When Charles Fraser led efforts to develop Sea Pines Plantation in the 1950s, he envisioned a place where people lived in harmony with nature.
Sixty-plus years later, many of Hilton Head Island's resorts, marinas, golf courses and businesses have taken that approach a step further by working with local, state and national programs to conserve, reduce and reuse.
Those efforts will be showcased Monday as eco-tourism experts from 23 countries gather at the Westin Hilton Head Island Resort & Spa for the International Ecotourism Society's fifth annual conference.
Hosted by the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce and its Visitor and Convention Bureau, the conference will offer ways for tourism companies and destinations to preserve the environment while still making a profit.
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Speakers will discuss the latest trends, success stories and business tools. The goal is to re-establish the island's prominence in environmental stewardship and draw more tourists under a "green" flag.
"The natural beauty of the area and protection of the environment is what draws people to the island," said Susan Thomas, vice president of the visitor bureau.
Sustainable practices put money back in company pockets by cutting waste and boosting efficiency, said Kelly Bricker, chairwoman of the International Ecotourism Society.
"It helps the bottom line, and business are taking a harder look at that," Bricker said. "... With the economic climate, everyone is doing all they can to save money."
Beyond economic factors are more human ones.
"It also improves marketability," Bricker said, since many residents and visitors prefer to buy from a business with a commitment to being eco-friendly.
ON THE LINKS
Six island golf courses have saved $50,000 to $100,000 on irrigation and chemical costs by adopting conservation and environmental management plans through Audubon International's Cooperative Sanctuary certification program, according to course officials.
Harbour Town Golf Links, the Ocean Course, Heron Point, Arthur Hills, Robert Cupp and Bear Creek Golf Club have earned the certification. Certified off-island courses include Beaufort's Secessions Golf Club, Sun City Hilton Head's Okatie Creek and Hidden Cypress, Okatie's Oldfield Club, Tradition in Hardeeville, and Spring Island's Old Tabby Links.
Environmental groups have long criticized golf courses for their use of chemicals and their drain on water. They've also drawn fire for disturbing wetlands and wildlife.
Faced with limited staff, tight budgets and a flattening customer base, course owners who once viewed environmental management as burdensome have since been swayed by cost savings, new revenue and new marketing opportunities, according to Audubon officials.
Good environmental performance -- limiting the use of pesticides and fertilizers, using reclaimed water for irrigation, filtering stormwater runoff through wetlands and protecting native plants and wildlife -- helps a course stand out in a crowded market, said Sea Pines golf superintendent Jim Cregan.
AT THE RESORTS
Island resorts are also embracing the "green" attitude.
The Crowne Plaza and the Westin have been certified by the S.C. Green Hospitality Alliance after an audit that examined green purchasing and cleaning practices, waste reduction and recycling, and energy and water efficiency.
At the Westin, guests receive a $5 food-and-beverage voucher each day they decline housekeeping -- about 49 gallons of water are saved every time a guest forgoes that service. It also saves enough energy to run a laptop computer for 10 hours and to heat a 400-square-foot room at 70 degrees for four hours when its 10 degrees outside, according to Westin figures.
The resort also recently installed an electric-vehicle charging station.
Sea Pines Resort announced Friday it had partnered with Waste Stream Management Inc. to use an all-electric Jeep for recycling pickup. The $15,000 Jeep tops 55 mph and gets 40 to 55 miles on a single charge, according to Waste Stream Management.
"The Jeep emits no pollution, has lower maintenance costs and the cost to (charge it) is $3.50 per day -- about the same as a gallon of gas," said Charlotte resident Mike Brewer, who developed the vehicle with Paul Wolfe.
ON THE WATER
Three island marinas -- Long Cove Club, the Wexford Plantation Marina and the Harbour Town Yacht Basin -- have earned the state's Clean Marina designation for efforts to protect water quality. Wilson Landing in Bluffton, Beaufort's Downtown Marina and Port Royal Marina also earned the designation.
The marinas provide information about pollution prevention, keep trash bins and Dumpsters away from the water and offer affordable, convenient waste disposal.
Broad Creek Marina owner Roger Freedman hopes to capitalize on the island's marsh vistas.
He recently received approval from the Town Council to install a rope course, climbing wall and zip-line tour at the marina and at an adjacent residential parcel. He had hoped the new "eco-tour park" would be open in time for the conference, but a death in the family delayed it.
Freedman said he hopes to have the zip-line tour completed by early November. The rest of the project would be developed in the spring and summer, he said.
"Those drawn to eco-tourism fit with a higher income spending bracket and the ideals and goals that started with Charles Fraser, which have permeated the island's development and history," Freedman said.
"We can create growth and keep the ideals and values that make Hilton Head wonderful."
Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/EyeOnHiltonHead.