invited three experts to voyage with us along our normal routes and tell the stories about the land from their perspectives. Our experts were Mike DeMotta, the head curator for living collections for the National Tropical Botanical Garden, Lei Hanalei Hōlei Wann-Keliihoomalu, the director of the Limahuli Garden and Preserve, and who has ancestral ties to the north shore, and Auntie Sabra Kauka, a cultural practitioner and educator that fosters the native traditions of Hawaii. These respected community leaders shared many historical facts, fascinating stories, legends, and traditions of Kauai, the Napali Coast, Lehua Crater, and Niihau that we can now in turn share with our guests.
- When you voyage with Holo Holo Charters, we think you’ll appreciate that our fresh, healthy appetizers and meals are served on reusable service items. This saves disturbing amounts of single-use plastics from going into the Kauai landfill every day, and also—is it just us, or does food actually taste better off a “real” plate? Does using melamine plates, stainless steel flatware, and cloth napkins create more work for our caterers and cost more? Yes, it does. But considering that we serve up to 50,000 guests a year, it’s a cost we feel obligated to incur.
- We serve beverages on board—woohoo! Some beverages come in recyclable aluminum cans (such as POG juice and/or our craft beer from Oahu’s Honolulu Beer Works), but some things we serve in paper cups—such as Kauai Coffee in the morning, and our Koloa Rum Ginger Mai-Tais in the afternoon. The exciting news is that we’re in the process of eliminating the paper cups entirely and replacing them with stainless steel cups. Plastic-bad, paper-better, reusable stainless-best! With STAH, we are always evaluating our practices and challenged to improve them.
- As you can imagine, taking hundreds of people out on the open ocean every day, there are a lot of legal and liability considerations for Holo Holo Charters. A lot of forms, a lot of licenses, a lot of waivers—every single guest must fill out a waiver. The great news is that in 2019, we invested in a digital waiver system! The move was costly up front, but we estimate that we’ve saved over 130,000 pieces of paper! For the increasingly-fewer documents that must be printed (for instance, Coast Guard ship manifests), we strictly use recycled paper. Through an internal system of document sharing, instant messaging/email for communication, erasable whiteboards, and online scheduling/time sheets, we’re able to really minimize our overall paper use.
- Just a handful of years ago, Holo Holo’s marketing strategy was about 50% online, and 50% printed materials that we’d distribute around the island on brochure/pamphlet racks, etc. With very few exceptions, we’ve all but done away completely with printed material and estimate now that 95% of our marketing materials are online, be it through our website, QR codes, or affiliate sites. Are we missing some sales by not being represented on the brochure racks? Probably a little bit, but it just motivates us to constantly improve our website!
- Speaking of conservation in our offices, our friend Mark Gregory and his associates from IT Kauai came over and did a comprehensive adjustment of all our computer and printer settings. Now, our computers and monitors are set to proper energy-saving sleep modes. Our printers default to ink and paper-saving modes. These settings might sound insignificant but truly, they’re not! Paying the “computer nerds” to come in and optimize our settings was money well spent—electricity ain’t cheap and neither is ink or paper!
- When you come out on any of our six unique Holo Holo Kauai and Niihau boat tours, you’ll be offered Raw Elements Reef Safe Sunscreen—we carry it on every tour! Over the last decade, studies have made it clear that the chemical sunscreens us humans use to protect ourselves does serious harm to the coral reefs that work so hard to keep our oceans alive and healthy. Killing the reefs underwater is like deforesting the land—the detrimental effects are exponential and never-ending. Soooo, we offer Raw Elements Reef Safe Sunscreen on board all our tours. Most of our guests naturally bring their own sunscreen but by offering Raw Elements, we get to offer them perhaps a more ocean-friendly alternative, plus– it gives us the opportunity to start a conversation about the subject. Honestly, the concept of reef-safe sunscreen may have never even crossed the mind of a visitor from somewhere landlocked (although it should, as mineral-based sunscreen is also far better for your bodies than chemical-based sunscreens!). Offering Raw Elements sunscreen gives us a chance to talk the talk, walk the walk and importantly– bring others along with us!
