The University of Hawai'i System Heads Toward its First Sustainability Policy
AASHE's Jillian Buckholz, University of Hawai'i Maui College's Joie Taylor and Hawai'i Pacific University's Josh Prigge.
This month AASHE was invited to give a keynote presentation and overview of its Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS) at the first-ever Hawai’i Sustainability in Higher Education Summit. I was honored to be asked to attend on behalf of AASHE and learn more about the sustainability efforts at the colleges and universities in our 50th state.
The Summit was located at the University of Hawai’i West Oahu, which is in Kapolei on the Southwest part of the island where the largest population of native Hawaiians live. The landscape is dry and reminded me a lot of Northern California's climate in the valley. Hawaiian's are very protective of their culture, take pride in living Aloha, and enjoy "talking story" (chatting with each other).
The two-day event started off with Welina, a Hawaiian opening protocol that paid respect to the history and culture of the Summit’s location. Speakers including the University of West Oahu Director of Sustainability Aurora Winslade, University of Hawai’i Vice President for Community Colleges John Morton, University of Hawai’i Hilo Sustainability Coordinator Cam Muir and Hawai’i Pacific University Sustainability Coordinator Josh Prigge addressed the Summit’s main purpose of bringing together campus sustainability stakeholders and students to talk story and advance the draft of the University of Hawai’i System’s first sustainability policy.
A talk by University of Hawai’i Student Regent Jeffrey Acido was especially poignant during the welcome address. Discussing the human element of sustainability, he compassionately reminded us that Hawaiian culture and the respect for all peoples – especially those that are less fortunate – must not be forgotten by sustainability efforts at our colleges and universities.
Being part of a state university system’s first sustainability policy was really interesting. Summit support from top campus officials including Associated Students of the University of Hawai’i West Oahu President Stacy Garcia, University of Hawai’i West Oahu Chancellor Gene Awakuni and University of Hawai’i System President M.R.C. Greenwood, illustrated that the University of Hawai’i System is passionate and dedicated to integrating sustainability through Hawaiian colleges and universities. Participants were more than happy to see this support, with many feeling that this movement in Hawai’i is long past due.
As an AASHE representative, my main goal was to let Hawaiian colleges and universities know that just because sustainability efforts are just starting on their campuses, there is no reason to reinvent the wheel. I was happy for the opportunity to share the case studies, tools and examples in our STARS program and Resource Center designed to help campuses just like those in Hawai’i who are working toward sustainability.
The Summit helped move the sustainability policy forward with facilitated discussions on a draft of the policy. Participants were first asked to share what they liked, what could be removed, and any glaring omissions or general themes.
In part two of this policy discussion, participants chose the topic they most wanted to discuss when it came to moving the policy forward. The audience broke into various groups based on these topics, organizing imperative elements to consider during the next steps of moving the policy forward including budget and developing and measuring metrics, as examples.
The Summit proved that Hawai’i has a fair amount of inspiration to draw from as it goes through this policy process. Leith Sharp, chair of the Sustainability Futures Academy and Harvard sustainability instructor, Skyped in from Australia to share examples of how sustainable concepts have been integrated into campuses throughout the world.
Matthew St. Clair from the University of California Office of the President (UCOP) shared how UCOP has worked over the past few years with little to no budget to integrate sustainability throughout all of the 10 University of California campuses, resulting in over $90 million of savings. Matthew's talk couldn’t have been more appropriate since the University of Hawai’i system is starting off in a similar predicament – the need to get started as soon as possible and make big changes with little resources to support the effort.
The Summit ended with a closing circle lead by Kamu from MA’O Farms. The closing was very appropriate as it brought Hawaiian tradition back to the participants, similar to the tradition shared at the opening of the Summit. Participants stood hand-in-hand, reflected on the event, and then slowly went about their own separate ways.
Some would convene again the next day to debrief about the event and discuss next steps to move the University of Hawai’i System sustainability policy forward to the chancellors and regents. Others would take what they learned, along with the motivation that came with the knowledge, back to their campuses to implement policies and programs to help move their campuses towards sustainability.
Overall, the Summit was a huge success. Stakeholders from campuses throughout the state had a chance to meet, collaborate, and share with each other – something that I learned is a rare occurrence. Further development on the first sustainability policy for the University of Hawai’i system occurred with input from various campuses, students, faculty, staff, and professionals outside of higher education. Students re-convened after a meeting earlier in the week to discuss their role in sustainability efforts on their individual campuses and how to create a statewide student group focused on sustainability initiatives.
I want to give a big congratulations to all of those that made the Summit a reality. I'm already looking forward to next year!
For more on sustainability happenings on the West Oahu campus, watch this short video featuring Aurora Winslade.
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