Hawaii Businesses for Sustainability

By Michael Kramer

The fragility of Hawaii and the high cost of living here requires special consideration of how money is used. Much attention is focused on the impact of major corporations on what has largely been a locally-owned economy. While “buying local” does have the positive effect of circulating money locally before profits leak away, the lower prices found at national retailers are changing customer loyalties. Ethical issues further complicate consumer choices. For example, is it more socially responsible to buy local, conventionally-raised eggs or cage-free, hormone-free, organic eggs from the mainland that cost more? Is it better to buy lumber from Home Depot, which has a policy against selling old-growth timber, or from a locally-owned company with no such policy?

Shifting Hawaii to a producing rather than importing state certainly would reduce the cost of many goods, but only if local businesses heed the social and environmental consequences of these processes. Meanwhile, the cheapest goods may arrive to Hawaii from sweatshops in China, while the cheapest coffee comes not from Kona but from distant countries that exploit labor and poison soils. How can there be true profiteering, then, when the consequences include social injustice and environmental degradation? Most Americans lack the proper information to make informed choices in this realm.
For this reason, the national green business and socially responsible investment (SRI) industries are actively promoting “better” companies which adhere to a higher standard.  Green America’s National Green Pages (www.greenpages.org), for example, profiles 2000 businesses which demonstrate an ongoing commitment to sustainability as core business practice. These businesses adopt principles, policies, and practices that care for people and the Earth through strategies such as employee ownership, use of recycled and biodegradable materials, eco-packaging, community charitable involvement, progressive employee benefits, and money back guarantees. In Hawaii, examples of green businesses include: Green Skins Tapa Designs in Honolulu, which uses tree-free paper; Island Hemp Wear in Kekaha, a natural fiber clothing store; Kokua Market in Honolulu, Hawaii’s only organic foods cooperative; and Bamboo Technologies in Makawao, which builds bamboo residences and structures.
In addition, many local chefs, including Alan Wong and Roy Yamaguchi, favor the use of locally grown organic produce for their savory dishes. By developing long-term contractual relationships with these farmers, certified organic agriculture has become a boom industry in Hawaii. This includes everything from salad greens, onions, and sweet potatoes to grass-fed hormone- and antibiotic-free beef, eggs, and goat cheese.
One of the most popular ways to invest in sustainability is by opening an account at a community development bank, credit union, or loan fund. These financial institutions differ from conventional ones in that their mission has a social agenda such as empowering those who lack traditional access to capital or financing sustainable enterprises. Lokahi Pacific on Maui (www.lokahipacific.org) provides housing and small business loans to outer-island low-income citizens who might not qualify for traditional financing. At the Permaculture Credit Union (www.pcuonline.org), car loan rates are based on a car’s miles per gallon, a nice financial incentive to act ecologically. For a comprehensive list of community investing alternatives, visit www.ussif.org/communityinvesting.
There are also larger corporations in Hawaii which demonstrate their commitment to social and environmental sustainability. Maui Land & Pineapple, for example, has an explicit vision to create and manage holistic communities that integrate agriculture, wise stewardship of natural resources and eco-effective design principles to build a sustainable future. Its commitment to organic pineapple production, environmentalism at its Kapalua properties, and watershed preservation, position the company as a leader in values-based operations.
Hoku Scientific, based on Oahu and now publicly-traded on the NASDAQ, is involved in hydrogen fuel cell production both for stationery and automotive uses.
Cyanotech, of Kona, is a global producer of microalgae products for health and human nutrition, using the deep sea water at the Natural Energy Laboratory in West Hawaii to grow antioxidant-rich spirulina and other blue-green algaes.
The movement towards green business in Hawaii is further strengthened by the business community and state government. The Hawaii Green Business Program, a partnership between the Departments of Health,  Business Economic Development and Tourism, and the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii, assists and recognizes hotels and resorts that operate in an environmentally responsible way. The program, which includes such locales as the Hilton Hawaiian Village, Kahala Mandarin, and Mauna Lani Bay as models, helps businesses to go beyond compliance to conserve energy, water and other resources, and to reduce pollution and waste. The program aims to tackle large office buildings next.
The Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce is about to unveil a Kuleana Green Business Program which recognizes businesses in all industries that demonstrate social and environmental consciousness. Businesses will be able to use a special logo in their marketing efforts and receive awards, while an educational program will help any business improve in these areas.
More and more businesses are operating in ways which reflect their social justice and environmental values. Today, people can use money to live lightly on the Earth, purchase green products, support social and economic equity, and invest in a socially responsible manner, thereby assuring that the legacy left to future generations reflects an ethic of care for people and the Earth. This is essential for the planet, and Hawaii could become a model for ecological and economic self-sufficiency.


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