Sustainability on the Big Island

Last month, Mike Purcell and I travelled to the Big Island of Hawai’i to deliver a series of public workshops and one two-and-a-half day capacity building session with representatives of various island businesses and organizations. Needless to say we took a lot of ribbing from colleagues and customs agents about going to Hawai’i to work, but the truth is, this was a hugely successful project that brought hope and enthusiasm to participants and advisors alike. Why?

In our work, people typically begin to deeply address the sustainability challenge for one or both of the following reasons: there is a fire in the room (to mitigate risk) and / or there is a pot of gold in another (to capture opportunity). This is bolstered by proof of possibility (examples of what others have successfully done) and for some, a sense of ‘doing the right thing’.

The Island of Hawai’i is about as far away from any other landmass (excluding the other Hawaiian islands) as it’s possible to get. They have built their own fire in the room by asking the question, “What happens if the boat stops coming?” (Hawai’i islanders import 99.9% of all transportation fuel and the bulk of their food supply, making offshore fuel and agriculture a lifeline).

For workshop participants, the pot of gold was obvious as well: quality of life, resilience, flourishing communities and societal longevity. Proof of possibility has always been present on Hawai’i; traditional Hawaiians lived on the island in much greater numbers than current populations and were totally self sustaining. In short, all the elements for a process of transformative change toward sustainability (for business, government and others) are in place.

We were strongly affected by the sense of hope, creativity, ingenuity, pragmatism and far-sightedness of the Hawaiian people. There are huge resources present on the island of Hawai’i and certainly the will, skill and talent is there to make real change toward sustainability happen. Given the bounded nature of the island, Hawai’i is a perfect living laboratory in which to test the science and practice of sustainability. Keep your eye on this one!

Want to know more? Click here to listen to a podcast interview Sarah Brooks gave in Hawai'i.