Surrounded by crystal blue waters, pristine beaches, lush tropical foliage and an amazing array of wildlife by land and sea, much of Miami’s allure comes from its natural wonders.
Home to Everglades and Biscayne National Parks and other eco-friendly attractions. Greater Miami and the Beaches is naturally green. Living and playing in paradise is a privilege that more and more residents and community leaders are trying to sustain for future generations of residents and visitors.
Govern and Teach Green
In recent years The City of Miami has launched a proactive and ambitious environmental program to clean streets, waterways and to improve air and water quality. Initiatives of former Mayor Manuel A. Diaz include the largest ever "Adopt-A-Waterway" project, Miami's first citywide tree master plan and the introduction of a "Green Fleet" resolution, requiring as many city vehicles as possible to operate on hybrid technology or alternative fuels. The newly created Green Commission brings together a cross section of local experts and community representatives to help mold the city's environmental policy in areas of climate action, green buildings, urban forestry and bicycle transportation. Miami has forged numerous public-private partnerships to promote sustainability initiatives, including with the World Wildlife Fund, EcoMedia and the United States Green Building Council. To solidify the city's commitment to the environment, Miami also formed its first-ever environmental department known as The Miami Office of Sustainable Initiatives.
The City of Miami became the nation's first major city to install solar panels at its city hall in March 2008, its south lawn now home to a one-of-a-kind "solar grove" of free-standing solar panels that power city hall and yield significant savings in utility bills. The "Greening of City Hall" also included the replacement of all light bulbs with state-of-the-art energy-efficient bulbs. In addition, the City of Miami Commissioners in recent years created “MiPlan" - Miami's Climate Action Plan, outlining how the City will reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 25 percent below 2006 levels citywide by 2020 and to 25 percent below 2007 governmental levels by 2015.
Other community organizations are following suit, such as Miami-Dade County private and public schools, which are doing their part to protect Mother Earth -- practicing green initiatives that conserve energy, cut their carbon dioxide footprint and promote environmental awareness. Programs range from simple recycling and “lights-out” programs to environmental studies classes. An extraordinary “green high school” opened its doors in fall 2009, the county’s first LEED-certified school. Kendall-based Terra Environmental Research Institute, housed in a brand new Gold LEED-certified building, the classrooms are equipped with the latest technological equipment such as multiple computer labs, Promethean boards, classroom surround sound systems, greenhouses, and state-of-the-art research laboratories. Inspired by global environmental conservation initiatives and Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) National programs, the school is a sanctuary of academic excellence and environmental stewardship. Reflecting the school board’s dedication to sustainability, the county has decreed that most new schools will be required to be LEED-certified or fall under an equivalent rating system.
Nearby the new environmentally conscious $220 million West Kendall Baptist Hospital – affiliated with Florida International University’s Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine and Baptist Health South Florida — received LEED-Gold status in fall 2011, noted for its leadership in environmental construction and adaptations to operations, as are many businesses around the county.
The visitor industry is especially engaged in sustainability, wanting to preserve the areas’ unique natural attractions. From hotels and restaurants to entertainment venues, Miami’s tourism-related businesses are putting their best carbon footprint forward more and more each year.
Miami’s accommodations are leading the way in “greenification,” with more than a dozen hotels designated as Green Lodging properties through the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Green Lodging Program. Launched in 2004, the program recognizes hotels, resorts, motels, and bed & breakfasts that have implemented environmentally sound policies to protect the fragile Florida environment. They are dedicated to reducing water use, conserving energy, improving air quality and decreasing solid waste. Participating properties range from the luxurious Four Seasons Hotel Miami and Intercontinental Hotel Miami indowntown, to beachside resorts like the Solara Surfside Resort and the Palms Hotel & Spa.
Miami-Dade County’s Water Use Efficiency Plan includes a Green Restaurant and Lodging Program, designed to evaluate and reduce water use through promotional programs and by providing water fixtures that lower consumption. Participating hotels range from the Conrad Miami and Epic Hotel downtown to the historic Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, Ritz-Carlton Coconut Grove, Shore Club South Beach and Fontainebleau Miami Beach. For a complete list of hotels check out http://www.miamidade.gov/conservation/green_lodging_list.asp#beach
Extending the community’s commitment is the Greater Miami and the Beaches Hotel Association, which recently created a Sustainable Hospitality Council to provide member hotels with the knowledge they need to cost-effectively green their operations. The Council also works to increase the visibility of green operating practices in member hotels to the US and international tourism marketplace to further Greater Miami and the Beaches’ status as a green tourism destination.
