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Sustainable Hawaii Businesses

Source & Photo Source: HawaiiBusiness.com

The pace at which sustainability has been adopted as a sound business imperative is impressive. A few years ago, most companies would have put it in a silo, where a small portion of profits would be dedicated to “greening” along with other community outreach. Today, many business leaders discuss sustainability as an essential part of the company, with terms such as payback periods, rising utility costs, meeting customer demand as well as being a good corporate citizen. Here are five local companies from diverse industries that are demonstrating the way to greener pastures.


Merriman’s restaurants helped pioneer Hawaii Regional Cuisine, which spurred the movement to eat local. When Peter Merriman founded the first Merriman’s in Waimea on Hawaii Island in 1988, agriculture in the state was still dominated by sugar cane and pineapple plantations, and finding local produce was difficult. Merriman worked with and encouraged farmers to cultivate more local vegetables and fruits, which he purchased and used in his restaurant, because he thought food tasted best when it was fresh.

“Diners loved the flavors of super-fresh food,” Merriman says. “Items unique to the tropics of Hawaii such as white pineapple, hearts of palm and apple bananas added to the sense of discovery.”

About 90 percent of the food eaten in Hawaii is imported from the mainland and elsewhere, and that requires a lot of energy and other resources to package. A Hawaii Department of Agriculture report published in 2008 showed that shifting our consumption of local versus imported food by 10 percentage points would pump an additional $313 million into the state economy every year.

Merriman is all for that. He famously told local growers who were among the pioneers supplying his first restaurant, “I want to see you guys drive up in a Mercedes one day.”

Merriman’s says its six restaurants on the Neighbor Islands, including two new Monkeypod Kitchen locations, source 90 percent of their ingredients locally, and use organically grown products whenever possible to encourage local growers to eliminate the use of agricultural chemicals that can harm water supplies and soil.

Though Hawaii Regional Cuisine has gained popularity since its founding in 1991, and many restaurants and stores trumpet their locally produced food, a state Department of Agriculture report showed that, from 1994 to 2005, Hawaii actually increased its dependence on food imports. Merriman acknowledges the higher price of local produce, but focuses on its better quality. “We always expect to pay more for the best-tasting ingredients,” he says. “Food grown in Hawaii tastes better. That’s really what we sell, great taste and a great experience.”

Ko Olina Resort and Marina

Ko Olina says it has worked hard to incorporate sustainability and community outreach across its many resident companies, which include Disney’s Aulani, Marriott’s Ko Olina Beach Club, residences, restaurants and a golf course.

For Ko Olina, sustainability may be more important as a good neighbor policy than a way to connect with customers or cut costs. With its proximity to the Waianae Coast and the rest of Leeward Oahu, it has crafted policies friendly to the local community. These include sourcing local food, art and other products. A program called, “The Spirit of Ko Olina: How to Give Back” sponsors local nonprofits, including MAO Organic Farms’ social-entrepreneurship programs, Makaha Studios, Waianae High School’s Searider Productions, the Native Hawaiian Traditional Healing Center, the Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center, the Junior Lifeguard Program and the Kalaeloa Heritage & Legacy Foundation. Learn more about Ko Olina Charity.

Sustainability is evident throughout the Ko Olina grounds. Ko Olina says all businesses at the resort agreed voluntarily to phase out plastic bags; LED light bulbs are used in all street lighting; resort staff and security use electric vehicles; and only nonpotable water is used to irrigate the golf course and resort areas. In the near future, says Leilei Shih, environmental director of Ko Olina Resort & Marina, the resort is planning a service where guests can rent electric and hybrid cars by the hour, LEED building developments and increasing its solar PV installations.

Ko Olina has a powerful reason to support efforts such as waste reduction and green-waste reduction: In 2011, the nearby Waimanalo Gulch landfill overflowed, and medical waste and other debris washed up on the Ko Olina beaches. Shih says the people who work at Ko Olina share the commitment to sustainability.

“Sustainable living is a way of life for the Ko Olina community and its guests,” she says. “All of the employees I’ve talked to are very excited about the current and future sustainability initiatives. I often have employees sharing ideas about how to become even more sustainable.”

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