Island Kauai, Na Pali Coast

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The San Francisco Gate newspaper recently featured an article from Jeanne Cooper about companies that have won the “gold medal” for being green, or eco-friendly.

“It’s not always easy being green on vacation in Hawaii. After all, any tour company can call itself “eco-friendly,” especially if it thinks it will lure environmentally minded clients. But simply telling snorkelers not to touch the turtles or recycling the water bottles of hikers doesn’t make them green (although it certainly doesn’t hurt).

Thankfully, the Hawai’i Ecotourism Association has started certifying tour operators through a program designed to educate them on “the responsible use of natural and cultural resources”—and to raise visitors’ awareness as well. By encouraging conservation and sustainability, the association also hopes to increase community support for the visitor industry. And why shouldn’t those who make the most money from the islands’ unique environment be expected to do the most to protect it?

Volunteers from the Nature Conservancy of Hawai’i, University of Hawai’i at Manoa and the state’s Department of Land and Natural Resources, among others, helped create the protocol for certification. Among other requirements, the tour companies must provide a “direct, personal experience of nature”; have a written sustainability plan that shows commitment to “ecotourism principles” and contribute to statewide or local “environmental conservation initiatives” as well as to the communities in which they operate.

The first 14 companies to be certified were announced this week, with three achieving “Gold” status, valid for three years; those designated as “Silver” or “Bronze” are allowed to reapply next year for Gold certification after making changes in their operations. Many are already well known for being leaders in traveling lightly on the land — or water; in fact, representatives of the Silver-certified Pacific Whale Foundation (Maui) and Kualoa Ranch (Oahu) served on the volunteer advisory board that developed the certification program.

I’ve explored Hawaii — both as a paying customer and a member of the press — with several of the operators, including Gold-certified Atlantis Adventures, which offers submarine excursions off Oahu, Maui and the island of Hawaii, and Trilogy Excursions, which operates snorkeling trips off Maui and Lanai, plus the Silver-certified Kayak Kauai, which also leads guided hikes from its base in Hanalei. I was already impressed with their general approach to sustainability, environment and the host culture (as it’s called in the biz), but it’s even better to know others have scrutinized the details and found them worthy—or at least worthy-ish. Kualoa Ranch does host ATV rides in its lush valley on the Windward Side of Oahu, and Wild Side Specialty Tours, another Silver-certified company, promotes swimming with wild dolphins on Oahu’s Leeward Side, neither of which rates exceptionally green in my book.

The new list has also introduced me to organizations such as the Pacific Island Institute, which puts together programs for groups on Oahu, Maui, Hawaii, Kauai and Molokai, and is “dedicated to providing positive cultural interactions; to ensuring our programs are culturally and environmentally sensitive; to involving local people in decision making; and to protecting, sustaining and respecting indigenous cultures and environments.” Unfortunately for me, its market is group travel, not individuals, but conference and incentive trip planners may want to take note. Fortunately, there are plenty of other newly certified operators on the list to check out.

The complete list of newly certified ecotour operators, with descriptions and links for those not already mentioned above:



  • Hawaiian Paddle Sports — outrigger canoe and kayak tours of Maui; also offers surf and stand-up paddle lessons
  • Hike Maui — East Maui (including Hana) and Haleakala hikes, plus a combination kayak/snorkel/hike with partner Kelli’s Kayaks
  • Jack’s Diving Locker — Scuba and snorkeling trips on the Big Island
  • Kayak Kauai
  • Kualoa Ranch
  • Pacific Islands Institute
  • Pacific Whale Foundation
  • Wild Side Specialty Tours


  • Annette’s Adventures —personalized vacations using locally owned, environmentally conscious lodgings and tour operators
  • Bike Hawaii — Biking (road and mountain), hiking and snorkeling on Oahu’s Windward Side
  • Hawai’i Forest & Trail — Guided volcano, waterfall, Mauna Kea and birdwatching hikes on the Big Island.

Read more:

Explore posts in the same categories: Conservation, Eco-Tourism, educational, Environmentally Friendly, United States

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