Top ten eco-friendly tips for a green Maui Vacation

Photo courtesy of Trilogy Excursions

Let's face it: unless you live on Lana'i, Maui is usually a plane flight away, leaving a sizable carbon footprint in it's contrails.  If you are lucky enough to jet-set away from home for a vacation you are most likely traveling to a place you find to be beautiful (-ahem-Maui), culturally enhancing (again Maui), entertaining or all of the above (you got it: Maui). Whatever your reason for choosing a destination may be, there are a few things you can do while on the go to help keep it beautiful for years to come.  Here are the top ten things you can do minimize your environmental footprint and keep your destination sustainable for the future. 

1.      Look for eco-centric hotels.

A little bit of research can go a long way when choosing the right accommodation. If you have a place in mind, hunt around their website for an ‘environmental statement’ or a list of its sustainable practices. Look for companies that use renewable energy, have recycling options, and low water use techniques. If a hotel is LEED Certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), they have done the work for you by having a third-party verify their environmental friendliness. There is no official list of LEED certified hotels posted however a hotel that has paid for the prestigious accreditation will more than likely advertise the achievement in its materials.

2.     Choose eco-tour operators and activity companies.

When you are ready to leave the hotel and partake in an adventure, make sure the tour operator you choose has a solid reputation in the community. A few points to consider: 

  • Does the company conduct volunteer community service?

  • Does it work with a non-profits and/or donate to one?

  • Does the tour operator have a community education program?

Here in Hawaii we have the Hawaii Ecotourism Association. This association provides independent verification to distinguish industry leaders in sustainable tourism and helps ensure the long-term viability of tourism in Hawaii. I am very proud to report that Trilogy Excursions  is and has been committed to environmental stewardship since its start in 1973. Trilogy holds Dolphin Smart and Hawaii Ecotourism Association certifications, uses bio diesel on one of it boats, and was the first boat tour company to pump waste into onshore facilities rather than dumping straight into the ocean. You can see the complete sustainability timeline here: Trilogy Excursions Sustainability Timeline  For a full list of sustainable tour operators in the Hawaiian Islands check out HEA website.  

3.     Bring a reusable water bottle.

Plastic pollution is a major problem for the entire planet. Unlike most other materials, plastic never goes away; it photodegrades into smaller and smaller pieces. Every piece of plastic ever made still exists in some form. Americans used about 50 billion plastic water bottles last year and only 23% of those were recycled ( That means 38 billion water bottles are wasted and floating around somewhere. In the U.S. we are lucky to have tap water that is perfectly safe to drink in most locations. If you do not like the taste of tap, try using a filtered water pitcher instead. You can even buy reusable water bottles with a water filter in them. Many airports have water bottle filling stations adjacent to water fountains that allow you to fill a bottle without holding it sideways, and pour much faster than a drinking fountain. You may not see the devastating effects of plastic on a daily basis, but check out this image of a plastic Gyre floating in the Pacific. This is just ONE of FIVE plastic "islands" formed by tiny pieces of plastics that have not broken down in our oceans.

Photo courtesy of NOAA Marine Debris Program

4.     Rent a hybrid vehicle or travel with a group.

CO2 emissions are no joke. Many rental car agencies these days offer hybrid vehicles in various sizes. The list of things to see and do on Maui is long and varied, and most visitors are not here to lay on the beach for seven straight days, rather they are up for adventure. Though the maximum width of Maui is barely over 26 miles, there are no direct routes and few of those routes are perfectly straight. In other words, you will be spending a good deal of time in your rental car. The added cost of the hybrid vehicle upgrade will be balanced out by the savings on gas, and less frequent fill-ups puts precious moments back in the free time bank. Another option is to travel with a group. Trilogy Excursions offers snorkel tours that oftentimes visit Honolua Bay. This coveted and pristine snorkel area is tricky to reach by land. Imagine if the 35 guests who take a Trilogy tour everyday instead drove to Honolua, parked their cars along the road, tromped through the jungle, the beach and subsequently the reefs in order to get out to water suitable for snorkeling? On a Trilogy tour, all 35 guests board the boat which sails part of the way (wind energy!). The boat ties up to a mooring in the middle of the bay (no anchors used in order to preserve the reef) and guests can begin snorkeling without stomping through the jungle or stepping on precious coral. Not to mention all meals and gear are provided giving everyone more time to enjoy snorkeling and less time spent organizing, carrying etc.


Honolua Bay - Photo Courtesy of Trilogy Ambassador Matthew W.


5.     Adopt responsible practices in your hotel room.

This means turning the air conditioning/heat off or adjusting it appropriately while you are gone. Turn all lights off in your room before you leave. Consider re-using your towels more than once to save on water used for laundry. Some hotels have a green service available which prevents the daily changing of sheets and towels with incentives for guests who partake. New technology is popping up in hotel rooms that programs eco-friendly room settings to your room key. You simply place your card in a slot on the wall and your air and lights are activated. When you leave and take the key with you, they are deactivated. No need to run around the room switching off all the lights or reducing the thermostat as it all programmed to your key!

