Archive for the ‘Green business’ Category

Finding a tree

December 14th, 2015


Oh, Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree, thy leaves are so unchanging...Not only green when summer's here, but also when it's cold and drear...

Shopping for a Christmas tree takes on new meaning when you visit an actual farm and see the trees that are growing out of the ground up close. That's why the trip to Helamano Farms on Whitmore Avenue in Wahiawa was worth the drive the weekend after Thanksgiving (and honestly, it's not that bad, as long as there's no traffic).

Thanksgiving in Hawaii this year was rainy, so the red dirt was still a bit soggy, but it was nevertheless fun to walk  between the rows of Norfolk pines, exploring the Leyland cypresses and new this year — silver-blue Carolina Sapphires and evergreen Japanese Yoshino cedar trees.

It was our first time visiting the farm, though it had been on my to-do list for a few years. I'm so happy we finally made it.

Our dog, Kona (a Springer spaniel mix from the Hawaiian Humane Society) and my son Brandon, 5, loved roaming the grounds. Kona loved sniffing around the tree trunks (and will remember all the smells, I'm sure). Brandon just loved running among the trees.

From the moment we parked and stepped on to the farm, we found the staff friendly and welcoming. Ezekiel Gamponia-Tyrell showed us around, helped us pick out a Leyland cypress and sawed it down. Some people wander around for more than an hour finding just the right tree. We found ours within about 15 minutes.

But you're still welcome to wander around after you've found your tree, and take photos (see my photo gallery below).

Before we knew it, Ezekiel had the tree hefted over his shoulder and headed toward checkout, then he netted it and helped load it into the back of the pickup truck.

Ezekiel Gamponia-Tyrell, a worker at Helemano Farms, helps customers select, cut down and load the tree on to their vehicles.

Ezekiel Gamponia-Tyrell, a worker at Helemano Farms, helps customers select, cut down and load the tree on to their vehicles.

Every year, people in Hawaii are so used to waiting in anticipation for the trees to be shipped over here from Oregon and Washington state, and picking out a tree from a parking lot. While I know some people are just wedded to the idea of the Noble fir with its particular pine scent for Christmas, a local tree makes a great alternative.

You would be cutting out the carbon pollution of shipping trees across the ocean, the risks of invasive pests, mostly yellow jacket wasps and slugs, and supporting a local, family-owned business. I think it'd be great if there was more than just one Christmas tree farm on Oahu.

As of Dec. 1 this year, 201 containers with 126,020 Christmas trees arrived in the isles, according to the Hawaii Department of Agriculture, which inspects the ships upon arrival. Eleven containers were held for treatment — two had yellow jack wasps and nine had slugs.

I would say that the trip to the farm was part of the fun.

At the farm, there are also lovely, handmade Norfolk pine wreathes for $25 and homemade jellies (mountain apple, lilikoi and more) for $10.

Dogs on leashes are welcome at the farm, a wonderful part of the experience. Helemano Farms is at the end of Whitmore Ave. (turn right into the parking lot just before the military base). Hours are from noon to sunset Wednesdays through Fridays and from 10 a.m. to sunset on weekends. Prices start at $45 and up for a Norfolk pine (starting at five-feet tall), and $60 and up for Leyland cypresses and other trees. You can also find Helemano Farms on Facebook.

More photos:






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Q&A, Anissa Gunther, Kailua Sailboards

February 6th, 2015


Q&A with Anissa Gunther, manager, Kailua Sailboards & Kayaks

Founded in 1982, Kailua Sailboards & Kayaks offers kayak, stand-up paddle and snorkel gear rentals while also offering adventure tours out to the Mokuluas.

But the watersports company also believes in stewardship of the natural environment and education. Last year, the company transformed the Malama Lounge, where visitors go to watch a safety video, into the Kailua Bay Education Center, offering interactive displays about plastic pollution's impact on the ocean, as well as information on Hawaii's endangered birds and Hawaiian monk seals.

They learn that eight out of the top 10 items found during last year's International Coastal Cleanup Day were plastics related to eating and drinking. While stand-up paddling and kayaking with pet pooches has become an increasingly common sight in Kailua, dogs are not allowed at Flat Island or the Mokuluas, all protected wildlife bird sanctuaries.

