Everyone and their sister is tweeting about Earth Day today. And I can't tell you the number of press releases I've received from hotels and resorts touting their eco-conscious pledges and packages. I love the sentiment behind Earth Day, but sometimes I wish it hadn't become a way for brands to inject themselves into the news cycle.
It made me think back to an experience I had a couple of weeks ago. I was parked in a kayak with a net and a camera, keeping one eye on the horizon for grey whales and the other for trash caught in the kelp forest in the channel between Southern California's Palos Verdes peninsula and Catalina island.
“Oh! A potato chip bag. No, it's Terra Chips!” I heard someone shout out with disproportionate excitement to their bounty. I squinted into the distance, convinced I could see a whale spout.
I was kayaking as part of the adventure program at Terranea, the beachfront resort that perches on the edge of the soaring cliffs that once held Marineland.
Later that afternoon I found myself on the resort’s lawn with Joe Roy, a falconer and a half blind hawk, one of a menagerie of birds of prey used at Terranea to ward off seagulls and other unwanted pests in a nonlethal, eco-friendly, poison-free way.
"When the seagulls come en masse it can become a sanitary problem and we would prefer the birds eat a natural diet out of the ocean rather than trash and human food not meant for them," Roy explained as he removed a petite leather hood from the hawk's head and readied her for flight.
"Birds of prey are very recognized by other animals so when they occupy this air space we're advertising this territory is occupied by predators if you come in here seeking a free meal."
The ancillary benefit of this eco-friendly solution to pest control is that the tourists love to watch Roy interact with his employees.
"I’m stopped constantly," he said out the side of his mouth as a little boy approached to tell Roy he is "really into hawks, right now."
And finally, right before heading to dinner at the resort's famed Mar'Sel restaurant, I was shown around the property's sea salt conservatory, constructed entirely by Executive Chef Bernard Ibarra who personally cultivates the sea salt from the water around the resort for use in the resort's many restaurants. He lugs buckets of sea water from the ocean each week.
"We have this wonderful resource," Ibarra said, pointing towards the sea. "Why wouldn't I use it?"
This give and take with the natural environment is ingrained in the culture of the Terranea resort and it’s one of the reasons they can comfortably call themselves a sustainable property - a claim I don't accept lightly. Plenty of hotels, particularly in Southern California, ask you to wash your towels and linens less and then load you up with free bottled water and tiny shampoo bottles yet still call themselves "sustainable." These days, eco and green are resort selling points on par with luxurious and chic—often to the point of egregious overuse. That’s why we like to celebrate a property when they show a real commitment to something tangible and effective.
Terranea has also successfully expanded its commitment to sustainability and green practices by including food waste recycling, using a bio-digester that breaks down organic waste and turns it into gray water to go down the sanitary drain. They employ a natural irrigation and water treatment through a series of wet ponds and vegetated wetland channels called Bioswales to enhance water quality and serve as a habitat for native avian species.
They've even adapted a sustainable growing philosophy, incorporating seasonal dining menus that feature local ingredients and organic, freshly picked produce and herbs, as well as harvested honey from Chef Ibarra's on-site garden and the nearby Catalina View Gardens filled with everything from kale to olive trees.
It's a special place, where the Earth is considered every single day, not just as a trending topic.
Editors note: Accommodations at Terranea were covered by the hotel.
Jo Piazza is an award-winning reporter and editor who has written for the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the New York Daily News, New York Magazine, Glamour, Marie Claire, Elle and Salon. She has appeared on CNN, NPR, Fox News, the BBC and MSNBC. Her novel, The Knockoff, with Lucy Sykes became an instant international bestseller and has been translated into more than seven languages.
Jo received a Masters in Journalism from Columbia, a Masters in Religious Studies from NYU and a Bachelors in Economics from the University of Pennsylvania. She is also the author of the critically acclaimed If Nuns Ruled the World and Celebrity Inc: How Famous People Make Money.
She currently lives in San Francisco with her husband and their giant dog. Her latest book <a href="http://www.howtobemarried.us">How to Be Married</a> will be released in April.