Mountain Thunder Coffee Tour

I have been hearing about the Mountain Thunder Coffee story from various friends since we moved to the Big Island of Hawaii. This morning we took a trip up Kaloko Drive to the main coffee mill located at 3,000 feet elevation in the cloud forests on Hualalai Volcano. As you leave the main highway at 1,500 feet elevation you immediately notice the change from coffee farms, banana trees and macnut groves to grassy horse farms and then into ohia lehua trees and tree ferns at higher elevation. It is a gorgeous drive and we missed the tiny sign to turn right onto Hao Street, so we saw more of the beautiful estates and landscapes than expected until we came to the dead-end on the road.


mt4I usually enjoy industrial interpretive tours and love Kona coffee so I was looking forward to the experience. We were 10 minutes late for the free tour that starts each hour but one staff member invited us to join the tour with Mary Ellen Legay that was in progress. She encouraged us to try a sample of the Private Reserve and/or Black and Tan coffees in the thermos dispensers. I liked both and loved the black and tan, a mix of American roast and French roast, a bit toastier than the usual light roast coffee dubbed American. Oddly the lighter roast coffees have more caffeine because prolonged roasting times and temperature required for dark roast break down the eye-opening caffeine in coffee.


mt1I missed the introduction but Mary Ellen was great about bringing new arrivals up to speed quickly. She was explaining how coffee cherries are transformed into coffee beans by fermenting off the cherries, drying, dehusking and grading in preparation for roasting. She walked us through the warehouse where very noisy equipment overpowered our ability to hear, but she picked up a battery powered amplification unit and continued so all could follow the process. I usually don’t like to hear guides using amplifiers, but this was absolutely the right timing and appropriate for the environment. She went back to a more conversational unamplified approach when we left the grading equipment room for the roasting room. She had small children, adults and some older folks in her group and was careful to be sure all could see and hear at each move on the tour.


mt2Our original group of ten or so had swelled to twenty or more people by the time we reached the end of the tour in the gift shop. Mary Ellen invited us to try coffee cherry tea as we entered the small shop and then explained how each of the grades of coffee are packaged and sold through the shop. She asked for a team effort to answer a question related to the tour content and rewarded the entire group with chocolate covered coffee beans before inviting us to browse the rest of the shop and ask questions. She stayed as long as anyone had something to ask and then headed back out to the plaza for the next group. An hour had flown by and we were happy to participate in the flurry of sales as almost everyone in the group found coffee, macnut treats, t-shirts and other appropriate souvenirs of the visit. From discreetly observing the sales, we estimated the shop took in somewhere around $1,000 plus in sales as a direct result of the quality of the “free” tour.


mt3Mary Ellen found the right balance of information about the coffee process and the appeal that high quality coffee has in Kona District. At $30 to $50 a pound, organic Kona coffees are some of the most highly valued coffees in the world. The Mountain Thunder story on their website explains that Trent Bateman, an “oil-well doctor” and machine shop owner, sold his businesses twenty years ago and bought a 20-acre coffee farm on Kona. His family-owned business now includes a dry-milling operation for their own farms and other small coffee farms in the area and multiple retail outlets and tours (some free, some for a fee). US Dept. of Agriculture certifies their coffee as organic and makes regular inspections.


As trainers of guides, we like to visit commercial operators such as beer breweries, tea factories or coffee mills that interpret unique human stories blended with the agricultural or industrial processes involved. Mountain Thunder produces a very high quality product, shares their unique story well and adds a wonderful attraction to the Kona tourism experience. If you get to the Big Island, check out their cloud forest coffee mill on Hualalai. And enjoy their award-winning coffee during your visit. Once you see what it takes behind the scenes to bring you your daily dose of caffeine, you’ll never look at a cup of coffee the same way again.


