Alternative Energy

Published on April 3rd, 2015 | by Guest Contributor


Sustainable Living in Honolulu: Public Transit, Biking, Renewables, Recycling, Compost, and Local Food

Screen Shot 2015-04-03 at 10.26.35 AMSustainability is just about the biggest buzzword since synergy or gluten. It’s popping out of more and more mouths (and blogs) because more and more of us are beginning to realize that critical aspects of our daily lives – transportation, food, waste, power production, water management – have become complex systems that aren’t always designed to be self-sustaining. While some citizens may be investing in their post civil-society-collapse bunkers, many others are working within their cities to create new visions of these shared systems that are designed with sustainability and regeneration in mind. Green Living Ideas wants to showcase all of the creative, resourceful, and community-focused ways that this is happening across the U.S. What follows is a sampling of the creative, resourceful ways that Honolulu, Hawaii is transitioning toward a sustainable future. Follow the links provided to learn more and get involved.

Honolulu’s biggest sustainability challenge

As part of our localized sustainable living challenge, we present what we think is the top challenge for residents in Honolulu regarding sustainability. Honolulu is a tropical climate, and as such, air conditioning is the biggest energy user across the state. As noted by Hawaiian Electric Company, A/C is hands-down the biggest energy user in homes, and represents a great opportunity for us to cut our footprint.

Here’s a top ten (actually eleven) list of ways to keep yourself and your home cool.


Of all places to be self-sufficient in power generation, Hawai’i, with its volcanoes, consistent wind, sun, and tidal power should be top of the list, yes? Surprisingly, Hawaii is the most oil-dependent state in America. It imported 46.3 million barrels of oil for all of Hawaii’s energy production last year. As with the sectors above, organizations and citizens of Honolulu are working hard to increase the sustainability of our energy sector, and drastically drop that statistic. While alternative power generation projects are launching across the State, most exciting is the work being done right in Honolulu for energy efficiency – the easiest, most accessible, and cost effective approach to reducing oil dependence.

1)  The company I work for, Pono Home, is a local business that provides residential energy efficiency assessments, minor appliance maintenance, and fixture installation to help ratepayers lower their utility bills and the consumption of energy produced by oil. Pono Home makes it convenient to be efficient and sustainable in your home. It’s sustainability, delivered.

pono home

2)   Blue Planet Foundation is managing another exciting efficiency project. It’s called WEfficiency. It allows community members to subsidize efficiency upgrades and retrofits for nonprofits through a “loan.” Contributors to the loan are then repaid from the savings realized. It’s a great way to see efficiency happen on a large scale, allowing the community, not banks, to choose whom to fund.

3)   Hawaii Energy, Hawai’i state’s energy conservation and efficiency program, offers several fantastic home and business rebate and incentive programs for efficiency upgrades to your refrigerator, HVAC system, water heater, and other fixtures. Here is information on other energy rebates and incentives:

Refrigerator/freezer: “Rid-a-fridge” program. Oahu households will receive $50 for old, working units. Hawaii Energy will pick up, remove and recycle the old unit. For pickup, call (808) 537-5577.

Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC)

Other appliances, including ceiling fans, clothes washers, etc.

Water heating

Other rebates, including a Variable Frequency Drive Pool Pump


Honolulu has claimed a dubious distinction over the last several years, jockeying back and forth with Los Angeles for the worst traffic in the entire country. Those commuting into and around Honolulu spent an average 60, irretrievable hours in traffic last year. Many alternative transportation models are already operating in Honolulu and quickly gaining speed (please forgive the pun). Whether it is biking, mass transit, or walking, Honolulu has its share of options with much lower impacts on our shared resources and environment than driving. 

1)   Take advantage of the new protected bike lane on King Street that opened December 6th, 2014 as part of the BYK project.  An additional cycle track on the Beretania corridor is in the works, as well.

Screen Shot 2015-04-03 at 11.00.52 AM

2)   Sign up for the bikeshare program that is coming to Honolulu and use this bike routes map from Hawaii Bicycling League to find the safest routes.

3)   Join the Hawaii Bicycling League to support safe cycling in Honolulu, and throughout Hawaii. Join in on their weekly community bike rides, and take a class on smart riding and repair.

4)   Ride the bus! Oahu’s TheBus is actually an award-winning system, providing 93 routes, covering all of Oahu. Just visiting? Consider the Waikiki Trolley, which serves many major Honolulu attractions.

5)   The rail. A rail system to serve Honolulu and surrounding regions has been a project decades in the making. For updates on the rail’s development, check here. To see the proposed routes for the initial stages, check out this Map.



You’re not alone if you are thinking it seems insane that an island with a year-round growing season and fertile soils imports 90% of its food. That is the reality for Honolulu and Oahu, though. Transitioning back to local food production is more than possible for Honolulu; it’s already begun. Many desire a return to the ahupua’a system in which Hawai’i was self-sustaining. See below for some awesome organizations and businesses that are working to aid the transition of Honolulu back to a local food paradise. 

1)   Farmer’s markets are popping up all over Honolulu, allowing farmers to sell locally grown food directly to their customers. Check out this map to find a market near you. Tip: If you truly want local, ask the vendor which farm it is from and get details. Many food stands around town sell food that is actually imported. This will help you get to know your farmer and what kinds of farming practices are used. Businesses like Oahu Fresh provide delivery of local produce across Honolulu and Oahu, and non-profits like Aloha Harvest and GreenWheel Food Hub work to get fresh, local food out to those who may not be able to afford it.

2)   Growing the next generation of farmers: The College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR) has a great set of resources for those who want to grow local food. The GoFarm and Student Organic Farming Training (SOFT) programs are already creating the next generation of farmers to help feed Honolulu and Hawaii. Check here for more info. Check out local workshops and classes on creating backyard victory gardens and permaculture design courses to take matters into your own hands, and grow your own!

