Going Green: The Paper Canoe

By Heather Frese | Monday, June 15, 2015

There’s nothing like living on an island to make a person conscious of their environment. With its wind and water and sand and sky, life on the Outer Banks spotlights the interaction of man and nature. This connection to the ecosystem of the Outer Banks has led restaurateur Tommy Karole, owner of The Paper Canoe in Duck, to make some changes at his restaurant. “I’m working with a nonprofit organization now that basically guides you into turning your whole restaurant green,” Tommy says. “From the paper towels to the light bulbs you use to where your food comes from.” Tommy hopes that the greening of The Paper Canoe will set up a model for other restaurants on the Outer Banks to follow.
Dry Herbs

Working with an outside nonprofit to make The Paper Canoe as environmentally conscious as possible has several benefits, transparency being at the top of the list. “You can’t claim to be doing it unless you’re doing it,” Tommy says, explaining how the environmental nonprofit employs a rigorous rating system and yearly audits covering such things as products, equipment and food. The Paper Canoe receives points for things like their full-scale recycling programs, using sustainable seafood and being free of Styrofoam. “I used a lot of reclaimed materials during the remodeling process, so I get points for that,” Tommy says. The nonprofit’s system has worked for many restaurants, including those run by celebrity chefs Mario Batali and Rick Bayless.  

The top-to-bottom greening of The Paper Canoe covers several categories, including food, energy and water. Seafood is a vital component of The Paper Canoe’s menu, and Tommy works to make sure that it’s sustainably harvested. He’ll also use meat that’s hormone and antibiotic free and produce that’s certified organic. The Paper Canoe will strive for water and energy efficiency, waste reduction and recycling while minimizing pollution. The restaurant will also provide education for their staff and work toward lowering their use of chemicals and disposables. All of these components are reviewed annually, and The Paper Canoe must not only maintain their commitment to these strategies but also improve on them at each audit. 

Fresh fish at Paper Canoe in Duck

Going green is obviously the responsible choice for the health of the planet, but it also has surprising benefits for the businesses involved. Resources are conserved so utility costs plummet. Staff morale improves as educational programs reinforce the fact that they’re participating in an exciting plan that’s beneficial to the island. New customers are drawn in as they hear about the strides the business is taking to care for the planet, and regular customers stay loyal. And restaurants like The Paper Canoe never have to worry about meeting minimum standards for environmental legislation as they’re always ahead of the curve in that regard. 

The barrier islands of the Outer Banks are one of the most stunning ecosystems on the planet. The Paper Canoe’s dining room overlooks the Currituck Sound, and as you partake of fresh, local seafood the evening light dances across the water, marsh grass gently weaving in the breeze, the sky blossoming into pink and orange swaths of sunset. Suddenly, protecting the planet and conserving resources ceases to be an abstract concept and becomes deeply personal. “It’s good for the Outer Banks,” Tommy says of The Paper Canoe’s work to become environmentally accountable. “Hopefully, if I do it there’s some peer pressure for some other people to do it.” Tommy envisions the day when all the restaurants on the Outer Banks implement green policies. “I think it’d be a draw to people coming if the whole island did it,” he says. Hopefully, soon restaurants across the Outer Banks will take their cue from The Paper Canoe and unite in their efforts to protect the island they call home.

Paper Canoe Duck NC bar Soundside View at Paper Canoe in Duck NC

Paper Canoe logo

1564 Duck Road • Duck, North Carolina 27949

(252) 715-2220 • www.papercanoeobx.com



About the Author Heather Frese
Heather Frese fell in love with the Outer Banks when she was three years old. She grew up camping every summer on Hatteras Island, and her writing is deeply influenced by the history and wild beauty of the area. Her debut novel, The Baddest Girl on the Planet, won the Lee Smith Novel Prize and is set on Hatteras Island.