– Tim Merriman



The Markets Game – A Mixer, Icebreaker and More

Created at
Created at

If you are training, putting on a conference or bringing people together who do not know each other for a meeting, the markets game can be a good start. It brings people together to chat about who they are (demographics), where they are from (geographics), and what they enjoy and care about (psychographics). I first saw it at a storytellers gathering, used as a mixer for new members, and we have since adapted it to the many varied settings in which we work. We have used it with as few as ten people and as many as 200. It can be done in as little as five minutes or as long as you wish, but planning fifteen to twenty minutes usually allows plenty of time.


Here’s how it works. You invite everyone in your group to stand in a large space that allows folks to spread out a bit, indoors or outdoors. The instructions are simple. Ask questions and let people move to your left or right in response to each question. After they move, invite them to gather in groups of two or three and spend a minute getting acquainted. Each question will split them up differently so they will meet new people very quickly and learn a little about them. I prefer to start with demographic questions, and then move into geographic questions and then psychographics. Question examples:


Question 1 – If you remember where you were on the day of the Kennedy assassination, stand to the left. If you don’t remember it, stand on the right. This generally puts those over 60 years old in the “remember” group and under 60 on the other. It’s a way of asking age without asking people to identify their specific age. You can also use the 1986 Challenger accident because most folks will remember it well, even if they were children when it occurred. This would put those over 35 in one group and under 35 in the other. Any significant national or world event that occurred during the age range of your group would work.


Question 2 – If you own a car, move to the left. If you rely on public transportation or your bicycle to get where you’re going, move to the right. Some questions will put almost all of the group in one location and few or none on the other side. It tells you something about the economic background of the group.


Watching this activity you can get a sense of your group’s ages and living circumstances. I avoid questions that might make people uncomfortable such as “if you make more than $50,000 annually . . . or if you have college debt . . . or have ever been divorced?”




Question 3 – If you were born and raised west of the Mississippi River over to the left, east of the Mississippi to the right. Obviously this is a U.S. oriented landmark. If you work with an international group, you might divide the group into east/west or north/south hemispheres instead. We live in Hawaii so I might ask here if my participants were born and raised in the islands or moved here.


Question 4 – If you live in a city or suburban area, move to the left. If you live on a farm or in a small town of 5,000 or fewer, move to the right. I might also ask if they grew up in the country or in the city or went to college at a western school or an eastern school.


Psychographics – I spend most of my time on these for they help me learn the most about the group’s current interests and preferences. These questions can be tailored to reflect activities common in the local area or relevant to your setting.


Question 5 – If you would rather read a good book than see a good movie, move to the left. If you prefer to see a movie over reading a book – move to the right.


Question 6 – If you prefer hiking over bicycling, to the left, bicycling over hiking to the right.


Working with interpreters and guides, I usually end with asking extroverts to move to the left and introverts to the right. Contrary to my expectations, I almost always end up with about two-thirds in the introvert group. People who are passionate about protecting the Earth learn to guide, present and overcome shyness to interpret what they value.


The Markets Game used with a large group gets people a bit acquainted and finding out what they have in common with others present. It starts conversations and breaks the ice of being in a new place with strangers. With a small group it helps you see that we segment markets differently using psychographics than with demographics and geographics. The questions can be framed a lot of different ways and some folks will go to the middle and ask if that’s okay (it is).


This activity gives the facilitator insights into who the group is and what they prefer. Most importantly it gets folks out of their chairs, moving around and chatting. The game gets people engaged and wanting to know more about each other and that’s a great start at any conference, workshop or social gathering.


  • Tim Merriman

What’s in a battery?

It is an exciting time in the energy innovations business. And I am wishing I had paid more attention in high school during physics class. It was my worst subject. I just did not know how to relate it to the real world. After a lifetime of applied physics lessons, I am actually learning how electricity works. Battery design and use has become my most recent study. Since we are building an off-grid solar house, batteries are required. Battery research has led me down many rabbit trails.


Right away I learned that lead-acid batteries have a limited life. They require regular inspection and addition of distilled water. They should not be drawn down too often or too far in stored energy. They must be recycled to keep the lead in them from being a hazard after they are no longer useful. Some innovative folks have been working on other, more environmentally-friendly options.


