Sustainability — reviewing our progress

by Diana Duff
Special To West Hawaii Today

Sunday, October 24, 2010 7:19 AM HST
Sustainability has become a kind of tired buzzword. Businesses are clambering to be labeled “green.” Political pressure to be Earth-friendly has caused changes that sometimes result in increased effort and higher prices, but most of us are still participating in endeavors toward zero waste.

Every little step toward a more sustainable lifestyle is good, but with all the buzz it’s easy to lose the impetus to continue reducing your ecological footprint. It may be time to check your progress. Go to and answer questions to calculate your current demand on our natural resources.

The results reflect the speed at which you consume resources and generate waste compared to nature’s ability to generate new resources and absorb our waste. They indicate the amount of resources required for you to continue consuming and disposing as you are doing today. You may be shocked.

In 1961, most countries of the world had ecological surpluses. These surpluses dwindled over the years and pressure on the remaining biocapacity grew to the point that our demands have grown by over 50 percent in the last 50 years. This means the equivalent of 1.5 planets are required today to provide the resources we consume and absorb what we discard. The Earth needs a year and a half to recover from our annual impact. Simple math reveals that we are running out of space and time fast. If current trends continue, the United Nations estimates we’ll need more than two planets to support our lifestyle by 2030. With only one planet on hand, it seems imperative we add more sustainable practices to our lifestyle and that we do it now.

As gardeners we know growing our own food, creating our own inputs on site and buying what we can’t grow from local farmers or businesses are all important steps toward sustainability. Based on our observance of nature, we know mulch and compost can provide completely adequate plant nutrition while improving soil quality. We can also see nature’s biodiversity is the best shield against diseases or insects that attack stressed plants and can decimate a monoculture. And, research has shown that moving food quickly from the field to your plate provides the best nutritional value and least stress on the planet.

Okay, we are disposing of our kitchen and garden waste on site while we create healthy soil in our backyard compost or vermicompost bins. We are adding to soil fertility by planting nitrogen-fixing plants wherever we can. We are growing plants that do well here without offshore inputs. We are saving seeds to plant next season and share with our friends. We are installing catchment tanks of various sizes to collect rainwater for our plants. We are always thinking of new ways to reduce, reuse or recycle any waste our gardening habit produces.

Our current activities are helping for sure but we may also want to venture a bit farther and try some new farming and gardening practices that are enhancing plant health and food production in Hawaii. Go online, read a book or go to a class on Korean natural farming, biochar or aquaponics. See if any of the techniques suggested can help you produce more and healthier food using less resources. Add plants to your garden that have medicinal properties that match some of your personal needs. Plant trees to help reforest Kona. A forest of fruit trees doubles the value of your efforts. Plant trees to block wind or to shade your house and lessen your need for fans or air conditioning.

If you are doing all that, start moving beyond your own backyard. Tell the businesses you support you want them to buy local products and use recyclable packaging. Make it clear you will not shop there unless they do. Be willing to pay a few cents more for local, organic or sustainably produced foods. Tell your politicians you want them to support bills that benefit Hawaii’s ecology, natural resources and small family farms. Volunteer to help at an organization that uses and promotes sustainable practices and has sustainability as a goal or part of its mission.


Jamie Lee was the chairman of the vendors committee at Pua Plantasia.

Tropical gardening helpline

Janet asks: There was a photo on the front page of Tuesday’s paper of a lovely container garden in front of the new West Hawaii Emergency Housing Facility but no mention of it in the article. Who designed and installed it?

Answer: It is a nice garden and deserves close inspection. Go by and take a look. Bree DuPertuis, Kona Outdoor Circle’s former education director, and Drina Schroeder, the organization’s beautification vice president, took on the project as volunteers and amassed plants, soil, pots and a crew of organization friends and former students to install it on very short notice. The date of the blessing changed several times and once it was finally scheduled, the crew had a week to gather the materials and install them.

DuPertuis said thanks go out to many businesses and helping hands. Sam Cook and Sherrye Grotte did the design as a final project for their container gardening certification. Bella Pietra donated many of the pots. Tutu’s Plants, Sunrise Nursery, Kelly Greenwell’s nursery and Garrett Webb donated most of the plants for the project. HPM donated soil and, along with Lowe’s, offered discounts on other materials.

Students and friends worked for four days with several future clients to create the garden, which will be maintained by the clients. Two Kona Outdoor Circle board members and HOPE services donated food and drink for the work crew. The project was truly a community effort and deserves notice and thanks.

Duff is a plant adviser, consultant and organic farmer living in Captain Cook.

Gardening events

– Wednesday: “Plant Pathology” meets with Scot Nelson from the University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources from 6 to 8 p.m. at the North Hawaii Education and Research Center in Honokaa as part of “Practical Ag for Hamakua” series. The fee is $10 or $4 seniors/students. For more information or to register, contact Donna Mitts at 936-2117 or

– Saturday: “Local Style Luau” is scheduled from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Kohala Intergenerational Center, which is behind Kamehameha Park gym in Kapaau. The fee is $45 to learn to prepare and enjoy a traditional luau. Contact Erika at 884-5838 for more information.

– Ongoing: Plant advice lines — consult with Master Gardeners and Tropical Gardening advisers from 3 to 6 p.m. Mondays at the Kona Outdoor Circle at 331-2426 or 9 a.m. to noon Thursdays at the University of Hawaii Cooperative Extension Service at 322-4892, and Tuesdays and Fridays at UH CES in Hilo at 981-5199.

West Hawaii Today – Features > Sustainability — reviewing our progress

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