The island buzzes with words like “sustainable” and its various derivatives, “green”, “organic”, “farm to table”, “slow food”, and “renewable energy”. Confused by all these concepts, I decided to take the 1.5 hour Sustainability 101 course offered by Maui College’s continuing education office recently rebranded as Edventure and given by the Sustainable Living Institute of Maui otherwise known as SLIM.
Dr Jennifer Chirico, executive director of SLIM, asked the class what “sustainable” meant to us. I replied “make it last.” Another said,”what goes in comes out.” While there are hundreds of definitions of sustainability, it’s widely agreed to use the one given in the United Nations 1987 manifesto “Our Common Future” — meeting needs of the present without compromising needs of the future. In other words, we have an obligation to future generations. Dr Chirico also introduced the triple bottom line (TBL), an intersection of economic interests, environmental interests, and social interests, also known as the 3 P’s: People, Profit, Planet.
Some facts I learned are also useful for the readers of this blog:
- Hawaii is the most isolated landmass in the world: 2,500 miles from any other land mass
- It is home to 60% of the most endangered species in the USA
- Hawaii is one of the smallest states with population 1.2 million but welcomes 7.1 million visitors per year.
- Tourism and the military make up 50% of the economy
- Hawaii is the most fossil-fueled state in the nation, and 90% dependent on oil.
- Not surprisingly, it has the highest energy cost in the USA (electricity in Maui averages 35 cents per kWh and 44 cts/kWh in Lanai).
- You will throw away 80% of what you buy within 5 years
To understand sustainability, we should take a look at what the ancient Hawaiians did. Waste was not part of their vocabulary. They had a special relationship with mother earth. There were no imports. They had to use what they had. Consider that Hawaii nowadays imports 90% of its food, no wonder movements such as “slow food” and “buying local” are gaining ground.
At the end of the course, Dr Chirico asked each of us to identify what’s most interesting to us and commit to doing something about it. One gentleman advocated putting a refuse tax on used cigarette butts to incentivise people to collect butts from the beach and other places as the chemicals endanger marine life. This tax would be levied on tobacco producers the way HI-5cents is levied on plastic water bottles.
As a newcomer, I felt that such an introductory course on sustainability was essential. I shared the discomfort and guilt I felt when I moved into my second-floor apartment which did not cater for composting or recycling. In London, I explained, I had to pay a monthly council tax which went into the collection of compost and recyclables. As a newcomer, I did not know where to dump used batteries and other recycling waste. Had I known about this course when I arrived, I would have been better informed.
Two guides are very useful here: the County of Maui Recycling Guide (what to do with what you don’t want) and the Moui County Greenbook. Both publications are available at SLIM.