Sustainability at UH Hilo

Sustainability Designation Background

The S Designation was designed to integrate Sustainability across the UH Hilo curriculum. The criteria are designed to create coherence and rigor — not obstacles.

The designation is usually obtained first at the CRN (Course Record Number) or Instructor level. This is an opt-in process wherein a particular instructor takes initiative to consciously integrate sustainability concepts and global sustainability dialogue into their course. The instructor “holds” the designation for 5 years, at which point they will be asked to update their S Designation, via their campus committee. At the CRN level, the S Designation does not go through Kuali, or the Curriculum committee; the instructor includes all original learning outcomes and descriptions in the course, adding one Sustainability Learning Outcome and a syllabus statement.

Courses may also be designated at the “course” level, meaning that all sections of a course are S-designated. This process occurs at the 5 year update & review stage, using normal course update procedures and reviews, in cooperation with the S Designation committee. The course update goes first through the S Designation committee, then to Curriculum committee. A course coordinator holds responsibility for ensuring that all sections of this course will engage appropriately with sustainability, and that the faculty or lecturers teaching the course will be current in campus, system, and statewide goals and dialogue around sustainability.


The S Designation can be useful for many types of course design, driven by place-based, ‘āina-based, and culture-based curricula as well as many types of active pedagogy such as service-learning, problem-based learning, and undergraduate research. We seek to suffuse curriculum with localized understandings and culturally relevant and appropriate language, vocabulary, protocols, values, wisdoms, expertise, and ways of knowing. Sustainability is continuity, the practice of awareness of our context and culture and how we care for and within both. In Olelo Hawaiʻi, continuity is moʻo. So another way of asking this question about sustainability is: "Does the moʻo live in my course?" How does continuity weave throughout my class and the assignments I ask from my haumana?

Moʻo (Continuity) is found in the following ideals


What are the stories you are teaching? How do they link with the spaces and culturesyou are now in?


What is the historic context of your ideas and what is the genesis of each of them?


What does the future look like and how does your course affect its efficacy?

Other core values of sustainability curriculum across the system the system include:

‘Āina aloha
- "Love of the land",

speaks to a relationship of kinship with the natural environment, an acknowledgement that mankind is a part of nature, whose fate is intrinsically linked to the health our lands and seas.

ʻImi ʻike
- "Student is the teacher / Teacher is the student",

ʻImi ʻIke acknowledges the reciprocal relationship of teacher & student, thereby acknowledging all forms of knowledge as inherentlyvaluable.

Mālama Honua
- "To care for our island earth",

Mālama Honua means to take care of and protect everything that makes up our world: land, oceans, living beings, our cultures, and our communities. It means learning, as islanders, to take care of limited resources, as though you were living on a canoe in the open ocean or an island in the middle of the sea. On a canoe, water, food, plants, and other basic needs are in limited supply and are tended to with great care; so too we must tend to our resources on islands, and for all of Island Earth.

sustainability illustration
Mālama Honua integrates sustainability values in an island context with global impact

A new noun, mauō, means sustainability. Mauō is made up of two basic words; mau, stability, unbroken continuity, and ō, enduring in a healthy state. This new Hawaiian word was coined by the Hawaiian Lexicon Committee in 2016. Formerly, there was no need for the word mauō because it was a normal part of Hawaiian life. Today, it is critical that we distinguish between what is sustainable and what is not.

The Māmaka Kaiao New Words entry is: mau.ō common noun Sustainability. Comb., mau + ō.

The values of ho’omauo and ʻimi ʻike are how we can both “think local” & “think global” :


While there are many different approaches and definitions to “sustainability”, we mean, ingeneral, “serving the needs of the present without jeopardizing the needs of the future.”

Wherever possible, we refer to the original Earth Charter which defines sustainability “in all its dimensions: cultural, economic, environmental, and social.”

The Earth Charter introduces the “Four Pillars” of sustainability:

  • cultural vibrancy,
  • economic prosperity,
  • environmental responsibility
  • and social justice.

Thus, an environmental science course seems “obviously” related to sustainability, but in fact some courses could relate to environment or society without directly interacting with sustainability concepts which live, really, in the intersection of two or more pillars. A common critique of higher education is its tendency to reinforce “silos” of thinking which is a common cause of ‘unintended consequences’ or unsustainability; thus, it is a benefit to students to teach sustainability issues and the content of academic disciplines through a more real-world “systems thinking” framework, which reinforces our capacity to address challenges as they exist, rather than as we have organized our information.