Although a bill that would fund and establish a sustainability office within the University of Hawai‘i system has died, UH is considering creating an office.
“The bill dying suggests, states, that our request for general funds will not be kind of met this year, which happens,” Vice President for Administration Jan Gouveia said. “That doesn’t mean that the university still can’t do a lot in terms of formalizing an office and bringing a lot more structure to the program, which we intend to do regardless.”
Senate Bill 707 would have appropriated about $500,000, or however much is necessary, from state general revenues in fiscal year 2015-16 and the same amount the following fiscal year, if needed. The bill, which was introduced by Sen. Mike Gabbard, failed to receive a hearing with the senate Ways and Means Committee before the March 6 decking deadline.
An office for sustainability
For Hawai‘i to be a global leader in sustainability, the university must lead the way, Gabbard said.
The bill, which also had a house companion, House Bill 1206, would have funded three positions for a chief sustainability officer, system sustainability officer and an energy manager. In addition, there would have also been two part-time student workers, Gabbard said.
Further details on the funding for these positions could not be received at the time of publication.
According to Gabbard, the money was requested to identify opportunities to implement energy efficiency measures, to develop and implement sustainable funding strategies as well as indicators to measure progress, cultivate students’ pathways to develop leadership in sustainability and to track and report progress on sustainability projects across the university system.
He added that getting students involved is important because they would be involved with real-life situations, which tend to mean more.
“Sustainability is important for UH,” he said in a phone interview. “And when you’re on an island in the middle of the Pacific, it means we’re highly vulnerable to climate change impacts, such as rising sea levels, rising energy costs, biodiversity loss, watershed degradation and other challenges that our communities face. And so in my view, Hawai‘i has the potential to be a global leader in sustainability by connecting our deep indigenous knowledge of living in harmony with our lands to modern technologies, and I see UH as being a key part of these efforts.”
He added that the main thing is that a serious conversation is taking place about sustainability in UH.
Sustainability positions at other institutions
According to the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education’s (AASHE) 2012 Salaries and Status of Sustainability Staff in Higher Education report, the average salary for a sustainability director or chief sustainability officer at higher education institutions is $82,791.
The average salary for a sustainability coordinator is $45,000.
The AASHE report is based on the results of a 2012 study the organization conducted, which received 462 respondents. It found that 67 percent of 2012 respondents indicated that their positions were housed in a sustainability office, compared to 23 percent in 2010.
Sustainability currently at UH
There’s a lot of potential for change in regards to the university’s current sustainability movement, Laurel Pikunas, a masters student in urban and regional planning, said.
“There’s a lot of energy for change around, there’s a lot of students who are really interested in it,” she said in a phone interview. “But right now their energies aren’t really coordinated, and it’s having some sort of systemic position where it can be that interface point between the students grassroots effort and the administrative line of power. That is a really, really valuable point across any institution.”
According to Gouveia, sustainability will remain housed under her office since the bill died. Currently, the only position that supports sustainability is the interim system sustainability coordinator.
“We no longer want to kind of do this on a volunteer basis,” she said. “And we want to be serious about the business of sustainability on our campus. So to do that we need to bring structure and formality to it, which we intend to do.”