Two years ago, the business voluntarily stopped offering customers plastic checkout bags at its surf shop, offering paper or reusable bags instead. Kailua Sailboards & Kayaks is also certified by the Hawaii Ecotourism Association.

Gunther, 39, a kayaker, volleyball player and mother, also organizes habitat restoration trips to the Mokuluas in partnership with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources. A small group of volunteers helps restore the islets by removing invasive species from January through March. Kailua Sailboards provides kayaks and  equipment to get out there, plus lunch, and helps coordinate the volunteers. The partnership is in its fourth year. If interested, email

Q: How did you become interested in conservation?

A: I grew up on the East Coast of the U.S. mainland and became passionate about the ocean due to many summers spent at North Carolina beaches. When I was 15 years old, I talked my parents into taking me to the 1990 Earth Day celebration (I believe it was the 20 year anniversary) held on the steps of the Capitol in Washington D.C. The message to protect our planet really struck me and led me to earn a Bachelor of Science in Biology with a minor in Marine Sciences from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. I was unsure of what field to pursue, so I took off on a world trip to think about it. I discovered a new passion in travel and adventure eco tourism, which eventually landed me in Hawaii to manage this amazing water sports shop.

Q: Of all that you do in educating others about Hawaii's natural habitat, what has been the most rewarding?

A:  It's too hard to choose which effort is most rewarding. Witnessing a healthy seabird habitat that was once riddled with invasive plants is a great reward. Hauling hundreds of pounds of plastic off of the beach is rewarding and so is winning the Ultimate Sand Sifter Challenge. Knowing that the KSK team puts its heart and soul into protecting Hawaii's natural resources is truly gratifying.

Q: What are the most unusual items your renters have carried back from a trek out to the ocean? (Renters are encouraged to pick up trash during their adventures. These are all put on display for educational purposes).

A: Renters and tour customers bring back all types of marine debris — shoes, tires, wrappers, bottles and fishing industry debris. Some of the most unusual items are free weights, bullet shells, part of a laundry basket and a power boat seat.

Q: Next you plan to add a coral reef and Hawaiian honu exhibit. What else is on your wish list?

A: Volunteers. Experts who can contribute advice, time and effort towards helping us to create effective and impactful exhibits.

Plastic pollution collected from Kailua Beach Park on display.

Plastic pollution collected from Kailua Beach Park on display.

Posted in Green business, marine debris, Plastic | Comments Off on Q&A, Anissa Gunther, Kailua Sailboards

Solar-powered Rainbow

November 10th, 2014

Rainbow Drive-In installed a solar PV system that should shave 60 percent off its electricity bill once it's up and running. The solar array extends over beams that create shaded parking. Photo by Nina Wu.

Rainbow Drive-In installed a solar PV system that should shave 60 percent off its electricity bill once it's up and running. The solar array extends over beams — a solar canopy — that also offers shaded parking. Photo by Nina Wu.

Rainbow Drive-In, a longtime favorite in Kapahulu, has gone solar.

You may have actually parked  beneath the solar canopy, which provides shaded parking while supporting photovoltaic panels. While the 56.1-kilowatt system installed by Kama‘aina Solar Solutions hasn't been activated yet, it's expected to save the favorite plate lunch spot about 60 percent on its monthly electricity bill once it is.

And that's no small bill, at an average of $5,500 a month, according to owner and vice president Jim Gusukuma.

So the neon rainbow, fridges and other appliances at Rainbow Drive-In will all be solar-powered. Loco moco and milkshakes powered by sunshine-generated power in sunny Kapahulu – that's pretty cool.

Since there wasn't enough rooftop space for all 184 panels, Kama‘aina created the solar canopy. The canopy created shade for a few additional tables for the drive-in plus covered parking. It's a brilliant design idea, plus it qualifies for the 30 percent federal solar tax credit.