Nonagenarian Earl Bakken, inventor of the pacemaker, is converting his 17,000 square foot house to off-grid solar on the Big Island and getting away from diesel generators. His 176 kilowatt solar panel array will charge into a new battery type based on saltwater, not lead-acid. RES, our solar contractor is also working on his project and has taken on distribution of the new line of Aquion batteries to do his project and others. Our modest 1180 SF house will use their new S-20 batteries designed for small projects.


m100-ls81-homeThe Aquion story is innovation at its best and Dr. Jay Whitacre tells the story well in his 2012 TED talk. He worked for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) as a post-doc after earning a Ph.D. in physics from Oberlin College. He became a senior staff scientist involved with the Mars Science Laboratory development team. His research into energy storage led him into experimentation with batteries based on using the most common elements on Earth. He invented the Aquion battery when he left JPL for a professor position at Carnegie Mellon Institute in Pittsburgh in 2007.


Eight years later the battery is in production and distribution with Hawaii being an important demonstration location due to the Bakken project, a microgrid-sized application. Aquion has attracted major investors in the past two years including Bill Gates of Microsoft fame. In 2011 Gates posted a blog article entitled “We Need an Energy Miracle.” He explained in that blog the need for a low-cost energy storage system to make solar and wind technologies more useful in diverse settings. Aquion is one of several approaches that show great promise so he invested.


Aquion makes a battery with no Haz-Mat implications. It requires no maintenance such as adding water. It lasts for 10 to 20 years and can be cycled up and down thousands of times. It is more expensive than a lead-acid battery system at the start, but should not be over the total cycle of 20 years. And it will be less expensive to buy each year as sales volumes increase and production costs are reduced.


In the early 1980s I was a nature center director employing solar hot water, composting toilets and a solar greenhouse to demonstrate new technologies. Many new trends we thought would endure did not, but nature centers are a great place to demonstrate and explore new technologies that show hope for a more sustainable future for the planet. New technologies offer a good opportunity for grants funding because they are one-time purchases with a sustainability value in support of the nature center, zoo or aquarium.


Batteries never looked exciting to me before, but they do now. And I am learning some of the basic physics principles I missed in high school. If you operate a facility or home in a sunny location, take a look at the options to go off-grid and start learning more about batteries. It really is an exciting time in the energy innovations business.


-Tim Merriman







Seven Tips for Getting Grants

A creation
A creation

Sometimes grants seem to be the perfect solution to every need at nonprofits. I learned early on to be careful what you wish for when you apply for grant monies. Here are a few guidelines when thinking about going for grants.


  • When someone from a foundation or family trust offers money to your organization for their pet project, go slowly and be sure what they wish to support is something you would be doing if they were not helping at all. Be strategic even if it means turning down a large sum of money that is assured or risk drifting away from your mission.
  • Be sure you have the skill to manage a grant before you land it. Applying for funds with an exaggeration of your skills and abilities as a staff and board can backfire. If you get the grant and the granting organization is not happy with the level of competency at which you perform, your credibility with them will suffer.
  • Use grants to start new projects, especially those that create earned income, but do not expect to sustain the projects with grant funds. Most foundation executives will warn you in person or in their grant guidelines that they do not wish to provide ongoing operational support of your work. They want to help you become more self-sufficient or achieve important dreams. They worry and withdraw support when they see an applicant attempting to bridge the gap in operations year after year with operating grants.
  • Be sure you have the ability internally or with hired accounting services to carefully track grant funds. Most granting organizations will audit your work at some level and finding you did not spend their money as promised can result in damage to personal careers and the organization’s reputation.
  • Thoroughly research potential grant sources before applying. They publish guidelines that give you a clear idea of their priorities and you will not change their strategic directions even if your need is very compelling. Most foundations also have specific geographic regions within which they fund.
  • People give to people so personal relationships and thoughtful communication matters. Invite grant givers to your site to see what you do whenever they are in your area. I once asked our Congressman to invite statewide foundation representatives to our community, a region that few foundations had visited or supported. Each of them began giving in the community after seeing our local non-profit organizations in action. The congressman was the perfect host because he served on the Joint Congressional Budget Committee and they would not consider turning down his specific invitation.
  • Write a logic model for your project or program that identifies the impact, outcome and output objectives clearly. Many funders require them but most will appreciate knowing the measurable results you expect. A logic model that is well written clearly identifies how the results will be evaluated, another common requirement of grants.


