- Texas-native Jennifer Lieu moved to Honolulu 20 years ago and says Hawaii feels like home.
- She’s focused on reducing waste and living sustainably to help preserve Hawaii for generations.
- Her habits include shopping locally, biking instead of driving, and volunteering with local farms.
- This article is part of a series focused on American cities building a better tomorrow called “Advancing Cities.”
When Jennifer Lieu moved to Honolulu, Hawaii, 20 years ago, she said she felt a sense of “coming home.”
“I feel very, very fortunate and lucky to live in Hawaii,” Lieu, who’s originally from Texas and in her mid-30s, told Insider. “There’s so much natural beauty, and I’ve always been attracted to the ocean.”
During her time in Hawaii, Lieu has become dedicated to protecting its natural resources. She said she spends as much time as she can outdoors – swimming, running on the beach, or hiking. She’s passionate about giving back to the community by volunteering with sustainability-minded organizations, such as local farms and ecological groups, and strives to reduce her own carbon footprint.
And she’s seen other Honolulu residents also become more aware and involved in supporting issues of sustainability over the years, and the local government working to solve these challenges.
“It’s so special when you can eat, live, and play in a place that has the same values as you – it just seems it comes together, it’s much more natural,” she said.
Embracing minimal living
Lieu works as a program manager at a boutique information technology firm, but said yoga is her passion. She’s been practicing since childhood and became a yoga teacher in 2016.
“It gives me the ability to connect with my body, breathe, and be in Hawaii,” she said. “There’s a lot of like-minded yogis here. Part of that, they talk about minimal living. It’s just using what you have, and that also is a stepping-off of how I feel about sustainability.”
Hawaii is more susceptible to the impacts of climate change, Lieu said, because it’s surrounded by water. So she’s focused on reducing waste and living sustainability to ensure it’s a great place to live for generations to come.
“There’s a lot of things as a resident I can’t control,” Lieu said. “I can’t control energy costs. I can’t put a solar panel up because I live in an apartment. But things I can control are my carbon footprint and knowing that I can walk safer and I can bike safer on the roads.”
Before the pandemic, she used ride-sharing apps, she said, but she became nervous about jumping into an Uber during COVID-19.
Another way she lives sustainably and supports her local ecosystem is by shopping at farmers’ markets and buying locally produced foods.
“I usually buy local coffee because I want to support the coffee farmers,” Lieu said. Other meals usually consist of sustainably caught fish and locally grown vegetables, and she dines at restaurants that support local farmers.
Volunteering with local farms and organizations
On many of her weekends Lieu enjoys volunteering at local, “like-minded” organizations that support the causes she’s most interested in, such as local farming and cultivating native plants.
Protect & Preserve Hawaii is one of these organizations. The group works to preserve and restore Hawaii’s native ecosystem, and Lieu’s volunteer work with Protect & Preserve involves planting native plants back on the island.
“There’s a lot of invasive plants in Hawaii, and unfortunately, they take over really quickly,” she said. “It takes away from the beauty that Hawaii has to offer.”
Lieu also volunteers at a local taro farm, which aims to restore native agriculture and ecology. Taro is a root vegetable that was a food staple for ancient Hawaiians.
She’s inspired by “ahupua’a,” an ancient Hawaiian term that means “mountain to the sea.”
“The way they built their taro farms, it was surrounded by water and the ability to have it self-sustaining,” Lieu said. “That was something that I was very drawn to, the fact that this one group of people could have such a sustainable plan as far as food and land and then, as things got industrialized, that got taken away.”
Blue Planet Foundation, a nonprofit that focuses on clean energy and climate change solutions, is another organization that Lieu volunteers with.
“I think it’s important as a resident if you can give back, whether it’s time or money,” she said.
Putting state goals into practice
As a Honolulu resident, Lieu keeps an eye on how the local government is tackling sustainability and climate change, especially in areas like sea-level rise, plastics in the ocean, transportation, and energy costs, which are especially high in Hawaii.
In general, she appreciates how the city and state governments are setting sustainability goals and holding themselves accountable through programs like the Aloha+ Challenge, which lets residents track the state’s progress on meeting these goals.
“The fact that the government is standing behind what they’re saying,” Lieu said, is really cool. “It’s not just nice to say – they’re truly putting in actions and doing things to support what they believe in.”
The biggest challenge is getting residents to put some of the sustainability programs into practice in their own lives. Lieu said residents often agree that initiatives to fight climate change, like cutting down on plastic or converting to electric vehicles, are needed. But since Hawaii is an expensive place to live, actually making these changes to meet these goals takes an investment of time and money.
“I think that people really need to own and love where they live,” Lieu said. “But I think to really have a full life is to love where you live and to really be passionate about these issues that not only affect you as a person but affect the future of the island or wherever you live.”