It's a smart move for the small, family-run business founded by Seiji Ifuku in 1961. Back then, you could get 50-cent chili with rice plate, 25-cent hamburgers and 14-cent French fries. Today, Rainbow Drive-In is one of the few places you can still get a hearty plate lunch for under $10.

The Rain Bowls (clockwise, from top, teri pork, boneless Rain Bowls, clockwise, from top, teri pork, boneless fried chicken, chili frank, and teri beef, are photographed inside the Hawaii's Favorite Kitchens store (Sun, Sept. 14 photo, Honolulu Star-Advertiser/Jamm Aquino).

The Rain Bowls (clockwise, from top, teri pork, boneless fried chicken, chili frank, and teri beef, are photographed inside the Hawaii's Favorite Kitchens store (Sun, Sept. 14 photo, Honolulu Star-Advertiser/Jamm Aquino).

When the landlord offered a 25-year lease, Gusukuma said it allowed the small business to make improvements. Solar was at the top of the list.

The drive-in at 3308 Kanaina Ave., which was featured on Guy Fieri's "Drivers, Dine-ins and Dives"  expanded its offerings earlier this year, as detailed in this Honolulu Pulse post . At Hawaii's Favorite Kitchens next door (3111 Castle St.), you can now get Rainbowls (with brown or white rice), the KC waffle dog, a Poke Stop bowl or pick up some huli huli chicken from Hoku BBQ chicken.

In today's Green Leaf column, Gusukuma (who also drives an electric BMW i3) said: "I think, eventually, solar is the cleanest way to go. If you're able to do it, you have that obligation for the future."

Here's to another 50 years for Rainbow Drive-In, open 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.

View of the solar canopy at Rainbow Drive-In from underneath. Photos by Nina Wu.

View of the solar canopy at Rainbow Drive-In from underneath. Photo by Nina Wu.

Posted in Energy, Green business, solar | Comments Off on Solar-powered Rainbow

Patagonia, Kina‘ole, invest in solar

October 23rd, 2014

Patagonia, which has two stores on Oahu, is putting money where the sunshine is.

The Ventura, Calif.-based outdoor clothing company is joining forces with local solar finance company, Kina‘ole Capital Partners LLC  to create a new $27 million fund to purchase rooftop solar photovolatic systems in Hawaii. Patagonia is offering a $13 million tax equity investment. The fund will be available to all qualified solar installation companies in Hawaii to help purchase more than 1,000 rooftop solar energy systems in Hawaii.

Patagonia's investment comes through its $20 Million & Change fund, which was launched in 2013 to help innovative, like-minded startup companies bring about solutions to the environmental crisis and other positive change through business. As Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard put it: "Working with nature rather than using it up."


"This is smart business for Patagonia and good news for homeowners in Hawaii, who pay way too much for dirty electricity," said Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario. "I hope other companies see how this strategy can bring strong returns and think seriously about doing the same thing.  Business is in a unique position to accelerate the creation of renewable energy infrastructure."

The announcement, made Oct. 15, comes at a time when many solar companies are in a difficult position in Hawaii due to hurdles created by the Hawaiian Electric Co. Approximately 3,500 solar PV customers in highly saturated areas (depending on the circuit they are on) are still waiting to get connected to the grid. Some have waited as long as nine months. HECO says they have to wait due to grid safety and reliability issues.

In addition, HECO recently outlined an action plan in late August — pending Public Utilities Commission approval — to raise the fixed connection fee for all customers on Oahu to a minimum of $55 (instead of $17), and an increase to $71 for new solar PV customers. At the same time, HECO proposes reducing the credit for excess energy produced by solar PV customers to just 17 cents per kilowatt-hour, half of what it currently offers. It is also proposing all new solar PV customers pay an additional, as-of-yet-unknown fee.

The plan has been criticized by the state Department of Economic Development and Tourism as one that embraces an outdated business model while doing more to benefit the utility than the public.

Still, solar is a great investment, and makes sense in a state that gets 271 days of sun annually. Despite the fees proposed by HECO , there will still be a return on your investment (even if it will take longer) — and best of all, it'll be a switch to clean energy, which is part of Hawaii's Clean Energy Initiative.