Charitable foundations, government agencies and even corporations assist nonprofits greatly through grants, but dependence on them can be a problem. Their ability to help your group grow will decline in a recession economy. It’s important to balance grants with earned income, individual philanthropy and other sources. Remember that grants are not gifts – they require thoughtful shepherding throughout their life cycle, from initial research to final reports.


–Tim Merriman

Thematic Events

Master Gardners answered questions for guests about plants and pests.
Master Gardners answered questions for guests about plants and pests.

Last weekend we attended the 11th Annual Grow Hawaiian Festival at the Amy B.H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden in Captain Cook. It was a celebration of Hawaiian culture and traditional foods. Almost everything at the event supported the theme. They made a point of focusing on the original 27 “canoe plants” known to have come with the early Polynesian immigrants to the islands. The first Hawaiians chose those plants carefully for the great value each provided as food, oil for light and fiber for clothing. This thematic event landed particularly well because the coordinators so carefully keep the booths and activities closely aligned with “grow Hawaiian.”


Making poi was popular with guest of all ages.
Making poi was popular with guest of all ages.

One booth invited visitors to make poi from kalo (taro) or ulu (breadfruit) by pounding it on a papa kui ai (wooden board with a trough shape) using a pohaku kui ai (stone pounder). People of all ages were trying the traditional Hawaiian method of preparation to make a smooth starch poi and each one could take home the resulting creation in ziplock bags. The gardens show the kalo growing so visitors make the connection between the food and the plant.


The lunch served at the event was a traditional plate lunch with Kalua pork and cabbage or lomilomi salmon along with macaroni salad, poi or rice and a tomato salad for $10, including the beverage. It was delicious, cooked and served by local families.


Parents captured their child's lauhala lesson by an elder of the community.
Parents captured their child’s lauhala lesson by an elder of the community.

I watched many parents of children using a cell phone to take a video of their child learning hands-on lessons on lauhala (pandanus fiber) weaving or making poi. The focus of the event is learning by doing and selling items is not permitted until the event has concluded at 2:30 PM. This well-planned and attended event will bring us back year after year.


The Big Island of Hawaii has a number of festivals year-round. The climate, scenery, culture and tourism make it profitable and useful to create outdoor events that tell a story, but some tell their story better than others. We have written about the Chocolate Festival and Coffee Festival in the past because they exemplify the power of thematic events to tell community stories.


The 27 canoe plants were selected for their usefulness on a long journey by canoe from the South Pacific to the Hawaiian Islands.
The 27 canoe plants were selected for their usefulness on a long journey by canoe from the South Pacific to the Hawaiian Islands.

We have also attended recent agricultural festivals where the thematic identity was present in name only. The many artisan booths could have been set up at any marketplace to sell their wares. They are festivals in name only and do nothing for the community or branding of the host site.


Non-thematic events are not bad. They simply lack the personality that a thematic identity brings to the table. They are not very engaging for the community or the attendees except as economic events. Themes deliver a message, a reason to connect with the idea behind the festival.


Thematic events that match your natural and cultural history help in branding your organization and community. Think about your events and whether they help create your sense of place.


– Tim Merriman

Talking Story

I was walking back down the hill to our home in Hawaii after running, when a new neighbor smiled and said hello from her lanai just behind her house. She held a bunch of bananas and a shrink-wrapped package of macadamia nuts, gifts to a new neighbor. Flora and her husband have a family-run coffee and mac nut farm. We exchanged small talk for a few minutes to get acquainted. We were “talking story,” a Hawaiian reference to chatting and telling personal stories that reveal much about who we are, what we like, and how we live. Storytelling reflects and reveals our values, our hopes, our disappointments and our way of thinking.


