Special to Hawaii 24/7 by Andrea Dean
In recognition of its ongoing commitment to integrating environmental and social practices into business, Volcano Island Honey Company was awarded the Kuleana Award for green business at the 2010 Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce Kuleana Green Business & Environment Conference.
“The Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce’s Kuleana Green Business program was established to promote ethical and socially responsible business practices and environmental stewardship. Volcano Island Honey Company was chosen as this year’s recipient of our Kuleana Award as they are a great example of a small business with a big commitment to the community and the environment. Richard has been able to grow a very successful business with a focus on enhancing the natural environment and the community in which he operates.” says Diane Chadwick, co-chairwoman of the Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce Kuleana Committee.
Richard Spiegel started Volcano Island Honey Company as a hobby in the late 1970’s and formalized the business around 1982. Volcano Island Honey Company is a small family-owned company that produces gourmet, artisan honey and is best known for its Rare Hawaiian Organic White Honey.
While “green business” is one of the new buzz words of business, Volcano Island Honey Company was one of the first businesses in Hawaii to formally adopt social and environmental practices into business and calls itself a values-based business with an “Uncommon Philosophy.”
Spiegel has always been passionate about caring for employees and the community, making as little environmental impact as possible, improving the environment whenever possible, making a profit, and sharing the profits with employees and the community through non-profit donations.
Socially responsible practices include donating 0.5 percent of gross profits each year to charity, flexible scheduling so employees can manage children’s schedules or personal needs, a four day work week to support people in having more time for family and recreation, education about bees for school children, and providing gourmet honey at affordable prices to Big Island residents.
The company also fosters an environment of open communication and encourages the personal growth of employees. The company recently supported an employee who wanted to leave and start a new career by loaning her the money for a training program.
Compared to other agricultural businesses, beekeeping has very little negative environmental impact. The footprint of the hives is small, less than an acre for over one hundred colonies. The bees also have a positive impact on the environment as they pollinate for 2-4 miles in every direction.
While beekeeping itself is good for the environment, it is in the processing, packaging and transporting of the product, as well as the general administration where environmental impacts are incurred. Volcano Island Honey has made every effort to minimize the negative environmental impact of its operations.
The company prints all its brochures on 100% recycled paper, with soy-based ink, and uses Hagadone printing- a local Hawaii printing company that also has a commitment to green business. All office paper is 100% recycled post-consumer waste paper and the company has a thorough zero-waste program.
Since many of Volcano Island Honey Company’s retail and wholesale customers are outside Hawaii, packaging and shipping is a business reality. The company has custom designed “Eco-Packs” for orders of 4 or more jars that protect the honey jars and do not use any additional loose-fill packing material.
Every effort has been made to reduce on-site energy usage and carbon offsets are purchased with Evolution Sage, a Hawaii-based company, to offset the carbon generated by electrical usage. The primary farm truck is run on biodiesel purchased from Pacific Biodiesel.
Volcano Island Honey’s main product Rare Hawaiian Organic White Honey is kiawe honey. Spiegel has also worked for years to preserve the Puako Kiawe forest through a conservation purchase instead of having it developed into a golf course.
The Puako Kiawe forest, located on the South Kohala coast, is one of the largest contiguous kiawe forests in the state, is a major forage habitat for bees, and a potential source of firewood, and other value-added products.
Most people think of kiawe as a junk tree, but Volcano Island Honey has invested over ten thousand dollars into the study of the community economic and environmental benefit of kiawe. It is a little known fact that the bean makes a high protein flour – it is a delicious cooking flour and could help contribute to island food self-sufficiency.
“I have been doing this a long time and now I am seeing that green business is finally catching on in a meaningful way,” Spiegel said. “I am encouraged to see so many business people coming together every year at the Kuleana Green Business & Environment Conference. It gives me hope that the tide is beginning to turn and that business can become a force for positive change instead of contributing to further environmental and social degradation. It’s not easy, but it can be done.”
For more information on Volcano Island Honey Company’s “Uncommon Philosophy” visit www.volcanoislandhoney.com