Can Sustainability & Tourism Peacefully Co-exist in Hawaii?

The word “sustainable” is a bit of a buzzword, evoking images of wind turbines, solar panels, and barefoot hippies eating locally grown kale. While the idea of living in a way that doesn’t compromise the future is gaining traction in business, academia and politics, it has long been a cornerstone of Hawaiian culture.

Hawaiians have always stressed “Aloha a malama ka aina,” for in return the land will love and take care of you. For people who depended on the natural environment to live, this was an intuitive notion; recklessness and wastefulness would spell certain disaster. The love and appreciation for the land was as much a spiritual connection as it was an economic reality.

Here’s the problem: The economic reality of Hawaii today is that we depend almost singularly on tourism, with nearly six times more visitors than residents coming to Hawaii every year. Those visitors provide hundreds of thousands of jobs and inject millions of dollars into the local economy – all well-tread information.

As Hawaii progressively strides in the direction of sustainability, it begs the question: Is there such a thing as sustainable tourism?

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Hanauma Bay, Honolulu, HI 3.18.14 ©PF Bentley/Civil Beat
Hanauma Bay, Honolulu, HI 

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