Farmer's markets have become one of these important places to talk story in Hawaii and many other communities.
Farmer’s markets have become one of these important places to talk story in Hawaii and many other communities.

Talking story is a time-honored tradition here. I feel very much at home with the storytellers. As a young boy, I would be out with my father, a salesman, and would tug on his pants leg to go home as he chatted with farmers, neighbors, customers and anyone he met. I grew to appreciate his stories, some historical, some autobiographical, many humorous. The stories were well known in the family. I inherited them and have continued the tradition of passing them along. They express some of my beliefs and experiences with life or they just seem funny and a way to remember dad. When my son was very young he endured my long visits with friends and strangers, sharing stories, getting acquainted, talking story.


I love that the culture here has a name for this activity, but the activity itself is not unique to Hawaii. The small town where I was raised had several local cafes, which had daily coffee drinkers who gathered to “talk story,” known as the third place by city planners. These homes away from home included “regulars” and their friends or drop-ins, someone new to town or returning home for a visit. These third places are important in communities because they allow people to hang out, catch up with friends, and take time to understand each other better.


As a nature center director, I supervised building a restaurant next to the Arkansas River in Pueblo, Colorado. The center had been a popular daily stop for joggers, dog walkers, fishers, birdwatchers and nature lovers. A café added food, beverages and great places to sit with friends, un-hassled. It encouraged people to meet for lunch, stop by for a drink, hold a birthday party or even a wedding or funeral. I enjoyed talking story with our “regulars” each day. The restaurant added to our attraction power for people as a third place, not work, not home. We encouraged staff to take the time to talk story with visitors. It became an important part of the workday, getting to know people well, listening to their stories.


Think about how you might encourage opportunities for storytelling beyond the traditional exhibit space or program areas. That café, coffee shop, tearoom or picnic area that serves as a “third place” at your facility may become “the” place for talking story at your site and as such, an important place for creating a sense of community.


– Tim Merriman





10 Guidelines for a Useful Brochure


Rack systems managed by marketing firms can be an easy way to get your brochure in front of diverse audiences.
Rack systems managed by marketing firms can be an easy way to get your brochure in front of diverse audiences.

We once asked a state park office how often they have to fill their brochure rack. The enthusiastic clerk explained, “It’s great, virtually never. No one takes them.” Here are ten guidelines to keep your brochures where they belong, in the hands of your guests, instead of in the rack or on the ground.


  1. A colorful brochure with great illustrations attracts the eye and makes it more likely to be picked up in the first place.
  2. The title should telegraphically identify the brochure’s purpose or theme. If I need a site map, I want to be able to find it easily, but if I’m interested in the story behind the site, I may be willing to read a little more if the title is intriguing.
  3. Use illustrations and photos instead of words whenever possible. Pictures can often convey universal concepts, understood even by those who do not know the language.
  4. Make the folded shape and size convenient to carry in a pocket.
  5. Make sure the design is consistent with the distribution system. If your brochure rack has opaque covers across the lower half of the brochure, put the title or theme on the upper third where it can be seen.
  6. Make brochures readily available in a rack system or location where they are likely to be seen and used, not hidden in an administrative office where guests have to ask for them.
  7. Give people a place near exits to repurpose gently used brochures. Soiled ones can be put in paper recycling and clean ones reused.
  8. Make the papers and inks used reflect your values. Recycled paper and organic inks may be the best choice if your organization specializes in conservation stories, even if they are slightly more expensive.
  9. Think of who will use it and design to help them make easy use of the brochure. (e.g. larger print for seniors, digital app for young people, sized for convenient distribution).
  10. Hire a professional designer who knows how to use color, typefaces, spacing and overall design carefully. This may not be a project for an intern.


Enough said – Happy Valentine’s Day!


– Tim Merriman

Living Off-grid – A Lesson in Energy Consumption


In the early 1980s I was a nature center director in Pueblo, Colorado. The energy crisis nationally energized us to be early adopters and models of conservation measures. We put a solar hot water heater on the center, added clivus multrum composting toilets and built a solar greenhouse both as demonstrations and to show our commitment to our own core values. The technologies were somewhat clumsy and challenging to use back then, but we learned much from doing it and conducted workshops as part of our programming to teach others about emerging technologies that protect the environment.


