Economic sustainability movement gains traction in Beaufort County, organizers say

gmartin@islandpacket.comFebruary 6, 2012 

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Developer Charles Fraser designed Sea Pines on Hilton Head Island in the 1950s to meld the community into its surroundings and conserve its natural beauty.

Sixty years later, that philosophy has been adopted by a growing number of businesses and nonprofits working to promote sustainability and conservation throughout Beaufort County.

On Feb. 28, a pair of independent nonprofit associations, both formed in 2011 and based in different parts of the county, will discuss ways residents and business owners can work to secure Beaufort County's resources and make it more self-sufficient.

"We have incredible tidal, solar and geothermal resources in this county, and right now they're basically untapped whatsoever," said Mallory Baches, executive director of Beaufort-based Sea Islands 2050.

The goal of her fledgling group is to establish Beaufort County as a national model of sustainability by 2050.

To this end, Baches said she's working with residents and elected officials to combat any reliance on imports, so that future generations will be able to feed, clothe and shelter themselves using only locally produced materials.

"Pop culture tends to take a direct, simplistic approach to sustainability, but we're talking about the ecological, economic and social longevity of a community," she said.

Teresa Wade, executive director of Hilton Head-based Experience Green, encourages people to incorporate sustainable practices into their personal and professional lives.

The discussion will follow a workshop hosted by Experience Green called "The Business Case for Sustainability," which Wade says will demonstrate how local businesses can save money by incorporating her strategies.

"We've hit the ground running and have been developing quickly," Wade said. "It's exciting to see (the practices) already integrate in our communities."

One such beneficiary of Wade's lessons was Tony Wartko, director of facility services at Sea Pines. He said he attended a lecture she delivered last year and was inspired to incorporate changes to his preparations for the upcoming RBC Heritage golf tournament.

"We'll be doing more vegetative composting, and reusing trimmings from the course as mulch," he said. "And we've installed more purple martin birdhouses, since they eat a lot of mosquitoes."

Wartko said the local trend toward sustainability reflects a broader change he's seen in recent years in guests from around the country.

"We get a lot of questions about our sustainability now, like how much water we use," he said. "And people planning weddings here will ask for only local and organic food.

"That didn't happen before."

Follow reporter Grant Martin at Twitter.com/LowCoBiz.

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