The solar energy systems purchased by the fund would potentially reduce 153,000 tons of carbon dioxide — or the equivalent of taking 29,000 passenger vehicles off the road. The solar investment also creates hundreds of jobs, including ones for Patagonia's surf ambassador Kohl Christensen and his Oahu-based solar company.

So kudos to Patagonia for leading the way!

Patagonia surf ambassador Kohl Christensen installing solar panels. Photo courtesy Patagonia.

Patagonia surf ambassador Kohl Christensen installing solar panels. Photo courtesy Patagonia.

Teleworking, coworking

October 13th, 2014


ProtoHUB Honolulu, soon to become ImpactHUB Honolulu, is the newest co-working space to arrive in Kakaako. The space comes complete with lockers, free WiFi, organic coffee, meeting rooms, a nap nook and wellness room. Photos by Nina Wu.

Times have changed in terms of how we work.

With mobile laptops, tablets and smartphones, work is now defined as wherever we are, as opposed to "the office." Which is why the time has also come for the advent of "co-working" spaces like BoxJelly, ZenWorx and ProtoHub Honolulu (soon to become ImpactHUB Honolulu).

Walk into any Starbucks, and you can pretty much see, it doubles as an office.

I think telecommuting is a great idea. If more companies would allow their employees to work in a mobile mode, then we could probably alleviate traffic during "rush hour," reduce carbon emissions, as well as that influx of energy usage right at 5 p.m. when everyone supposedly goes home and turns on their appliances.

If official work hours could be more staggered, or flexible, in terms of when and where, then we could avoid that congestion.

Coworking spaces like ProtoHub are cool, too, because they serve as hubs for innovation and interaction. If there was one in every neighborhood, people could walk or ride their bikes. For people who run their own businesses, it's an ideal meeting spot. You can be a part-time or full-time member, depending on your needs.

ProtoHub co-founder and director Shanah Trevenna believes in the triple-bottom-line of  a "people, planet, profit" economy. Sustainability, in other words, leads to a thriving economy that benefit both people and the planet.

Ian McMillan, a retail entrepreneur from Volcano, Hawaii, recently signed up for part-time membership because he comes to Oahu to sing for the choir in Hawaii Opera Theatre. So yes, he's here for the production of Puccini's "Madam Butterfly."

He sees coworking spaces as a source of inspiration.

"When you work by yourself, you sort of get in a rut," he said. "Being around different people exposes me to a lot of new ideas and new energy."

Plus, you can check out what's for lunch on Wednesdays, when various catering companies and chefs will fix a "Sexy Salad" using local, organic produce, for just $7.

Som Tum, or green papaya salad, prepared by George Yarbrough of Pono Aina Catering. Sexy Salad Wednesdays offer a fresh, organic salad made from mostly local produce for $7.

Som Tum, or green papaya salad, prepared by George Yarbrough of Pono Aina Catering. On Wednesdays, ProtoHUB's kitchen offers a fresh, organic salad made from mostly local produce for $7.

Posted in Green business | Comments Off on Teleworking, coworking

Hawaii businesses: Save energy plus LED exit signs

March 31st, 2014

Universal LED Exit sign from

Universal LED Exit sign from Swapping to an LED exit sign can save a business substantial electricity costs plus qualify for a $40 rebate from Hawaii Energy.

Attention, Hawaii businesses.

Did you know swapping out your older, incandescent exit sign for an LED one can save you $80 to $100 a year? It's a no-brainer. Plus Hawaii Energy's offering up to $40 in additional incentive to businesses that do so from now until May 31.

An Energy Star LED exit sign uses only about 44 kilowatt hours annually compared to 350 kilowatt hours for an incandescent sign — about 87 percent in savings.

It's as simple as that.

The exit signs, a legally-required safety feature in case of an emergency, are on 24 hours a day throughout the year.

Businesses must complete an application and submit a paid invoice or show proof of purchase to qualify for the incentive.

Also, Hawaii Energy is offering small businesses and restaurants an opportunity to replace their old lighting with newer, energy-efficient ones for free from now until June 9. Incandescent bulbs and halogen lighting are swapped out for CFLs (compact fluorescent lamps) and LEDs (light-emitting diodes).

