CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
Group 70 International's design of the Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve Education Center is an example of the kind of work that executives and officials hope will attract Hawaii-born students back to the islands for their careers. The center was designed to blend into the landscape. Molds of the existing rocks surrounding the bay were used to construct the exterior of the center.
‘Green’ job growth may keep keep kids here
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Many of Hawaii's high school graduates plan to leave Hawaii for their college education, and most will end up staying for the greener economic pastures on the mainland. But a public-private initiative to promote jobs involving another kind of green -- environmental sustainability -- is giving some of them hope of finding an attractive career niche in the islands.
Organizations ranging from architectural firm Group 70 International to military contractor Lockheed Martin in the private sector to the Girl Scouts of Hawaii are behind the multifaceted effort.
Group 70 has recruited world renowned architect and planner Paul Bierman-Lytle to lead the firm's sustainable development push. The firm is trying to get the word out to isle young people that if they major in sustainability-related fields, they will find jobs in the Hawaii of the future.
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Branka Knezevic, a 26-year-old designer with Group 70 International
, saw so many opportunities in Hawaii that she left behind her Serbian roots and New York connections to settle in the islands.
"I could have left Hawaii after college, but I stayed because there is a lot of activity going on here," Knezevic said. "Sustainability is an exciting area and Group 70 is at the forefront. There are a lot of opportunities for these young people."
But many of Hawaii's own don't see the islands through the same lens. The majority of Hawaii's young people who can afford it plan on going to college on the mainland -- and many don't see a possibility of returning to Hawaii to work or raise a family.
During the late 1990s, census data showed that despite Hawaii's high birthrate and high foreign immigration levels, population growth rate was the third lowest in the United States. At the same time, there was a gradual increase in the average age of Hawaii's residents -- an indication that those leaving were disproportionately young.
CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
Girl Scout Sarah Flinchbaugh, 15, front, and Group 70 architects Branka Knezevic, center, and Shirley Lum looked up while taking a tour of the hidden air conditioning and utility room of the Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve. The tour was part of an initiative that brings together local young women and leading scientists and professionals to address the challenges of sustainability in Hawaii's future.
A decade or so ago, the isles were losing their best and brightest to the mainland, where graduates could find jobs that offered greater opportunities for growth as well as earn more money and enjoy a higher standard of living. While the numbers have come down during the last decade, the sense that there are greener pastures outside of the islands has remained.
Last year, members of the state's 2050 Sustainability Task Force were shocked when a focus group of teenagers said that none of them could see themselves living and working in Hawaii when they were 35 years old.
"The room went silent. It was very troubling," said Dean Uchida, vice president for D.R. Horton Schuler Homes. "This was a point in time, when you really have to do a gut check. My daughter is going to enter college in the fall and I have a son who is a sophomore. I don't think that they'll come back right after school, either."
While it's still true that many Hawaii high school graduates plan to leave Hawaii, efforts from the state and private sector to create "sustainability jobs" -- work that helps to preserve Hawaii's culture, community, land, and natural resources -- are giving some of them hope that they might be able to stay home or one day return to the islands, said Barbara Blomgren, the capacity building officer for the Girl Scouts of Hawaii.
As recently as last week, a group of high-school Girl Scouts participating in the E Malama Kakou Project expressed similar feelings, Blomgren said. The project, which was made possible by funding from the Girl Scouts of Hawaii, Girl Scouts of the USA and Lockheed Martin, seeks to provide opportunities for local young women to interact with leading scientists and professionals to address the challenges of sustainability in Hawaii's future, she said.
"We conducted an activity early on asking the girls in our project about their plans for the future, and all of them felt the same way as those on the panel -- that they were going to go away to college and that they probably wouldn't return," Blomgren said.
Sarah Flinchbaugh, a 15-year-old Castle High sophomore participating in the Malama project, said that she, like most of her friends, plans on going to college on the mainland.
"My friends are very centered on going to the mainland and living there. Hawaii doesn't appeal to them because they don't like being so separated from the mainland and they worry about the high costs," Flinchbaugh said. "I'd like to come back, but I'm an optimist."
While being involved in the project has not necessarily changed student mindsets, Blomgren said that it has opened their minds to the possibilities of coming back to Hawaii.