Photovoltaic power has never been so affordable.
Photovoltaic power has never been so affordable.

Decades passed and I moved on to be an association director. As private citizens, Lisa and I paid our energy bills and enjoyed the benefits of on-grid electricity at reasonable rates. In 2008 we used the exceptional U.S. and Colorado tax credits and Xcel Energy stimulus funds to add 48 on-grid solar panels to our home in Fort Collins. We had no electrical bill after that, except for a $7 clerical charge monthly. The system repaid us for hard costs in five years with the savings on electrical bills.


We just moved to the Big Island of Hawaii where we currently rent a home that is off-grid solar. Electrical power poles do not make it to this secluded location. It is actually a wonderful reminder every minute of the day that energy is not as free and easy as it seems in much of the United States. The normal cost for electricity of 42 cents a kilowatt-hour on the Big Island (3 times the mainland rate) encourages important choices in how you build and consume. We have decided to build our new bamboo house with off-grid photovoltaic cells, solar hot water and catchment water for irrigation.


Even a solar trash compactor can tell its story.
Even a solar trash compactor can tell its story.

In the meantime we have four to five months in the rental house to learn how to manage our daily lifestyle with less energy demand. Our current daily use of electricity is:

Light (1 – 60 watt) – 2.5 hrs.

Refrigerator – 24/7

Microwave – 5 minutes

Blender – 30 seconds

TV/Dish controller – 2.5 hours

Computer/phone recharge – 4 hours

Printer – 5 minutes

Toaster oven – 45 seconds


We have no heating or air conditioning with lows of 62 degrees and highs of 84 degrees Fahrenheit. We have no dishwasher, clothes washer, or dryer, a choice you make when going off-grid to decrease electrical demand. It’s a climate where clothes dry quickly outside and we just do not wear as many clothes with shorts and a T-shirt as the preferred daily apparel. (Lisa notes that she does wash clothes, but by hand, as needed, in the bathtub. It takes roughly one hour per week.) We cook with propane and have on-demand propane-fueled hot water.


Hawaii offers opportunities to lower our energy demand and live with no connection to the grid for a reasonable investment in photovoltaic solar power and hot water. The tax credits make it all more affordable and new technologies keep lowering the cost. Solar panels that cost $350/watt produced two decades ago are selling for $1/watt now so the opportunities to use solar on or off-grid have never been greater.


People like learning about your extra efforts to protect the environment.
People like learning about your extra efforts to protect the environment.

Nature centers, aquariums, zoos, museums, and parks, which use solar and other appropriate technologies make a valuable contribution in stimulating people to think about new options. When you employ these technologies, be sure you create the exhibits and other media to share your reasoning and the costs involved. Adding programs that help people learn how to do it can be very popular.


Climate makes going off-grid challenging in most places but year-round warm climates offer a great opportunity for people to return to a simpler way of life by making a few different lifestyle choices that are healthier for humans and for the planet. For more information, check out Home Power magazine to get more acquainted with the burgeoning technologies.


– Tim Merriman



Gift Shops – Eights Ideas to Consider

Great gift shops extend the learning experience in a community or at a natural science or cultural site. They encourage us to invest and take home a symbol of the visit. These are traits that you might consider in planning or revamping your gift store.


gift11) Sell fair trade goods, sustainably crafted, with enduring value. Guests notice whether your sales items support or are in conflict with your organizational values.

2)  Sell experiences that support local or site-based themes. Experiences such as off-site tours, visits to dinosaur digs, and behind the scenes tours can be booked from the shop using an exhibit to pique interest.

3) Stock memorabilia in a broad price range. Items can be as inexpensive as a polished local rock or a unique T-shirt or as expensive as a locally handcrafted item, but every item should be related to the place or message regardless of price.