To qualify, businesses must have an individual meter and be on an electric rate schedule G, or occupy a workspace of less than 5,000 square feet. Restaurants on any electric rate schedule or of any size can qualify.

Pagoda took advantage of Hawaii Energy's lighting retrofit program to save costs. Courtesy photo.

Pagoda took advantage of Hawaii Energy's lighting retrofit program to save costs. Courtesy photo.

Pagoda Floating Restaurant participated in the program, and expects to save about $14,400 a year.

Visit to apply.

Lighting can account for nearly half of a retail businesses' overall electricity costs at 48 percent. For offices, it's about 27 percent, and for restaurants, about 18 percent.

Hawaii Energy's Small Business Direct Install Lighting program, launched in July 2011, has helped 1,790 small businesses and restaurants throughout the state — from hardware stores to surf shops, art galleries and bakeries. The program provides free consultation, lighting and installation.

Hawaii Energy is a ratepayer-funded energy conservation and efficiency program serving the isles of Hawaii, Lanai, Maui, Molokai and Oahu.

Visit or call 839-8800 to learn more. On neighbor isles, call 877-231-8222.

Posted in Energy, Green business | Comments Off on Hawaii businesses: Save energy plus LED exit signs

Making the LEED list

February 18th, 2014


Aulani, a Disney Resort, at Ko Olina, is the largest LEED certified project in the state. LEED Silver. Courtesy image.

Aulani, a Disney Resort, at Ko Olina, is the largest LEED certified project in the state. LEED Silver. Courtesy image.

For the first time, Hawaii has made the U.S. Green Building Council's list of "Top 10 States for LEED."

Hawaii placed ninth in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED).

The list highlights regions around the U.S. that are at the forefront of the movement for sustainable building design, construction and operation. The goal of LEED-certified spaces is to utilize less energy and water, reduce carbon emission and contribute to a healthier environment.

"Hawaii's recognition as one of the top 10 states for LEED buildings speaks volumes about the vigorous and progressive actions taken by our government, education, hospitality and military communities," said Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie. "The state is committed to fulfilling its clean energy goals, and I applaud all of those involved for their continued commitment toward energy efficiency."

Some Hawaii projects that became LEED certified in 2013:

>> Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa at Ko Olina, LEED Silver

>> Punahou School  Omidyar K-1 in Honolulu, LEED Gold

>> Kaiakea Fire Station in Kapaa, LEED Silver

>> Maui Community College Science Building, LEED Gold

>> Hickam Air Force Base F-22 composite repair facility, LEED Gold

>> Howard Hughes Corp. Ward Village, LEED-ND (neighborhood development) Platinum

According to, Honolulu has 172 green buildings and about 3.2 million square feet of LEED certified space (most of it at the gold level).

Illinois got the top-ranking spot, with 2.29 per-capita square feet of LEED space in 2013; Maryland was second with 2.20 per-capita square feet; Virginia came in third, with 2.11 per-capita square feet.

California and New York tied for fifth place with 1.92 per-capita square feet of LEED space in 2013.

Posted in Green business | Comments Off on Making the LEED list

A Pono Home

February 10th, 2014


Pono Home is a Honolulu-based startup offering to "green" your home, making it more energy- and water-efficient. It's an interesting idea. After all, many of us know what should be done, but how many of us get around to doing it?

Sometimes we just don't know where to start. Oftentimes we procrastinate.

Part of what Pono Home offers is the convenience as well as the expertise of knowing how to green your home.  And they do it for you. (I would be perfectly happy to have someone else clean out the refrigerator condenser coils).

I'm a green columnist, so of all people, you would think I know how to green a home.

Getting a solar photovoltaic system was a big step in that direction.  But having a solar PV system isn't an excuse to just hog up energy in your home, either. I don't know everything. And the water bill only seems to be going in one direction these days — up.

There are plenty of great resources on the web, as well as free workshops by Hawaii Energy. Even HECO gives you plenty of tips through guides like "101 Ways to Save" and "Cool Tips" as well as in its monthly newsletter. For a guide on what to look out for in household cleaners and beauty products, the Environmental Working Group publishes guides posted free online.

