Sustainability at the University of Hawaii


Friday was Earth Day. Funny to take a moment to think about actually making positive changes in the way that we do things and how simple it actually is to change them. Sometimes, living in this society of production, consumption, and waste, it is easy to think that the way we are doing things is the only way. Or the most advanced way. This is unfortunately, not the case.
On the campus at the University of Hawaii (and I’m sure elsewhere too) there was an all day event that focused on the ways things can change and how simple and beneficial these changes can be. Visiting and resident experts discussed a huge variety of actions. All of the projects and organizations there deserve mention, however, a few of them caught my interest more than others.
Sustainable Saunders is the group that organized a lot of the event. They are in the process of taking the building I currently spend the most time in on campus and turning it into a model of sustainability. They intend to use innovative and creative solutions to make Saunders Hall into something very different than it is today. Today it is an incredibly inefficient, concrete building…tomorrow…well…we will see.
Pacific Biodiesel produces diesel oil from restaurant grease. They are one of the oldest commercially viable biodiesel companies around and have built plants in Hawaii and Japan. Have a look at this site…it’s much cooler than you may know about.
I took time to sit down and watch a scheduled screening of Who Killed the Electric Car? and was amazed to realize that not only has the mileage per gallon on cars not increased since the 1980’s, but it has actually gone down! Watch this movie, it is told from a clearly eco-centric viewpoint, but tell me, is there anything wrong with that? The guy that stood out in the movie was Stanford Ovshinsky, a man who The Economist has called the Edison of our age. Not only has he designed viable batteries that make electric cars totally feasible and affordable (you may ask why they are not….watch the film), but Ovshinsky has also developed thin, flexible solar panels that you can nail to your roof. And much more…
In terms of inventions, I was pretty stoked to see a couple of things….those of you who don’t live in Hawaii may not be aware of the fact that we have a few issues with garbage here. We produce a lot of it and we live on an island that is further from anywhere than just about anywhere. Our two solutions have been barging the trash to the mainland or putting it in landfills.Neither is sustainable. One innovative solution has been to reduce the volume of trash from Oahu’s landfills by burning it in a controlled setting, using the heat to create electrical power, as explained in the video “Resource Recovery.” After electricity is generated, the result is ash, which is hauled off to the landfill for disposal. This is called H-Power. I spoke with one of the engineers from H-power and he showed me an innovative project they have developed to take the ash from the H-power plant and turn it into cinder blocks. I love this…not only does it reduce trash in the landfills, it produced electricity here cleanly, and it creates building materials that don’t have to be shipped from the mainland. While he had a brick to demonstrate that this building material is better than cement cinder blocks, he said that as yet, they have not yet built anything. Another product they have developed at H-power is a fuel pellet that is made from waste.
Another innovative exhibitor had created picnic ware from local materials. I can’t find her card, but when I do, I will link to her site. Her company has created plastic-like utensils from corn and paper plates and cups from sugarcane. These products are 100% biodegradable, sturdy, and non toxic. Plus, they contain zero petroleum.
There was much more, but now I need to go find what I did with the flyers and business cards I collected along the way. Check out the links above and become outraged, then, do something.
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