- At our Kauai boat tour check-in office in Port Allen, there’s a small retail section of quality, useful items. A few of the brands we carry include: ANETIK (quality, lightweight, breathable shirts that protect you from the sun—the preferred brand of our captains, crew, and lots of employees on their days off as well!), HOA-KAI (local Turkish-towel company), RAW ELEMENTS (reef-safe sunscreen), and ALOHA COLLECTION (handy splash proof bags with cute designs). We don’t sell silly coconut bras, shells, or anything of that nature (pun intended). The things we’ve curated in our retail section will bring value to your life! Our selection includes several Kauai-Made products as well, so you can help support local.
- We recently invested in our own Energy Star ice-machine. Baby steps! It’s an investment now that will save us time and money in the long run, not to mention thousands of plastic bags!
- Remember above when we were talking about how when you innovate and experiment and share experiences, sometimes “fringe new ideas” eventually become the standard? Well, we here at Holo Holo Charters were the brave pioneers this summer, running our two 40’ RHIB-boats on fuel-efficient diesel outboard motors—a brand new technology. We were the first commercial operation in all of Hawaii to purchase, install, and put these new motors to the test and let us tell you—it’s been challenging! BUT we will say—we saved a lot of diesel this summer and hey, we’re happy to take one for the team on this one and be the little test bunnies for the very exciting new diesel outboard technology that saves a ton of fuel, is safer and much more quiet than traditional gasoline outboards, and will likely someday become standard for certain applications.
- Every winter we take school groups out for our Keiki Whale Watches. For many of these kiddos typically 5-7 year olds, this is their first time being off the island and on the ocean! The humpback whales are amazing and it’s all very, very exciting. After the Keiki Whale Watches, we sponsor the Keiki Marine Life Art Contest and there are so many cute, colorful, quirky, and impressive entries. We like to think that some of these kids will join our Holo Holo team someday—as a captain, crew, in the maintenance department, reservations, or administration… we’re trying to snag ‘em young!
- We feel so much love from our Kauai community and we do our best to give it right back. So far this year we’ve sponsored and donated to community events including: the Kauai Battle of the Food Trucks, the Kauai Marathon, Waipa Foundation’s Eat the Invasives Event, the Kauai Brewers Festival benefiting Kamawaelualani Foundation, the County of Kauai eWaste Kauai Student Contest, Keiki Easter Egg Hunt, and fundraisers for Halau Ka Lei Mokihana o Leina’ala (who congrats to them won the overall award for Merrie Monarch 2022!), the Kauai Veterans Council, The Mokihana Club, Surfrider Foundation, Hawaii Children’s Theatre, Kauai United Way, Kauai Humane Society, Lawai International Center, National Tropical Botanical Gardens, Hawaii Lodging & Tourism Association, Namolokama O Hanalei Canoe Club, Island Conservation, Hawaii Foodbank Kauai Branch, Leadership Kauai, The Native Hawaiian Hospitality Association, American Cancer Society, and the list goes on!
But wait, there’s more! Our Sustainability Coordinator Jess has a couple of exciting projects in the hopper. One is developing a paid volunteerism program for our employees. We’ve experimented with this concept in the past, partnering with the National Tropical Botanical Garden, but we’d like to develop a more comprehensive list of volunteer opportunities and create a permanent program that will allow our employees to earn their wages by helping out various Kauai organizations, programs, events, etc.
Another concept in the hopper is calculating our business’s total carbon emissions and purchasing offsets, through an innovative website called Carbon Buddy. At carbonbuddy.com, individuals and businesses can calculate their carbon emissions and basically pay money to, for example, plant enough trees to offset the damage. Right now, there are offset projects in India, Guatemala and two here in Hawaii—both on the Big Island– the Waikoloa Dry Forest Initiative and the Hawaii Ulu Cooperative. We’re happy to support those but ideally, we’d like to identify and support an offset project right here on Kauai. Wouldn’t that be awesome?
Everything starts with a conversation.
We appreciate STAH for connecting us Hawaii tour operators, and giving us the platform to have conversations, share ideas, and learn from each other’s successes and mistakes alike. The louder and prouder we all talk the talk, the more effectively and efficiently we can all walk the walk. And as we normalize the energetic pursuit of harm-reduction, more and more businesses (and individuals) will be inspired to come along and do the same. After all, sustainability is good business!
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