4) Use the gift store as a learning place that helps guests better understand the stories and mission of the community or organization. Signage and exhibits in a store help people make informed choices about what to buy that might improve their experience at the site or support a local community group that deserves assistance.

5) Support local craftsmen, artisans, and fabricators to build a

Xanterra also employs exhibits in the gift shop to encourage thoughtful choices in using water bottles.
Xanterra also employs exhibits in the gift shop to encourage thoughtful choices in using water bottles.

sense of community related to your natural or cultural history site or heritage community. You can keep art and craft skills alive related to your story and purpose for the benefit of all. Hangtags with names and personal stories of craftsmen who made them help people remember the experience and the message long after their visit.

6) Be sure your bags match your organizational core values. Encouraging wildlife conservation and then requiring each customer to carry away their purchases in plastic bags creates dissonance they will notice. Consistency is important in everything you do.

7) Design your shop around the exit so people walk through it as they leave. Studies of museum stores have shown that sales are ten times as much if people exit through the store when compared to an exit with a side door into the store. If this seems like crass commercialism, then you may not be selling the right stuff.

8) Some portion of the sales items should extend the learning experience. Books, videos, maps, charts and I.D. cards provide people with the next steps in growing their knowledge and passion.


A great store extends the experience for guests in wonderful ways. A poor store that seems designed only to sell “stuff” can degrade a good experience. Make your experience even better by a thoughtful assessment of your store’s power to extend the learning experience.


– Tim Merriman

Message Your Waste

Locations where people throw away items or use bathroom facilities can be great opportunities to send messages that matter. Here are nine thoughts on creative ways we see messaging of varied kinds at facilities the public almost always has to use wherever they go.


  • Art in bathrooms or on recycling centers can help tell your story. Visual art communicates to people of all cultures as a universal
    Tile in bathroom at Xanterra operated lodge in Yellowstone National Park.
    Tile in bathroom at Xanterra operated lodge in Yellowstone National Park.

    language. The art can simply be thematic reminders of where you are and the beauty and key features of the area or it can provide a detailed representation of your theme without words.

  • Explain what happens next to recycled materials or human waste and how that benefits the environment. “We compost your cups and plates to nourish the soil created in our gardens.” OR “This is a composting toilet that converts human waste into soil.”
  • Give the BIG PICTURE such as the total amount of waste daily to be handled and processed. Fun facts can provide an impressive overview that may make stimulate guests to think about the impact they have.
  • Give guests an idea about how they can help immediately – “Get your cup refilled instead of taking a new one.” OR “Refill (or recycle) your water bottle here to reduce the number of plastic bottles that find their way to the landfill.”
  • Add a TAKEHOME message that suggests how people might reduce
    Disney's Animal Kingdom has great messaging in the restrooms.
    Disney’s Animal Kingdom has great messaging in the restrooms.

    their waste stream at home. In the United States, explaining that tap water is tested continually and of very high quality helps people understand that bottled water may not be their best option, both for safety and for reducing the waste stream.

  • Share program messages in bathroom stalls, above urinals, and on bulletin boards on or near bathrooms. We all have need of disposing of human waste several times a day. Having something to read in the bathroom related to the site experience can be both useful and enjoyable.
  • Explain the implications for the community or wildlife if we don’t do better with handling solid waste of all kinds.
  • Take your messaging opportunities a step further by being
    Recycling containers are great locations to extend guest understanding of solid waste implications on the environment.
    Recycling containers are great locations to extend guest understanding of solid waste implications on the environment.

    consistent with the products you offer in your shops. Provide refillable drinking containers instead of bottled water, and paper or biodegradable cornstarch bags instead of one-use plastic bags for sales items. Avoid offering low-quality or inappropriate items that do nothing to support your theme and end up as trash.

  • Be careful that your own maintenance matches your message. Make sure your staff understands that the public follows your lead. If they see staff empty a recycling container into a trash dumpster or water being wasted adjacent to a sign about keeping water clean and using it minimally, they are likely to do the same. It may cause them to question your other messages as well.


Your messages matter more if well planned and executed. If you need help with that, let us know.


– Tim Merriman