Getting back to our roots

retroillustration_0312Sustainability Advisory Committee members pick up the torch of Hilton Head Island’s eco-outlook.

illustration by  Bridget Hildebrandt

There are few people who would argue with the statement that the lure of Hilton Head Island is directly tied to the environment. After all, when the island was first developed in the 1950s, the goal was to promote and protect our natural resources and beauty.
The questions now are: Have we lost our way? Are we doing enough to protect our island over the coming decades? And what steps can we take as a community to make certain that the original promise to protect our environment is kept for future generations?
Those questions and more are being addressed by a recently-formed panel called the Sustainability Advisory Committee. The original idea for the sustainability board came out of the Mayor’s Vision Task Force, which was created by then-mayor Tom Peeples in 2009.
The task force met for about 10 months and discussed issues such as improving our local economy, the future of tourism, technological issues, development and revitalization, and more. The 13-member group finished its work in September 2010 and released a 109-page “Vision 2025” report identifying the community’s core values and 11 key recommendations.
The first core value identified by the Mayor’s Vision Task Force was to “protect the natural beauty, environmental resources and unique sense of place of our sea island.”
Naturally (no pun intended), the protection of the environment followed. One of the recommendations the task force made was to “appoint a Sustainability Advisory Committee to identify, explore and promote environmental and ‘sustainability’ options, policies and practices.”
To that end, the seven-member sustainability committee was created by the Greater Island Council or Hilton Head Island and Bluffton, a nonprofit group of community leaders whose goal is to protect the quality of life on and around Hilton Head Island. The committee is being chaired by Teresa Wade, founder of Experience Green, a Hilton Head organization devoted to “building sustainable communities that benefit the planet, its people and prosperity.”
The committee has just started its work, which includes developing strategies to address a variety of topics, including the island’s resource consumption, water quality and supply, waste management, energy consumption and alternative energy sources, transportation, and more.
“We’re in the process of determining our top priorities and doing an island-wide assessment,” said Wade. “When we have numbers associated with the various topics, we can get a baseline and strategize future goals for five years, 10 years, etc., down the road.
“There’s a lot to consider, including our demographics, our challenges, the economy… The key takeaway is that sustainability is integrated and intertwined in our community’s decision-making.”
Wade stressed that the group is a “citizens’ committee.”
“This committee is working on behalf of the community. We don’t work under the town, and we weren’t appointed by the town. Ultimately, the committee’s recommendations will be presented to the town council for consideration.”
But in the meantime, Wade said the committee will be reaching out to others. “As we go forward we want to include multiple stakeholders, including the POAs, the schools, and other community organizations and individuals.”
Meanwhile, Wade said she is very pleased and excited about the committee’s work. “It’s so encouraging to see the passion, interest and commitment of this group.”
She also believes that the community must be passionate about the future.

“When I first came here, I was so impressed with the original idea of Hilton Head. I think that torch kind of got left behind at a certain stage. We want to reignite that passion and get back to the original identity of Hilton Head and to live in harmony with our environment.”

Sustainability Advisory Committee

Mark Baker, Wood + Partners
Peter Kristian, Hilton Head Plantation
Tony Wartko, The Sea Pines Resort
Milt Rhodes, New Urban Water Works
Stu Rodman, Beaufort County Council
Allen Ward, Ward Edwards
Teresa Wade, Experience Green


2009: Then-Mayor Tom Peeples taps 13 community leaders to serve on the Mayor’s Vision Task Force to “chart the course for the island’s next 50 years.”

2010: The task force looks at the town’s strengths and weaknesses, its core values and its future. Topics include the town’s master plan, the local economy, tourism, technology, development and revitalization, and more.

2011: The task force releases a 109-page report called “Vision 2025,” which includes 11 key strategies to guide the town over the coming decades.

2012: The Greater Island Council, a nonprofit organization of community leaders, implements a task force recommendation and puts together a seven-member Sustainability Advisory Committee to “research, develop and promote sustainable options, policies and practices that enhance Hilton Head Island’s economic, social and environmental performance.”