"Prior to the project, they didn't have any idea of what was available here," she said. "Part of what the project has done is open their eyes to the things that are happening in Hawaii. Interacting with people like Branka, who chose to come to Hawaii from someplace else, gives them another perspective."
Attitude adjustments like these are vital to Hawaii's future success, said Lance Wilhelm, senior vice president of Kiewit Building Group. The future of Hawaii's business community, especially its burgeoning sustainability industries, depends upon retaining local talent, he said. That's why Kiewit has just launched a scholarship program designed to connect the company with high school talent, Wilhelm said.
"We've had college programs in place for a long time, but we felt like we needed to start earlier," Wilhelm said. "Not many of my generation wanted to live and work and raise our family somewhere else, but today's generation isn't geographically as bound to a place as we used to be."
PHOTOS BY CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
Group 70 architect Shirley Lum, left, spoke with Girl Scouts Cristin Lim, 15, center, and Kellie Kurasaki, 14, during a mentoring session called E Malama Kakou on April 26.
Gov. Linda Lingle has said that the state's efforts must be focused on developing the "limitless potential of human ingenuity" and has pushed for initiatives that foster innovation in the state's education system, in the work force, and across the economy. The state has funded educational efforts that advance science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), which are deemed the most critical for Hawaii's future progress as a sustainable community with a healthy balance between environmental and economic needs.
"Hawaii will need these students to excel in STEM and as innovative thinkers in order to tackle the transformation of our economy," Lingle said during her address two weeks ago to the Hawaii Economic Association. "They will especially be needed in our shift to energy independence."
This past January, state officials launched the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative, an unprecedented partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy which aims to have 70 percent of Hawaii's power come from clean-energy sources by the year 2030, Lingle said.
PHOTOS BY CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve's Alan Hong spoke to students about the education center's sustainable design aspects during a tour of the center on Saturday.
State and private sector efforts to create a more sustainable Hawaii are already under way. The Department of Transportation is building solar arrays at 10 locations, including most airports. Numerous state buildings, including the state Capitol, are targeted for retrofitting to increase energy efficiency, she said.
Last month, the U.S. Department of Energy selected Hawaii as the location for a $15 million project to develop an advanced electrical grid system, capable of efficiently incorporating high levels of renewable energy, Lingle said.
"While $7 million of the funding is from the federal government, the other $8 million is from private companies, including Hawaiian Electric and Maui Electric," she said. "The same utility companies that originally provided resistance to rapidly increasing our energy independence have now realized that this fundamental change is good for business."
This push by the state has led to similar momentum in the private sector. Earlier this year, Group 70 recruited world renowned architect and planner Paul Bierman-Lytle to lead the firm's sustainable development push.
"Group 70 is on the cutting edge of sustainability, the commitment is authentic, and I wanted to be a part of that," said Bierman-Lytle, who has worked on more than 150 sustainable development projects for the White House, the World Bank and the British Prince of Wales.
Bierman-Lytle, who met with Malama project Girl Scouts on April 26 at Hanauma Bay, said that sustainability has become the foundation of smart real estate development that delivers convincing economic value to all types of projects.
"Sustainable development is fast becoming the norm and requires new partnerships among developers, utilities, planners, architects, and engineers," he said. "Sustainability creates new revenue streams and is a catalyst for innovations in planning, utility and infrastructure design, and even architecture."
As part of its push to help Hawaii advance its sustainability goals, Group 70 also is actively working with local high school students to encourage them to develop STEM skills that can be used not only to find jobs in Hawaii, but to turn the islands into a place where they will want to work and live.
Other private sector efforts also are under way, which will not only reduce the state's energy dependency but could also create a cottage industry of high-paying jobs that will give Hawaii's young people an opportunity for a better future as they work to improve the environment.
Cristin Lim, a 15-year-old Iolani student who took part in the Malama project, said that state and private-sector efforts are giving her hope that one day she will be able to make her home in Hawaii.
"Hawaii is such a special place, but I always thought that I would go away to learn and not be able to come back," Lim said. "Now, with all of the opportunities that sustainability is creating, I would consider it."