2010-04-10 / Top News

Jamaica Could Be Model for Mackinac in ‘Going Green,’ Professor Says

By Karen Gould

Attending an Environmental Workshop October 4 at Grand Hotel are (from left) Chris Wakeman, convention manager at the hotel, presenter professor David Steenstra of the College of Business at Ferris State University, and Robin Dorman, executive director of the Mackinac Island Community Foundation, which sponsored the program. Attending an Environmental Workshop October 4 at Grand Hotel are (from left) Chris Wakeman, convention manager at the hotel, presenter professor David Steenstra of the College of Business at Ferris State University, and Robin Dorman, executive director of the Mackinac Island Community Foundation, which sponsored the program. "Going green" is good for business and for sustaining tourism, which is exactly what happened in Jamaica about 10 years ago when the master planning process revealed an island in trouble. At that time, the Jamaican leadership stepped forward to establish a plan to manage the environment and through it, maintained tourism, said professor David Steenstra of the College of Business at Ferris State University. The plan reduced energy use and waste, saved money, and improved the island's image.

"They knew fully well if they didn't do something, they were going to start losing tourists and they were going to start hurting economically," he said. "They got active and they developed an environmentally proactive system."

Dr. Steenstra spoke at a workshop at Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island October 4, 2009, that was sponsored by the Mackinac Island Community Foundation. Using Jamaica as an example, he said, was an appropriate parallel for his workshop, since it, too, is an island with an economy dependent on tourism.

People like to respond to crisis, said Dr. Steenstra. It is human nature. But the leaders of Jamaica had a vision to improve their downward sliding tourism numbers and acted on it.

"People say Wayne Gretzky was such a great hockey player because he skated to where the puck was going to be," said Dr. Steenstra. "A lot of people can't do that. They wait until they see the puck or they wait until after 9-11. It's too late then."

Jamaican leaders, he said, tried to be like Mr. Gretzky. They stood back and looked at the overall picture and came up with the environmental program as a solution.

"If I asked you to paint the picture of Mackinac Island, this historic, lovely setting five years from now, what would it look like?" asked Dr. Steenstra. "Why do you do stuff like this? To make a difference."

Becoming environmentally aware by reducing energy use and waste will reduce the cost of doing business, replied Robin Dorman, executive director of the Mackinac Island Community Foundation.

"As a tourist destination, it is something we need to look at, because this is what people are looking at," he said. "It is becoming a socially conscious event. It will affect the judgments of people to go places if they feel it falls in line with what their beliefs are."

A tour group interested in the environment is coming to the Island in 2010, said Chris Wakeman, convention manager at Grand Hotel. Group members will stay at the hotel, take a bicycle tour, and visit the wastewater treatment plant and the recycling area.

Last spring Grand Hotel earned a "partner" certification by the Green Lodging of Michigan Program for its efforts to become environmentally friendly.

"It's a starting point," said Dr. Steenstra. "This is good business."

The Island's waste management and composting system is noteworthy, he said, and could be a draw for other "green"-oriented tourist groups. The program could enhance the Island's image in the tourism industry.

"Will this bring you [Grand Hotel] more business down the road?" he said. "Absolutely, because there are probably 10 more groups just like that you haven't even thought about.

"Why should we be concerned with going green?" he asked. "It's certainly sensitive to society, but beyond all that, it's good business. More and more entrepreneurs are discovering this. It is very good for business."

The Jamaican Environmental Audit for Sustainable Tourism program focused on six major areas for cost reductions, carbon dioxide reductions, and going green. Jamaican leaders looked at inefficient use of water like fixing leaking pipes, inefficient use of energy including replacing windows, excessive and unnecessary use of chemicals, and excessive solid waste generation. The audit also focused on staff not participating in environmental programs and having poor monitoring or no monitoring of the programs.

Jamaica began with a baseline assessment to determine what could be done, how much it would cost, and what results could be expected. Mackinac Island, he said, could start with waste information from the Department of Public Works, looking at how much trash is shipped off the Island. Then, individual businesses could look at their waste and evaluate ways to reduce it.

"Think about what we throw away," said Dr. Steenstra. "Can it be recycled? You're doing that. Can we do more recycling? I would think so."

Finding ways to reduce water use and save money also should be considered, including easy repairs like fixing a leaky toilet or faucet or installing a watersaving shower head.

The same process, he said, should be considered for energy, too. The focus is to reduce our carbon footprint, the man-made global-warming gas, and to save money both in businesses and homes.

"You can't just say we're going to save money," he said. "It doesn't work. You've got to measure it."

He suggested a business or household develop a report card of use and then determine how to improve the amount of waste generated, water used, or electricity needed.

"You can't just say we are going green and not have a starting point," said Dr. Steenstra. "What does that mean? I'm getting better. OK, where were you before you were better. Not only that, you've got to get as specific as possible."

The baseline should be in terms of percentages, dollars, or some other measurable starting point.

"We need to fight the fights that we can have an impact on," he said. "You can't make improvements until you know exactly where you are at to begin with, and then take it from there."

Whether it is the city, a business, or a home, the return on the investment also must be considered, said Dr. Steenstra. Installing dimmer switches, weather stripping, insulation, or programmable thermostats, and cleaning refrigerator air filters all will help reduce bills and carbon emissions. They will also carry some initial costs, which should be considered.

Energy use can be reduced by turning down a thermostat and unplugging an appliance, which draws power even when it is not on if it remains plugged in, he said. Turning down the temperature on a water heater by two degrees, he said, would reduce one ton of carbon dioxide emissions a year.

"It is astonishing to me the average household generates about 80 tons of carbon dioxide a year," said Dr. Steenstra. "It's amazing."

Planting a tree will offset some of the carbon a household uses. One tree, he said, will absorb about one ton of carbon dioxide a year.

The leaders of Jamaica set a goal of reducing its use of water by 10%, said Dr. Steenstra. If Mackinac Island businesses and homes set goals, they likely would save money.

The next step is to determine who is going to be responsible for achieving a set goal, he said. In business, it should be a included in a performance review.

"If it is not, then people aren't going to be held accountable for it," he said. "This is going to be a new thing, too. It's probably not a part of anyone's performance review now. Again, it must be measured, documented, and compared to a baseline starting point."

To be effective, a Mackinac Island program would need leaders, said Dr. Steenstra.

"It's always got to start with at least one voice, and then maybe two, and maybe three," he said. "Maybe there is not a sense of urgency at this point. Why should people do anything? What's in it for me? Why should we be proactive? Why not just be reactive and wait for something to happen?"

"You need some people with a passion that can really run with this."

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