6.     Use reef safe sunscreen.

If traveling to a tropical place you are probably going there for the warm weather, crystal clear water and abundance of coral and marine life present. Corals are sensitive living creatures and scientific reports found oxybenzone and avobenzone, amongst other chemicals, are directly harmful to corals (Downs, Kramarsky-Winter, Segal et. al., 2015). Did you know benzones are one of the most common ingredients in sunscreen? The best sunscreen options are organic and chemical free. When shopping, try to find a sunscreen whose top ingredient is zinc oxide.  PADI Scuba Diving has put together a list of coral friendly options to help guide you. We also have a complete guide in our blog post "Is Your Sunscreen Reef Safe"

Photo courtesy of Trilogy Ambassador Matthew W.

7.     Choose restaurants who serve sustainable seafood.

Maui has amazing seafood hands down. If your ideal vacation involves sitting down to a delectable plate of fish that you cannot find elsewhere, you are in for some real treats: poke bowls, macadamia nut encrusted mahi mahi and seared ahi to name a few. It has been brought to the public's attention that over fishing, trawling the ocean floor and wrapping up other species in fishing nets are all extremely detrimental not only to the environment, but to the future of many species. With so many variables, how can a consumer make an educated buying decision when travelling? Go to Seafood Watch. The folks at the Monterey Bay Aquarium have done the leg work and rated the ocean friendliness of various fish for sale in stores and partnered with restaurants and businesses who are committed to serving sustainable seafood. Seafood Watch has developed a very convenient app for you to check on the go. Oh and while you are here, make sure you learn how to pronounce the state fish: humuhumunukunukuapuaʻa [ˌhu.muˌhu.muˌnu.kuˌnu.kuˌaː.puˈa.ʔa].

8.     Rent a bicycle.

There's nothing quite like the freedom you felt as a kid riding a bicycle. Why not relive this joy on vacation?  When staying in places like Lahaina, shops and restaurants are easily accessible by bicycle and bike racks are sprinkled throughout the town. Life in Maui takes on a slower pace so feel free to jump on a beach bike and look around as you cruise about. Parking in Lahaina is not always readily available so relish in the fact that you get a front row spot when locking up your sweet ride right in front of your destination. Not only will you save on fossil fuels, you will burn off a few extra calories and possibly see more of the sights. West Maui Cycles will outfit you for the perfect beach cruiser for $15 per day. 

Photo courtesy of Electra Bicycles


Sure, going out to eat is a large part of being on vacation, but it gets expensive and restaurant food is generally packed full of yummy fat and calories. If you are lucky enough to have a hotel or B&B with a kitchen, you can take a break from restaurant food and enjoy local flavors prepared by you! Maui is fairly far from everything else in the world meaning tons of goods are flown in everyday. Food here is no exception and contributes to the high cost. Why not buy directly from a local farmer? When shopping a farmers market, the farmer is usually there to give you all the details of their produce and may even give you a try before you buy. Buying from Maui's farmers reduces your carbon footprint by decreasing the distance your food has traveled. The shorter distance from the farm to your table also ensures a higher level of freshness. No one likes buying a family size container of salad for $10 only to get it home and realize half the greens are past their prime. Farmer market shopping also supports local business (not chains), gives you a glimpse at living like a local and tends to be a lot easier on your wallet. For a complete list of markets, locations, days and times, check out the Maui County Farm Bureau's list.

Photo courtesy of Upcountry Farmers Market

10.     Respect the local environment.

If you go out for a walk or hike please stay on the trail. Some areas off marked trails can contain native or protected plants such as the Silversword (‘ahinaahina), which is endemic to Haleakalā Crater. Wandering off to unmarked or non-designated areas of the crater can be detrimental to the prosperity and future of these plants.

Silversword on Haleakalā. Photo courtesy of

Coral reefs play an integral role in protecting coastlines from devastating effects of weather patterns and are a nutrient dense habitat for marine species. You may have heard about the massive coral bleaching event that has caused severe degradation of the Great Barrier Reef and Maui's reefs are not immune. For more information on the bleaching of Maui's coral, check out our Update from Maui blog post. We should always respect coral reefs, especially during phenomenal environmental crises such as this. Please do not stand or touch the coral. As mentioned earlier, coral are living creatures and sensitive. They are slow growing and touching/standing on them can do serious damage and may cause them to die.

The only things you should bring home with you are store bought souvenirs, photos and lasting memories. Souvenirs that have been found on land or in the sea such as seashells, lava rocks or coral fragments are part of what make the place you are visiting so beautiful and enjoyable. Please leave them where you found them for others to enjoy as well. Not only is removing minerals from a national park illegal, you may be taking home more than you bargained for. Every year, hundreds of rocks are mailed back to Maui so as to lift Pele's Curse. Whether the curse is real or Hawaiian folklore, many have experienced exceptional bad luck upon returning home with "found" souvenirs. Why add a sour ending to a paradise vacation?

Have additional travel tips? Add them in the comments below!

By Conservation & Education Director Magen Schifiliti



Downs, C. A., Kramarsky-Winter E., Segal R., Fauth J., Knutson S., Bronstien O., Ciner F. R., Jeger R., Lichtenfeld Y., Woodley C. M., Pennington P., Cadenas K., Kushmaro A., Loya Y. 2015. Toxicopathological Effects of the Sunscreen UF Filter, Oxybenzone (Benzophenone-3), on Coral Planulae and Cultured Primary Cells and its Environmental Contamination in Hawaii and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Arch. Environ. Contam. Toxicol.