3)   Many groups like the Trust for Public Land are working to protect these large-scale tracts of land that will aid in Honolulu and all of Hawaii’s transition to food sovereignty. Kamehameha Schools, the largest private landowner in the state, has its own program to increase local food production – Mahi’ai Matchup. The Agribusiness Development Corporation, an agency of the Hawaii Dept. of Agriculture, has been acquiring more and more land in central Oahu to develop a large central Ag park.

A group called Urban Farm Hawaii has made its mission to populate public, urban spaces in Hawaii with food crops bringing the connection between food and land back into the daily consciousness through visibility. You can see one of their projects, a long stretch of kalo (taro) on Ala Moana Blvd in Honolulu.

4)   To support Honolulu restaurants that use primarily low carbon footprint and locally grown ingredients, check out this sampling of restaurants: Simple JoyGreens & VinesTownKaimuki Superette, Alan Wong’s, Kaimana Farm Café, and Seed.



Every city deals with how to manage its municipal solid waste. It gets a bit more complicated, though, when you live on an island that imports the majority of its goods with excess packaging, exports its recyclables across oceans, burns trash rather than utilize it, and has landfills bursting past the limit. In Honolulu, a 2006 waste study showed that approximately 70% of what enters the waste stream could be composted. Efforts are underway to reduce Honolulu’s creation of excess waste in packaging and single-use goods, and increase composting to create valuable products in a closed-loop system.

1)   Styrophobia, Kokua Hawaii Foundation, and Kupu Hawaii’s RISE program are all non-profits undertaking the mission to increase composting statewide and address Hawaii’s excessive generation of trash, especially single-use plastics.

2)   The City and County of Honolulu was the latest of the Hawaiian counties to pass a ban on single-use plastic checkout bags, making Hawaii the first state in the country to pass such a measure. Honolulu’s bag ban goes into effect July 2015. This was done to protect the health of Hawaii’s watersheds and animal life, as well as the health of its residents and visitors.

3)   Honolulu’s yard and green waste is collected as a part of the weekly City and County waste collection in those green bins. All of that is transported to the Hawaiian Earth Products center, where it is processed and composted in giant windrows. Green waste and food waste can also be dropped off for composting. This facility was to be converted to accommodate Honolulu’s food waste, but at the last minute was denied the allocated $10 million in funding.

4)   A 1996 City and County of Honolulu ordinance (Ch. 9-3.5) states that Hotels, restaurants, grocery stores, food courts, food manufacturers/processors and hospitals of a certain size must recycle their food waste. Businesses like Ecofeed have emerged to pick up this food waste and provide it as feed for local hog farmers.

5)   Check out these pages for a full list of recycling businesses and “what goes where” resources that can help you keep your waste out of the landfills and incinerators that are fed by Honolulu.

6) Save money by bringing a reusable grocery bag to the store. At the time of this writing, here are the stores that offer cash back at the register for grocery bags you bring and reuse:

Safeway: 5 cents per bag
Whole Foods: 10 cents per bag
Down To Earth: 10 cents per bag

 7) Other resources for challenging disposal items:

E-waste recycling

Household hazardous waste disposal

Fluorescent tube lighting & CFLs
Also, CFLs (not tubes) can be taken to any Oahu Home Depot’s returns desk for recycling

8) Stop junk mail:

FTC Opt-out info



In the Hawaiian language the word for fresh water is wai, and the word for wealth is wai wai – an abundance of water. The traditional Hawaiian people knew that fresh, uncontaminated water was true wealth. In Honolulu there are many groups that are working to not only sustain Honolulu’s true wealth, including our oceans, but also return it to a state of purity that strengthens our watersheds.

1)   The Oahu chapter of Surfrider Foundation and Permablitz Hawaii have joined up to create Surfblitz. This project aims to create new, local food garden spaces specifically designed to retain water in place instead of creating runoff, which is a large problem in over-paved cities like Honolulu. As the runoff makes its way to the sea it collects pollutants, harming watersheds from the mountains to the sea, mauka to makai. Check out their websites to join the next blitz!

2)   The Oahu chapter of Surfrider is also leading the way on protecting our watersheds in the Hawaii legislature. Check out the latest updates on the 2014-2015 session and which bills are still alive and need our voices heard.

3)   The Honolulu Board of Water Supply has multiple partnerships with landowners and non-profit groups to preserve Honolulu’s precious watersheds. Check out their page to learn how you can work with these groups.

4)   Surfrider Foundation, Sustainable Coastlines, and Trees to Seas (among many others) are doing incredible work to protect our marine resources through beach cleanups, data collection and research, and public education.

5) Water-wise planting resources:

Board of Water Supply


Sustainability in Honolulu: A Journey

What’s listed above is nowhere near a complete representation of all of the incredible work being done to transition Honolulu and surrounding areas to a sustainable and regenerative future, but it gives you some idea of just how powerful the movement toward sustainable futures is here in Paradise. You can also subscribe to Green Magazine, Hawaii’s leading sustainable living publication. Whether you’re visiting or local, you have lots of options to help right here in Honolulu.


About the author: 

JenniferJennifer Milholen has been living in Hawaii just short of a decade. In that time she has found so many numerous threads of community and sustainability interweaving as to be inspired by how powerful of a transition Hawaii is making back toward self-sufficiency and regeneration. Jennifer has worked across the sectors of energy and water efficiency, waste management and composting, watershed protection, and sustainable agriculture. Currently, her main focus is providing convenient and effective efficiency assessments and installations to the residences of Hawaii with Pono Home. In her spare time, Jennifer is an activity junkie and can often be found sailing, paddling, dancing, hiking and hula hooping around the islands.



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