Hotels leading the way in sustainable accommodations include the 35-room Clifton South Beach, which recently became the first LEED-certified Gold hotel in Florida and the first LEED-certified historic hotel in the U.S. The 60-year-old, carbon neutral hotel recently underwent a multimillion-dollar redesign to achieve this, incorporating such green elements as a custom-designed air conditioning system, an occupancy-sensing energy management system, LED light bulbs, water-conserving dual-flush toilets and high efficiency faucets, energy-efficient windows, carpet and fabrics made from recycled products, custom bamboo furniture, linens that require up to 30% less water detergent and energy to launder and the storage and collection of recyclable products. More hotels in Greater Miami and the Beaches are following suit and are in the process of attaining LEED-Silver certification, such as Element Miami International Airport and The Hampton Inn & Suites Miami/Brickell-Downtown.
Other hotels are incorporating significant eco-friendly practices, such as the new JW Marriott Marquis Miami, which offers a renowned Green Meetings program featuring in-meeting room and hotel-wide recycling, use of recycled pens and pads, online event menus, local and organic foods and flowers, water conservation, e-billing and energy saving A/V services. The Doral Golf Resort & Spa Miami offers a similar program. The Mandarin Oriental, Miami, known as one of the area’s most environmentally friendly hotels, offers a “World Heritage” package in partnership with Everglades National Park, a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. The package allows guests to experience a stay at the urban resort, combined with an inspiring trip to the Everglades guided by a park ranger followed by a signature massage at the hotel’s five star Spa. The massage concludes with the guest selecting a native tree to be donated to the Everglades to help sustain this important ecosystem.
Eat and Drink Green
Miami is all about sensual pleasures, and the cuisine scene is no exception. With the strong Latin influence, Miami is all about slowing down and savoring life. This philosophy has given birth to the Slow Food movement in the region, where many restaurants and locals source as many ingredients as possible from local farmers and fishermen, supporting the community and the environment. With dozens of farmers markets dotted around many communities, local chefs and residents have many options to access the freshest produce.
Slow Food Miami, the local chapter of the Slow Food USA and the International Slow Food Association, embraces local growers and artisan food makers who use sustainable methods, pay fair wages and respect the environment. All proceeds from Slow Food Miami events – such as bike tours of the Redland agricultural area with culinary creations from some of Miami's best farm-to-table chefs -- are used to implement local school and community gardens. The organization hosts a directory of the restaurants, bars, food and beverage artisans that, because of their contribution to the quality, authenticity and sustainability of the food supply of Miami, have been awarded the Slow Food Miami Snail of Approval.
In 2010, Michael Schwartz, of Michael's Genuine Food & Drink in the Design District, was the first celebrated Miami chef who was given the Snail of Approval and now serves as an ambassador to the program in an effort to grow participation. The impressive roster of restaurants includes Celebrity Chef Michelle Bernstein’s former Michy’s and Sra. Martinez in Midtown as well as Kris Wessel’s Red Light Little River north of Midtown. Other notables include the Green Table Artisan Kitchen & Bistro in Coral Gables and the Lido Restaurant at the Standard and Essenia Restaurant at the Palms Resort & Spa in Miami Beach.
In a similar effort, nearly 20 Miami restaurants and hotels participate in the "Adopt a Farmer" program, supporting local agriculture and sustainability initiatives. The program takes the highly successful "Dinner in Paradise" series sponsored by Homestead’s Paradise Farm, which offers B&B farm stays, to a new level. The five-acre certified organic farm has been teaming with upscale Miami restaurants for the past several years to offer six-course culinary masterpieces created with its organic produce. The sell-out events offer a farm tour, along with cocktails and dinner. Host restaurants throughout the year include the Loews Miami Beach, Area 31 at the Epic Hotel, the Raleigh Hotel, 1500° and many more.
As part of the aforementioned Miami-Dade County Water Use Efficiency Plan, the Miami-Dade Green Restaurant Project provides participating restaurants with a free pre-rinse fan jet spray valve to use in their dishwashing process, which can reduce water use in half compared to most current pre-rinse spray valves. Since the average restaurant uses 5,800 gallons of water daily, this is a major conservation effort. To help with this initiative, the Miami-Dade Water and Sewer Department also offers restaurants the option to display their water conservation information on their tables, doors or menus that will include the statement, "Water will be served upon request." This, as well as the Green Lodging Program, is part of the Miami-Dade County Green Business Certification program.
