Leading the way in sustainable hospitality

The Monterey Bay Aquarium isn’t alone in its drive to inspire conservation and host visitors sustainably. Thanks to steps by the Monterey County Convention & Visitors Bureau and others, the region is increasingly positioning itself as a leader in sustainable hospitality—and earning recognition for its commitment.

For visitors and local businesses, following sustainable practices has become a defining characteristic of Monterey County.

Building on the area’s unique advantages, like having the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary in its backyard, the Aquarium is leveraging results far beyond its doors, says Public Affairs Director Barbara Meister.

“The Aquarium is well-known and recognized, so to the extent that we can help with messaging or bring other partners along—whether hotels that are reducing plastic use or restaurants that are serving Seafood Watch-approved species—all that bodes well for our mission,” Barbara says.

Local fisherman Jerry Wetle brings sustainably caught sablefish to area restaurants by working with the Monterey Bay Fisheries Trust.

The multifaceted push marks the latest chapter in the area’s long history of working to protect its environmental assets, she says. In recent years, communities around Monterey Bay have opted to draw only renewable energy from the electric power grid, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Monterey Bay Fisheries Trust is helping fishing crews connect with regional restaurants to serve locally caught seafood.

International recognition

Last year, Monterey County became internationally ranked on the Global Destination Sustainability Index, which will help track its progress going forward. (Only three U.S. destinations have qualified, and Monterey County is the greenest of the three.)

The CVB has also partnered with Positive Impact, a global not-for-profit that works to foster sustainability in the events industry. And with Monterey’s newly renovated conference center working toward LEED Platinum certification, the region is increasingly enticing to corporate clients and event planners for whom sustainability is a priority.

Increasingly, visitor-serving businesses in Monterey County are skipping the automatic use of straws, and switching away from single-use plastic foodservice ware to more ocean-friendly options.

“More and more, they’re measuring their carbon footprint when they have a conference or meeting,” Barbara says. “So collectively we believe we can do more to be that green destination, particularly for the non-leisure traveler.”

For first-time visitors, just sitting down in a restaurant around Monterey Bay might feel…different.

Depending on what city you’re in, there may be no plastic straws or the to-go box might be made of paper, the result of local and state laws enacted to reduce the amount of single-use plastic that ends up in the ocean. Water is often served only on request. Communicating coherently about these and the many other efforts to safeguard the area’s pristine nature is a challenge.

CVB’s Sustainable Moments

That’s why the Convention and Visitors Bureau launched its Sustainable Moments campaign three years ago, explains President and CEO Tammy Blount-Canavan.

The Monterey Conference Center is a LEED-gold certified building, and promotes green practices for the meetings it hosts.

“It started out as an information campaign, and then it grew into a broader initiative to include priorities like ending single-use plastic, and the Global Destination Sustainability Index rankings,” Tammy says. “It’s become an important part of our community’s DNA.”

It’s a priority partly because it’s vital for Monterey County to safeguard picturesque coastal spots like Big Sur, which run the risk of being loved to death.

“Tourism is critical to our local economy,” Tammy says. ”It is the top employer and revenue producer on the Monterey Peninsula. People come to our destination primarily because of our natural assets. We don’t have a lot of man-made attractions, and the big one that we have, the Aquarium, is focused on conservation and preservation. So there’s a lot of synchronicity.”

In that respect, she says the Aquarium’s longstanding conservation interests are now en vogue.

“That’s really encouraging and exciting,” she says.

After-hours events

It’s a message—and a trend—that’s central not just to what daytime Aquarium visitors experience, but what happens in the evening as well. About 25,000 people visit the Aquarium annually for nighttime corporate events, which “bring in a demographic that we wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to reach,” says Director of Event Sales & Food Services John Abrahamson.

Evening events at the Aquarium incorporate sustainable practices, from the wine and menu choices to limited use of table linens.

“When corporate groups come to Monterey for meetings and conferences, they often are looking for an evening event,” John says. “Increasingly, they want their events to embody their corporate social responsibility commitments.”

This gives the Aquarium a chance to inspire and educate, he says, not just because volunteers and staff are on hand to engage with guests, but also because the Aquarium does its best to practice what it preaches.

Nowhere is this more visible than in its culinary presentation.

Chef Matt Beaudin, right, works with organic growers like Francisco Gildardo of Espana Farm to source local, sustainable produce for the Aquarium’s menu.

“We watch our CO2 footprint very carefully,” John says, and Executive Chef Matt Beaudin has committed to sourcing food locally and sustainably. Produce arrives in reusable plastic containers to cut down on waste, and Beaudin is a habitué of local farms and fishing boats, where much of the Aquarium’s menu originates.

Sourcing locally extends to the wine list as well.

“You’re not even going to find Napa, you’re going to find Monterey,” John says. “When we say local, we mean within 90 miles.”

“We don’t use linens wherever possible,” he says, because they often must be taken to Los Angeles for cleaning – a 600-mile round trip.

Hosting green events is a selling point from the outset, John says—one many event planners are now coming to expect. But the task of finding new ways to reduce waste and shrink carbon emissions: “That’s never-ending,” he says. “We can always do better.”

—Daniel Potter

Learn more about how we support a healthy ocean, through our business practices, and our science and policy initiatives.

Featured photo: Monterey County tourism businesses encourage visitors to minimize their impact, and they lead by example through their embrace of sustainable business practices. Photo courtesy Monterey County CVB

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