Hilton Head goes green: How the island is adjusting to a sustainable lifestyle

Hilton Head goes green: How the island is adjusting to a sustainable lifestyle

Hilton Head Island has been a leader in environmental activism since the 1950s, when Charles Fraser and his partners built Sea Pines Plantation, one of the country’s first ecoplanned communities. Today, the island and its resorts, marinas, golf courses and businesses are honoring that legacy by finding new and innovative ways to go green every day.

The road to sustainability is long, but the benefits are many. In addition to being responsible, of course, research has shown that “more consumers are considering environmental issues when making travel plans and purchases,” according to the South Carolina Green Hospitality Alliance. Here’s how the island is adjusting.


There are few things as relaxing as spending a sunny day on the water. But the Lowcountry’s coastline and waterways are fragile things, and the area’s wealth of boats, marinas and water-based activities can cause a variety of water quality problems.

ON THE WATERAccording to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the effects of boats and marinas can include high water toxicity, increased pollutants in sediments and sea life, increased erosion rates, increased nutrients (which lead to an increase in algae and a decrease in oxygen) and high levels of pathogens.

The South Carolina Clean Marina program, which is administered by the S.C Department of Health and Environmental Control, the Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management and the South Carolina Marine Association, is working to stem the tide of negative environmental impacts of marinas.

Three Hilton Head marinas — Long Cove Club, the Wexford Plantation Marina and the Harbour Town Yacht Basin — as well as Wilson Landing in Palmetto Bluff in Bluffton, have earned the Clean Marina designation and proudly fly the Clean Marina flag. David Loan, general manager of the 85-slip Long Cove Club, said earning the designation in 2010 wasn’t easy, but was well worth the effort.

Long Cove is one of a number of local marinas that has earned the Clean Marina designation from the S.C. Department of Health and nvironmental Control.“Long Cove is so much about the  natural environment, and this was truly the right thing to do,” says general manager David Loan.“Long Cove is so much about the natural environment, and this was truly the right thing to do,” said Loan. “Our residents are proud to fly the Clean Marina flag. Even our non-boating members bring friends and family to show it off. We take a huge amount of pride in it.”

But earning the Clean Marina status was a process. The program provides a checklist of requirements that marinas must meet, including:

  • Passing on information about pollution prevention to customers, contractors and employees
  • Prohibiting treated and untreated human and pet waste within the marina basin or grounds
  • Keeping trash containers, bins or dumpsters covered and in convenient locations away from the water
  • Offering affordable, convenient pump-out and/or dump station facilities to customers and/or the general public


For many years, environmentalists have decried golf courses as places that disturb animal habitats and rely too heavily on pesticides and fertilizers. But several south-of-Broad courses have taken steps to achieve the designation of Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary.

In order to earn the title, courses must “take stock of environmental resources and areas to improve, and then develop, an environmental management plan that fits (the course’s) unique setting, goals, staff, budget and time,” according to Audubon International. The group also takes into consideration outreach and education, resource management, water quality and conservation and wildlife and habitat management.

Local courses that have earned the designation include Harbour Town Golf Links, the Ocean Course and Heron Point Golf Course, all in Sea Pines, Palmetto Hall Plantation’s Arthur Hills and Robert Cupp courses and the Bear Creek Golf Club. Off- island courses include Old Tabby Links at Spring Island, Tradition in Hardeeville and Sun City Hilton Head’s Okatie Creek and Hidden Cypress courses.

Old South Golf Links in Bluffton is working toward becoming a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary.Old South Golf Links in Bluffton is among the local courses working toward becoming certified. Scott Adams, the general manager of Old South, said the course has just begun the process and expects to earn certification in one to three years.

“Old South has always been environmentally sensitive,” said Adams, adding that the course went through an intensive environmental management program sponsored by the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America. “The whole green movement is about enhancing the environment. Golfers at Old South have seen everything from wild turkeys to bald eagles to sea otters. We don’t fill in wetlands — we build bridges across them so the golfers can enjoy the natural environment. It really is priceless.”

As members of the program, courses get help with developing an environmental plan. In January, the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce conducted a workshop on the program with 21 local golf course superintendents, marketing managers and owners, with the goal of getting further guidance. It takes two to three years to be certified, but courses can start by becoming members of the program, said Charlie Clark, the chamber’s vice president of communica-tions. “Our goal is to attain 100 percent membership by the end of 2011,” she said.

The path to certification isn’t easy. There are six environmental management issues that golf courses must address: environmental planning, wildlife and habitat management, chemical reduction and safety, water conservation, water quality management and outreach and education.

Jim Cregan, superintendent of the Heron Point and Ocean courses in Sea Pines, spoke at the chamber workshop and said the Ocean Course was certified in 1999 by Audubon; Heron Point and Harbour Town followed suit.

“It’s a lot of work to get certified,” he said, “but well worth it. It’s amazing to see how much wildlife is attracted to our courses. We have 20 bird houses that attract bluebirds and purple martins.”

Cregan said his course has golfers who play the course solely because of the designation — which is a point of pride. “It would be great if we could get all the courses on Hilton Head certified,” he says.



Two island resorts, the Crowne Plaza and the Westin Hilton Head Island Resort & Spa, have been certified green by the South Carolina Green Hospitality Alliance. That program is administered by the South Carolina Hospitality Association and the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control Office of Solid Waste Reduction and Recycling.

Resorts and hotels that go green see a number of benefits: they lower operating costs by reducing waste; save money on energy and earn local recognition as an environmentally-sensitive businesses.

According to the alliance, to become a member hotels must undergo an audit of their property’s compliance with “unique eco-initiatives that are designed to create a more sustainable environment.”

Both hotels underwent the audits to demonstrate compliance in areas of waste reduction, environmentally preferred purchasing, energy effciency, water efficiency, water quality, sustainable food and green lodging, according to Clark. She added that the chamber will hold a workshop in the near future that will feature those properties and encourage greater participation among other island properties.

“All of these ‘green’ programs are critical,” said Clark. “Our visitors expect us to be socially responsible. We have to show that we are committed to being ecologically friendly. After all, that’s our legacy.”