American Airlines Arena recently became one of the first two LEED-certified arenas in America. The arena, Miami’s top sports and entertainment venue and home of the Miami HEAT, received the prestigious designation for its progressive renewable energy program, which yields significant water and energy savings. Marlins Park, the new home of the Miami Marlins in Little Havana, recently became the first LEED Gold Certified retractable roof ballpark in baseball.
Close to the city, golf lovers can also get on the green train at Doral Golf Resort & Spa Miami, whose famous courses are PALM ONE® certified by the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program for Golf Courses, endorsed by the United States Golf Association. Eco-friendly initiatives include the installation of water-saving shower heads and toilets, a kitchen grease reclamation program, a $5 million renovation on all heating, ventilation and air conditioning units, composting on all five golf courses and resort grounds, and recycling of all cardboard, fluorescent light bulbs, ballasts, batteries and paints & solvents.
While travelers can enjoy the sophistication and glamour of Miami’s urban entertainment, comfortable in the knowledge that the city is taking aggressive steps to be "clean and green," they can also rest easy that their playtime in nature is also respectful to the earth.
Eco-adventure tourism is becoming an important force in Miami, offering many opportunities for responsible interaction with nature. Miami-Dade County’s Parks and Recreation Department provides naturalist-led Eco-Adventure Tours around the region’s unparalleled ecosystems, from sunrise/sunset/moonlight kayaking, snorkeling and canoeing in Miami’s many waterways to biking and hiking tours. They also offer a meaningful sea turtle awareness program in the summer, where wildlife enthusiasts can learn about these fascinating and vulnerable creatures and help hatchlings as they embark on their exciting journey into the depths of the ocean. The historic Deering Estate at Cutler offers canoe trips to Chicken Key as part of the county’s Eco-Adventures program, and hosts The Living Classroom, an environmental education stewardship center with hands-on curriculum on ecology, geology, marine biology, archeology, history and art. The site is a great place to see forests of hardwood hammocks, globally endangered pine rockland, mangroves, salt marshes and rare and native plants like orchids, bromeliads, ferns and more than 40 types of trees. A variety of wildlife such as the gray fox, spotted skunks, squirrels, butterflies and birds can be found here.
Also part of the County’s eco-tourism programs is the Key Biscayne Nature Center, offering a year-round program of aquatic and land-based adventures. At the tip of Key Biscayne, more snorkeling, fishing and nature walks are on tap at Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, often listed among the top beaches in America.
The County’s Fruit & Spice Park is a lush, tropical paradise with more than 500 varieties of exotic fruits, herbs, spices and nuts from throughout the world. Guests can visit the herb & vegetable garden, take a stroll through a shady banana grove or become more knowledgeable about poisonous plants. Park staff can provide expert advice on gardening with fruits, vegetables and spices, as well as special events and workshops such as “How to Grow and Use Medicinal Herbs,” and “Herbal Health Care.” Fruit and Spice Park also launched The Great Green Family Festival a few years ago to showcase local and organic farm products, medicinal herbs, oils and teas, natural health and beauty care and alternative energy vehicles and fuels.
The park is located more than a half hour south of the hustle and bustle of the city, close to Miami’s agricultural region, the Redland. Here, in this agricultural paradise, visitors can spend an entire day sampling fresh-from-the-farm produce and savoring the exotic fruits and vegetables that have become the foundation for "Floribbean" cuisine.
Exploring the back roads by bicycle, locals and tourists line up at Burr's Berry Farm for delicious strawberry shakes or at quaint Knauss Berry Farm for their sticky-sweet cinnamon rolls. All roads lead to Robert is Here, a popular pit stop for visitors en route to Everglades National Park. For over 40 years, Robert has offered guava, lychee, mamey, mangos and other exotic tropical fruits along with his famous fresh fruit shakes and homemade key lime pies. In season, visitors can harvest their own vegetables, loading up on fresh tomatoes, strawberries, zucchini, cucumbers and other produce at the many U-Pick farms that line Krome Avenue and the surrounding streets. A great way to explore the area is by vespa with Roam Rides, which offers a Sustainable Organic Farm Tour that includes Homestead. The company also offers a Sustainable Urban Plate Tour which includes visits to a Little Haiti permaculture farm and a fascinating market garden that doubles as a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) haven on the weekends.
