County of Hawaii Sustainability Summit 2021

by Kristen Okinaka | March 22, 2021

The County of Hawaii took the first step to become more sustainable and resilient by bringing together leaders from diverse sectors for a Sustainability Summit on March 4–5, 2021. Hosted by the Office of the Mayor, the virtual event was broadcast on Na Leo Channel 54 and via Zoom and viewed by more than 2,300 people.

“We intend on listening to the ideas that come out of this summit, to making some of these things a reality,” said Mayor Mitch Roth. “This is just the beginning of a journey…. I encourage you to reflect on the things we talk about here at this conference. Think about the ideas, think about how they’ll affect you and our environment. Share with us. How do we make them better? How do we make them work for all of us and for all of you?”

The summit included breakout sessions on affordable housing, Aloha+ Challenge, climate, economy, energy, environment, food security, health care, mobility, sustainable agriculture, sustainable tourism, technology, waste management, and workforce/education.

Leaders from Hawaiian Electric participated in the energy, mobility, and climate change/resilience sessions and provided these updates:

  • We achieved a renewable portfolio standard (RPS) of about 43 percent on Hawaii Island in 2020. Puna Geothermal Venture (PGV) returned to service in November. If PGV was in full service the entire year, the island’s RPS would’ve been about 75 percent.

Scott Seu, Hawaiian Electric president and CEO, was one of seven keynote speakers who shared their perspective on Hawaiian culture, education, energy, environment, sustainability, and tourism.

“Empathy is so critical to achieving sustainability for our island, for our state, and for our planet,” he said. “You need to first and foremost understand the different experiences, the different stakeholders, the different issues that are surrounding the situation before you even think about a solution.”

Traditional, technical approaches to solving problems no longer work. The community has a voice and wants to understand what the situation is and what the different options are before decisions are made, Seu said. Through years of experience, the company’s approach to community engagement has evolved to consider, “How do we design this with them, not for them.”

“We have our work cut out for us. We’re not there yet,” he said. “We’ve seen the light over the years of what empathy can do and we’re committed to this.”

It’s also important to break down silos and take a holistic approach that seeks to reduce “either-or” choices and creates policies that encourage broad participation in efforts to reduce and offset emissions and balance tradeoffs in a way that maximizes community benefit and minimizes social inequity, he said.

Mayor Roth closed the summit with a call to action. “This is just the beginning. We need to put words to action,” he said. “From the county, we will be looking at the things that we can do but we hope that all of you start putting those words to action as well — think globally but act locally.”

To view the event recordings, visit To learn more about Hawaiian Electric, visit

Kristen Okinaka is a senior communications consultant for Hawaiian Electric on Hawaii Island.

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