Building off the Bicycle Friendly Community award it earned in May, the Town of Hilton Head Island has received Audubon International's Green Community designation.
The island becomes the first community in the state and one of several across the country that have worked with Audubon to develop plans for energy and water conservation, green space and building design, waste reduction, clean-air emission standards, and renewable energy.
The award was presented Monday at the opening session of the International Ecotourism Society's fifth annual conference, held this year at the Westin Hilton Head Island Resort & Spa. More than 350 eco-tourism experts, students, professors, entrepreneurs and government officials from 25 countries discussed trends, success stories and business tools at the event.
The designation will help the island market itself as a premier destination for eco-tourists and green businesses, town and chamber of commerce officials said.
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"It gives us some recognition for things we've been doing for a long time, as does this conference today," said Mayor Drew Laughlin. "This is not new for us. This is what the community of Hilton Head Island is all about. ... The society's mission is to promote responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people. Our missions have coincided for many years."
Town staff began pursuing the certification in January to showcase Hilton Head's environmental stewardship, including sea-turtle protection, beach renourishment, planned green space, flood mitigation, water-quality standards and tree protection.
A steering committee submitted an assessment of the town's environmental management, and Audubon used it to give the island suggestions.
Next, the town installed signs at Jarvis Creek Park to demonstrate how stormwater runoff at the park is processed to provide water habitat.
The town now will develop a plan that establishes goals and a timeline for reaching them, based upon Audobon's suggestions.
"The Sustainable Communities Program helps communities take steps to ensure that they are healthy and vibrant places in which to live, work and play -- both today and tomorrow," said Joellen Lampman, Audubon cooperative sanctuary programs director. "It's a jumping-off point to get more involvement and provide an opportunity to educate people about initiatives going on."
Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/EyeOnHiltonHead.