Close to the Redland, many visitors are surprised to discover that Miami boasts two unusual national parks with many ways to appreciate astonishing natural worlds. Covering 1.5 million acres, Everglades National Park is the third largest in the U.S. National Parks system. Made up of sawgrass prairies, mangrove swamps, subtropical jungle and the warm waters of Florida Bay, the park and its seemingly endless grassy waters are home to a rare community of plants and endangered animals. Visitors to the park can enjoy self-guided and ranger-led tours and activities from the Main Visitor Center at the Park's southeastern entrance, or journey deeper into the Everglades for a more extensive experience in the Florida wilderness. The town of Flamingo, 38 miles from the park's main entrance, boasts a colorful history as the home to hardy pioneers and shady characters who spent many years trying to settle the beautifully remote but challenging area. Today, Flamingo is home to manatees, dolphins, sea turtles as well as more than 300 species of birds identified within the park, including pelicans, egrets, cormorants, bald eagles and ospreys. And, the combination of fresh, salt and brackish waters makes Florida Bay the only place on earth where alligators and crocodiles (in this case, the rare American crocodile) live together.
World-class fishing is one of Flamingo's irresistible lures. The park's waters provide thousands of acres for fishing: shallow water flats channels, and mangrove keys are home to snook, redfish, snapper, trout, largemouth bass, and sea catfish. For those who long to go natural, backcountry camping in the park is an unforgettable experience. Visitors traveling along the 99-mile Wilderness Waterway can paddle all day without seeing another soul, and spend the night camping out on remote chickees -- raised platform campsites accessible only by water. Permits and reservations are required, but advance notice of only 24 hours is necessary.
To the north, the Shark Valley entrance to the Park offers one of the best places to observe wildlife. Take a tram tour or rent a bike to traverse a 15-mile route. A 65-foot observation tower gives you a bird’s eye view of the River of Grass.
A rarity among national parks, Biscayne National Park offers 173,000 acres to explore, 95 percent of which are under Miami’s clear Caribbean blue waters. Teeming with colorful sea life and plants, the park encompasses Biscayne Bay, the longest stretch of mangrove forest left on Florida's east coast, living coral reefs and 40 of the northernmost Florida Keys. At the Dante Fascell Visitor Center, visitors can enjoy glass bottom boat tours, snorkeling and dive trips and island excursions, as well as rent canoes and kayaks. Fishing is excellent, with snapper, snook and barracuda among the most common catch. Patch reefs provide a snorkeler's paradise. In shallow waters less than 10 feet deep, the living coral is home to a variety of sea life including tropical fish, sponges and the spiny lobster. Playful and curious manatees, dolphins and five species of sea turtles call the waters of Biscayne Bay home, as do moray eels, stingrays, squid, starfish and hundreds of varieties of fish, large and small.
Closer to civilization, divers can enjoy wreck diving in one of the largest artificial-reef programs in the world. Fish flock to the more than 30 ships, tanks, concrete, limestone and other structures have been sunk over the past 25 years off Miami's coast, as far south as Florida City and north to Sunny Isles Beach. Most are located just a few miles offshore, in less than 130 feet of water, providing great diving for all levels. One of the most popular routes is the Wreck Trek, located off Miami Beach, just north of the Art Deco District. Here, divers can explore the 85-foot tug Patricia, the 100-foot steel fishing vessel Miss Karline, and an old radio antenna welded into 19 pyramids. In shallow waters off of Key Biscayne, the Half Moon and Germania form a fabulous underwater archeological preserve. Natural reefs are also found off Key Biscayne, Miami Beach, Surfside and Sunny Isles Beach.
For more information on green travel in Miami, visit www.miamiandbeaches.com/where-to-stay/green-certified-hotels. For a listing of environmentally-friendly hotels in Miami, click here.
The Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau (GMCVB) is an independent not-for-profit sales and marketing organization whose mission is to attract visitors to Greater Miami and the Beaches for leisure, business and conventions. For a vacation guide, visit our website at www.MiamiAndBeaches.com or call 1-888-76-Miami (US/Canada only) or 305-447-7777. To reach the GMCVB offices dial 305-539-3000. Meeting Planners may call 1-800-933-8448 (US/Canada only) or 305-539-3071 or visit www.MiamiMeetings.com.