We’ve all seen the signs in hotel rooms encouraging us to reuse our towels and save water. But what does sustainability in the hospitality industry actually mean?

Embracing sustainable land-use practices leads to advancing sustainability in the hospitality industry. In the minds of both residents and visitors, Monterey County evokes images of Salinas Valley farmlands immortalized by John Steinbeck, of open spaces sprinkled with lupine and poppies, endless ocean interrupted by the occasional sailboat or breaching whale. Without the rich farmland and open space Monterey County is known for, the region risks losing its most compelling tourist attraction.

One element of sustainability is smart land use, including co-location of housing and jobs. Recent examples in Monterey County include agribusiness Tanimura & Antle’s seasonal farmworker housing at Spreckels Crossing, and Pebble Beach Company’s workforce housing project.

Both developments reduce traffic by creating housing near jobs – and also reduce greenhouse gases as well as traffic.

Monterey County’s hospitality industry is uniquely positioned to support more sustainable land-use practices. Not only do these industries directly benefit from sound land use, they also have strong community presence and influence, which give them a significant voice in local politics.

Leadership in sustainable hospitality could take many forms, including support for infill developments, improvements to public transportation, and more walkable and bike-friendly communities. Hotel owners could advocate for smarter land-use policies such as urban growth boundaries that prevent sprawl and protect agricultural land. Vintners could support stronger prohibitions on developments on steep slopes, conversion of oak woodlands and protections for wildlife corridors.

It’s no secret that virtually all of Monterey County groundwater aquifers are unsustainably managed, and have been for decades. By definition, new agricultural and urban developments that extract more water from an already depleted groundwater basin are unsustainable. Long-term land and water management are critical to preserving agricultural land, which is especially relevant in Monterey County, a region whose history and character are defined by agriculture, including the rapidly growing wine industry – part of the hospitality draw.

The alternative is conversion to subdivisions. But strip malls are not huge tourist draws. Cookie-cutter subdivisions do not serve as examples of enduring beauty, nor as models of sustainability.

Everyone, including hospitality, benefits from smart land-use decisions that preserve Monterey County’s unique offering of agricultural land, pristine ocean views and open spaces. As these become scarcer worldwide, they become more valuable.

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