Pacific Business News | June 5, 2015
The word sustainability sometimes gets lost in translation.
It’s more than ditching fossil fuels in favor of renewable energy. It’s more than growing your own food, or buying local. It’s more than recycling products, including entire buildings, instead of dumping them in the landfill.
It’s also all of those things.
Colin Yost began understanding sustainability at the age of 4 by living it in the forests of Oregon. It’s now the essence of his business at RevoluSun.
Jeff Overton sees it every day at Group 70 International, which has become a sustainability role model for other businesses.
Murray Clay fights for it every day at the Ulupono Initiative, which among other things wants Hawaii to be a food producer instead of relying so much on what arrives by cargo ship.
Jeff Mikulina wants an end to Hawaii’s use of fossil fuels — the mantra for the Blue Planet Foundation that he heads.
Quinn Vittum, who grew up helping his father build houses in New Hampshire, wants to see more deconstruction and less demolition when residents and business owners remodel their homes and headquarters. His nonprofit Re-use Hawaii stands ready to help.
These were among the topics discussed by PBN’s five panelists at a breakfast seminar last month. To read the highlights of what they said, see the following pages.
Managing Partner, Ulupono Initiative
“Hawaii can provide more of its own energy and food. We can do better.”
Murray Clay believes that Hawaii residents are motivated to be as self-sufficient as possible. But, most of what they consume comes to the Islands by ship, and if those ships stop coming, we have a real problem.
When we get 90 percent of our food and energy shipped in, basic necessities coming thousands of miles away sounds really bad,” he said. “We shouldn’t be digging more landfills. We are working on that. Hawaii can provide more of its own energy and food. We can do better.”
Clay noted that Ulupono Initiative did a market survey asking if people would support an effort to make Hawaii 100 percent renewable by 2040, and 85 percent said yes. Also, half of those surveyed said that both price and environmental sustainability are important.
Ulupono Initiative strongly supports dairy farms in Hawaii, and several employees recently took a tour of Mainland dairies, looking at four different dairies in two states.
“Last year, we toured grass-fed dairies in New Zealand, and it was one of the most inspiring experiences I’ve had,” Clay said.
In terms of looking into buying a Big Island dairy, he said Ulupono Initiative is still talking to the seller to determine if it makes sense.
“One of the dairies we toured, it was 600 cows,” Clay said. “The smaller scale is hard to pencil out. This guy was doing well, so it shows that smaller scale can work. That’s what we learned.”
On NextEra Energy’s proposed $4.3 billion acquisition of Hawaiian Electric Co, he said it’s not just a “yes-or-no” answer. He said the right conditions need to be met to allow the state to reach its renewable-energy goals.
“The gold standard is aligning shareholder financial interest with renewable-energy goals,” he said. “Give the utility financial incentive to achieve renewable goals. If that happens, we will achieve those goals. The people with the big money will get more money if they reach those goals. But, if you can align those interests, this is the gold standard to making this merger happen.”
— Duane Shimogawa
Principal Planner, Group 70 International Inc.
“How we deal with homeless in the community, we have a great opportunity [in Chinatown]. We hate to see it really transition into a bigger vertical thing. We hope to keep the character there.”
Jeff Overton says sustainability has been a movement for more than four decades, but only in the past decade has it become central to daily lives and practices.
“Not just thinking globally about our world,” he said. “It’s about green building design, and really about how we decide to live here in Hawaii and how we live into the future.”
Overton noted that Group 70 is thinking more broadly about social, economic and environmental issues when it comes to sustainability in general.
“In Hawaii, we think about cultural sustainability,” he said. “We think about that when developing, tying into all the modes of transportation, carefully managing the water and how it’s used.”
Group 70 has gone all in when it comes to sustainability.
“We are over 100 people and roughly a third of us are LEED-certified,” Overton said. “Our firm has designed many LEED projects. Our office was one of the first LEED platinum office spaces.”
Group 70 is working on six solar energy farms on Oahu, developing hundreds of acres of PV that’s coming online.
“There’s a big push to make this happen by 2016 before the federal tax credits expire,” Overton said. “This involved the landowners, community, state Legislature and others to make it a great success.”
In terms of the revitalization of Chinatown, he said it has gone through several administrations looking for plans, and that there is a current plan underway.
“There are workshops going on led by [Enterprise Honolulu President and CEO] Pono Shim and legislators and the Oahu Economic Development Board,” he said. “I know there is an effort underway. It is a real blessing and part of our history in Honolulu. Sustaining our culture and history ties to our values and place. It also ties to our visitor industry.”
— Duane Shimogawa
Chief Operating Officer, RevoluSun
“When you look around, almost everything we see in this place where we live needs to be changed, and what that actually means is that there’s a huge amount of work to do.”
Colin Yost used to joke that he was raised by wolves.
That’s because he and his parents lived in the forests of Oregon for about eight years of his young life from age 4 to 12.
“That’s actually absurd because there aren’t any wolves in that forest — it’s mostly bears, mountain lions and coyotes,” Yost told attendees at a PBN sustainability breakfast last month.