Here are a few tips I didn't know (from Pono Home's learning resources link for energy efficiency):

>> Did you know storing potatoes with an apple help reduce spoilage? Or that you should leave tomatoes at room temperature with the stem facing down?

>> Did you know that keeping the fridge and freezer two-thirds full results in a 5 to 10 percent reduction in electricity use? (from

>> It's best to turn off fans when not in the room. Fans only cool you, not the room.

Till the end of February, Pono Home, one of the startups selected by clean tech incubator Energy Excelerator has an indiegogo campaign that allows you to get the service while contributing $20 to an environmental non-profit of your choice, including SEEQS, the Blue Planet Foundation, Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii, and others.

Sandalwood Legacy Trees

January 28th, 2014

The sandalwood, or iliahi sapling, is now part of Hawaiian Legacy Hardwood's sponsorship program. Courtesy image.

The sandalwood, or iliahi sapling, is now part of Hawaiian Legacy Hardwood's sponsorship program. Courtesy image.

Hawaiian Legacy Hardwoods of Paauilo, Hawaii, is now offering the rare, endemic sandalwood – or ‘iliahi, as part of its sponsorship program.

The sweet smelling ‘iliahi, found only in Hawaii, was harvested nearly to extinction a century ago. ‘Iliahi are not easy to grow, according to Heidi Bornhorst in "Growing Native Hawaiian Plants: A How-to Guide for the Gardener," because it is often difficult to find the seeds.

It is also slow-growing, with wood that is considered very valuable. HLH does not plan to harvest the trees.

"The simple fact is that because it is so slow-growing, if you are planting it for harvest, you better be planting it for your grandkids," said CEO Jeff Dunster. "And yes, in fact we are planting it for our grandkids, and everyone else's grandkids too."

The Legacy Tree program offers the public the opportunity to get involved in the reforestation of Hawaii through sponsorships. Sponsor a Sandalwood Legacy Tree to celebrate an event, honor an individual or memorialize a loved one.

The sponsorship of a sandalwood legacy tree is $100, with $20 going to the charity of the giver's choice (plus $1 which goes to the Hawaiian Islands Land Trust).

HLH celebrated the planting of its 200,000th native koa tree on the Hamakua Coast of Hawaii island in May 2013 three years after the program was launched. The goal is to plan 1.3 million koa treesKoa legacy tree sponsorships are also still available for $60 (with $20 going to a charity).

Each tree can be tracked through HLH's Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) system, basically a computer signature, which keeps tabs on the tree's growth, maintenance and geology.

Visit or call (877) 707-TREE to learn more.




Solar parking arrays

January 23rd, 2014

Covered parking solar array at Liliha Square provides shade and lowers electricity costs. Courtesy image.

Covered parking solar array at Liliha Square provides shade and lowers electricity costs. Courtesy image.

There's a cool new trend in Honolulu's parking structures.

RevoluSun just installed a 155-kilowatt solar PV system atop a carport at Liliha Square Shopping Center. While it's not the first carport solar array for Oahu, it's a growing trend among Honolulu commercial property owners, according to the solar company.

It makes sense.

After all, why not use the top space of a parking structure as a way to lower your utility costs while providing shade?

RevoluSun can also create a custom-designed cover for an open parking structure.

Last year, the company created a shaded, waterproof roof for the top level of the uncovered parking structure at AIPA (Airport Industrial Park Associates). The 280-kilowatt system helps AIPA save money on its overall electricity costs.

"Essentially, business owners are killing three birds with one stone," said RevoluSun principal Eric Carlson. "by creating shade from the hot Hawaiian sun and in some cases, a waterproof roof from our frequent Hawaiian drizzles; the solar panels generate clean, renewable electricity; and saves the owner money on their electric bills."

Other parking structure solar systems by RevoluSun:

>> Kapiolani Medical Center for Women & Children, 280-kilowatt system.

>> HECO Ward Avenue Charging Station, nine-panels, with a battery storage system.

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