Sustainability: Hawaii vs the Philippines

We share our roots, but how can we compare how we are dealing with sustainability issues today? Can we learn from our common ancestors that died on Easter Island?

Over 3000 years ago, the Polynesians left the Philippines, journeyed island to island to Palau to Guam, then travelled south towards Fiji, Samoa, Tahiti, north towards Hawaii and finally east towards Easter Island, until they could go no further.

As each group settled and separated from each other, they had to discover how to make the most out of their new lands efficiently and sustainably. In Hawaii for instance, the Polynesians applied their connection to their surrounding natural landscape to growing taro effectively. They developed the “auwai” system that would divert river water to their fields in a slow stream that would deposit its particles and fertilize as it seeped through. The taro fields would also have fish and so serve as a multi-use facility. By the time the water reached the other end, it was filtered.

When we talk about sustainability today, the main difference between the Philippines and Hawaii is that the Filipinos take a more resourceful approach, often out of necessity and cost. In the Philippines, the cost of used materials are significantly lower than the cost of new materials. Therefore it is much more feasible to reuse and repurpose for building than in Hawaii and the rest of the modern world. In the US, the practice of reusing or upcycling building materials is still a very tedious and costly process. In addition, culturally the US is a more production-oriented country. However, sustainability in reusing and repurposing is still acknowledged in Hawaii in the practice of producing and using renewables - like trees that grow fast, steel that can be recycled, or glass products in place of plastics.

I believe that the key to sustainable systems anywhere in the world lies in the philosophy of broader thinking and coordination. It is very easy for a company, government or individual to see a problem and want to solve it as easily and cheaply as possible, but more often than not, problems can solve each other.

For example, the Philippines is the 3rd country in the entire world contributing the most plastic waste into the ocean. At the same time, like Hawaii, the mountains in the Philippines are being mined to create sand for construction concrete. Every time I visit there, I ride my bike down familiar routes and I can see the mountains disappearing. In Hawaii, they have solved both of these problems with a coordination between the concrete and rubbish companies. Disappearing mountain-scapes are being filled in with rubbish - using a clay barrier to protect the groundwater from pollution - and being restored to their original shapes. This is a perfect example of using two problems (too much trash and disappearing landscapes) to solve each other.

The most prominent theory about what happened on Easter Island is that it used to be an island abundant in trees. Its inhabitants became so fixated on building these huge statues that they failed to notice - or care - that they were using up all of their resources and thus, the society failed. This is an ominous but important lesson for both Hawaii and the Philippines to learn from our common ancestors. In the architecture and construction industry - and in all aspects of life - by taking a little notice and responsibility for all of the systems that affect our natural world, we can all make more coordinated and sustainable choices.

For more information and to connect with Dean:

Dean Sinco

Principal Architect, Entheos

Cell: 808 226 8711

Office Tel: +63 422 2294

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