Places To Stay

The Spirit of Eco-Tourism: An Interview with Mauna Kea Beach Hotel’s Sustainability Expert Gina Rizzi

Sustainable travel is more than just a trend – it’s the future of the industry. As part of our Conscious Collection, we are sharing properties who are leaders in this movement and whose innovative practices are an example to others working in eco-tourism. We spoke to Gina Rizzi, the sustainability expert at Mauna Kea Beach Hotel on the Island of Hawaii, about how this luxury hotel is leading the way for sustainable travel.

Mauna Kea was developed by conservationist Laurance S. Rockefeller – what was his vision for the resort and how do you embrace that today? Has that vision changed over time?

Laurance S. Rockefeller designed the property with the vision of blending it with the natural surroundings and offering guests a one-of-a kind, authentic experience. Mauna Kea Beach Hotel has been rooted in the community for more than 50 years and is dedicated to nurturing the spirit of Aloha – a welcoming, natural love. Regarded as a member of Historic Hotels of America, Mauna Kea Beach Hotel endeavors to preserve heritage, advocate for local culture and the environment, show leadership in the community, and encourage charitable giving.

How have you incorporated sustainable living in your hotels?

Sustainable living is incorporated into everyday features such as elimination of plastic straws, local sourcing of food and beverages, and reduction in energy use through the implementation of LED lighting. However, our goal is to go beyond that, showing appreciation for the community. In 2015, Mauna Kea Resort celebrated its 50th anniversary with “50 Acts of Aloha” contributing more than 700 volunteer hours and raising more than $500,000 in cash, gift certificates, and in-kind goods and services for the community and charitable causes. Since then we have incorporated a goal of 15 Acts of Aloha annually including employee participation in the Charity Walk Hawaii, working with local schools in the LEI Career Development Program, and celebrating local farming and agriculture with featured dining options and events.

How has changing technology allowed Mauna Kea to stay at the forefront of sustainable tourism?

Changing technology from innovations in LED lighting and occupancy sensors to GPS mapping for irrigation to hybrid equipment, glass crushers, cardboard bailers, and on-premise laundry systems (to name a few) have increased the ability for Mauna Kea to provide a sustainable experience through preserving energy, lowering emissions, reducing water use, and increasing recycling.

How do you work with local communities to support your sustainable ethos?

We are proud to support the local economy through sourcing 95% of our fish and dairy, plus 85% of produce, and beef locally. Our suppliers are asked to adhere to our Supplier Code of Conduct to ensure fair labour treatment, safety, ethical operations, and environmental responsibility. Environmental and local supplier criteria are incorporated into our supply chain vetting process. Examples of responsible sourcing include the elimination of sun care products containing Oxybenzone to protect coral reefs, eliminating plastic straws to protect marine life and reduce non-biodegradable waste, plus using salt systems and natural products in our pools.

Our employees participate in a cross-departmental Green Team to implement and champion sustainability initiatives resort-wide. We partner with the National Park Service to provide upkeep on a portion of the Ala Kahalai National Historic Trail, a 175-mile trail that traverses our property; our team helps keep this culturally significant route clean, safe, and beautiful, with access for all. We also work with the Nature Conservancy and University of Hawaii, Hilo, to conduct ongoing studies to protect coral reefs.

For hands-on youth outreach and education, Mauna Kea Beach Hotel partners with ClimbHi, a local non-profit. Its LEI program inspires youth to select careers in the visitor industry. LEI represents an opportunity for Leadership, Exploration, and Inspiration for students. Public schools are hosted onsite through the program and provided tours of the on-premise garden and kitchen where the chef discusses farm-to-table cuisine and careers in food and beverage.

In Hawaiian culture, Malma means to “care for” the island. How can travellers make sure they are caring for the land while they are on holiday?

Travellers can support local dining, support local farmers, jobs, and the environment. Mauna Kea Resort maintains four on-premise beehives to support the honeybee population. Travellers can help support local honey production by taking a honeybee tour, observing onsite signage, and simply trying our Mauna Kea honey from the gift shop or featured in dining options. Beehives have a significant positive impact on the local environment. By establishing honeybees in the area, we help provide pollination for local farming, flowers, and native plant production.

Other ways travellers can care for the island include helping to protect coral reefs by not using sun care products containing Oxybenzone. They can help protect the endangered Nene goose, the Hawaii state bird, by observing display signage and roped off areas, plus refraining from feeding feral cats.

What is the future of sustainable travel at Mauna Kea?

Our sustainability mission is to share a timeless experience for generations, serving our guests, families, the community, and the environment. Mauna Kea is continuing to implement eco-tourism and voluntourism programs, guests are encouraged to check with the concierge for exciting new experiences that make a positive impact on the environment and community during their stay.

Try the eco-luxe experience for yourself with a Luxury Escape at Mauna Kea Beach House.


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