But, it was also a place where Yost learned about the word sustainability by living it every day.
“What I learned from my hippie parents is that we can live in harmony with nature as long as you make that the organizing principle of your life, and that’s what they did,” he said. “At that time, that was a very counterculture, back-of-the-land thing to do, but they organized their life by going to an old farmhouse that was falling apart, tearing it down, and building our little 850-square-foot cabin out of recycled lumber.”
Though the sustainability movement at that time was seen as “a kind of trendy, counterculture thing to do,” Yost said it has now become “an imperative, I think, for all of us.”
“We started organizing this society completely the wrong way in terms of sustainability,” he said. “It’s just opposite of our organizing principle in terms of our transportation and agriculture. The Native Hawaiians had it right — they were sustainable, but then Europeans came in, people came from all over the world, and this became a major tourism destination. We lost our focus, we lost our connection — that’s not just a sad thing, but it’s also something now that relates to our survival.”
The key now, Yost said, is for everyone, including federal and state lawmakers, “to be more courageous and more aggressive to move in the right direction.”
“There’s a lot of hope and paths we can take to lead us in the right direction,” he said. “I think the key for us, at this point, is to get there faster — we are moving too slowly.”
— Darin Moriki
Executive Director, Blue Planet Foundation
“Price is important, but not as much as protecting the environment.”
The day of PBN’s breakfast panel on sustainability three weeks ago also happened to be Bike to Work Day. PBN editor A. Kam Napier asked the audience: Who biked to work today? Jeff Mikulina was the only person to raise his hand.
“That question of who biked to work is telling,” Mikulina said, noting that the Blue Planet Foundation’s goal is to end the use of fossil fuels and he felt the pressure to do so because of the organization’s culture.
It all comes to mind-set, and some attitudes and perceptions may be changing. The Blue Planet Foundation contracted Market Trends Pacific to survey Hawaii residents on their attitudes toward energy usage. It found that residents didn’t think price was the most important factor, and protecting the environment ranked higher on the list.
“It’s not all about price,” Mikulina said. “Price is important, but not as much as protecting the environment.”
Mikulina also was excited to share that Senate Bill 1050 had passed, which enables community solar projects, and acknowledged a PBN editorial on the subject that was shared with lawmakers. The new system, which awaits Gov. David Ige’s signature, also allows renters to join in the project, so when they move they can still benefit from the community solar project.
“I think it’s up to policymakers and other institutions to break down these barriers,” he said.
Mikulina said public policy has helped change the public’s mind-set, including requiring solar hot water heaters in new homes and the 5-cent bottle deposit. Because of these policies, Hawaii has the nation’s highest percentage of solar hot water heaters.
But he noted that government also can be a roadblock. He said there is an opportunity to power Honolulu’s future elevated-rail mass-transit system with renewable energy and said he has discussed this with Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell. But, when the mayor brings this up at a Honolulu Authority on Rapid Transportation board meeting, members look at him like he’s crazy.
On the topic of liquefied natural gas as a transition fuel from oil, Mikulina said Hawaii needs to look at the ecological impacts and not just cost alone.
“Who are we impacting?” he asked.
— Jason Ubay
Executive Director, Re-use Hawaii
“We don’t want people to feel guilty about the decisions they have made — although they should.”
Quinn Vittum says the big question for him and his company, Re-use Hawaii, which deconstructs buildings as an alternative to demolition, is this: What are the factors that influence people in the community to do the right thing?
“We’re starting to see an inability to do the right thing,” he said.
He recently got a call from someone working on a commercial renovation project who had 40 doors to donate. However, the contractor wanted to cut them in half so they would fit in the elevator. The owner ultimately took that route and the doors ended up in the landfill.
Outreach to these companies can be difficult.
“It’s sensitive because we don’t want people to feel guilty about the decisions they have made — although they should,” he said.
Vittum said the problem is most apparent in commercial projects. He said it’s different for residential owners because they’re more excited about the process. He noted that there are tax breaks involved with deconstruction that are not available in traditional demolition, and some owners can see up to $25,000 in savings.
Small general contractors like to use Re-use Hawaii as a subcontractor because it helps stand out in the marketplace.
On new construction projects, the company has benefitted because general contractors have to overbuy material to avoid running out. Surplus material that Re-use Hawaii has received includes leftover tiles from the Likelike Tunnel renovation, and it’s working with Swinerton Builders on leftover materials from the former Gold Bond Building renovation at 677 Ala Moana Blvd.
For other projects, he suggests writing into the specifications that the materials need to be reused, something that didn’t happen at Aloha Tower Marketplace, where Hawaii Pacific University is turning part of the commercial area into dormitories and classrooms.
“[The specifications] should have said everything that can be reused, but it didn’t get written into the specs, so it just went to the landfill,” he said.
Some Mainland communities such as Boulder, Colorado, have deconstruction mandates and tax credits in addition to tax deductions. He would like to see public policies to encourage deconstruction but says his staff does not have the time to lobby for them.
— Jason Ubay
See full story at Pacific Business News