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‘Sustainability is Not Sacrifice’

Expert discusses ways to increase energy efficiency while adhering to the “triple bottom line.”

October 6, 2011
Tom Blackburn-Rodriguez

A Hawai‘i education consultant at the University of Hawai‘i Maui College (UHMC) and Johnson Controls Inc., Trevenna began her sustainability journey as a graduate student when she and a group of her fellow students decided to take on Saunders Hall, an aging building on the UH Mänoa campus, transforming it into a model of energy efficiency and saving money for the university at the same time.

Driving her passion are a few facts that she presented to her audience at UHMC at a Thursday, Sept. 15, Pau Hana event on “Energy Efficiency Approaches for Business,” which was held as part of a series of lectures held monthly under the auspices of the Sustainable Living Institute (SLIM) and the Office of Continuing Education and Training (OCET) at the college.

According to Trevenna, Hawai‘i is the “canary in the coal mine,” for the entire planet, pointing out the potential impact of a rise in the sea level on the islands as a result of global warming.

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Shanah Trevenna, a Hawai‘i education consultant at UH Maui College and Johnson Controls Inc., believes that Hawai‘i can be energy efficient. She is out to prove it one building, business and school campus at a time.

“A three-foot rise in sea level in the next 100 years would put Waikīkī under water, “ she said.

Hawai‘i has the highest energy costs in the U.S., and all of the money brought into the state by tourism is spent on oil, according to Trevenna. Despite this, Trevenna is optimistic and notes that Hawai‘i has an abundance of renewable energy resources, including wind, thermal, solar and wave energy. Plus, the state has adopted a goal to achieve a 70 percent clean energy level by 2030 (Hawai‘i Clean Energy Initiative).

The impact of this goal is already being felt with the renewable energy economy growing four times faster than the rest of the Hawai‘i economy, according to Trevenna.

Trevenna advocates a “Triple Bottom Line” approach to sustainability thinking. “Thinking only about profit is a single bottom-line approach,” she told the more 50 attendees.

According to, the phrase “the triple bottom line” (abbreviated as “TBL” or “3BL,” and also known as “people, planet, profit” or “the three pillars),” refers to an expanded spectrum of values and criteria for measuring organizational (and societal) success: economic, social and ecological.

TBL businesses adhere to three separate bottom lines. The economic or “profit” bottom line is the traditional measure of corporate finance. The social or “people” account is a measure of the company’s socially responsible operations. The ecological or “planet” bottom line is a measure of its environmental responsibility.

Only a company that produces a TBL is taking account of the full cost involved in doing business.

When buying or consuming a product, she urged the audience to ask these questions: “Who made this? Were they paid a fair price? Where was it made? Is it renewable?”

When it comes to improving building construction, Trevenna suggested imagining a structure that produces more energy than it uses, and therefore, operating at “net zero energy,” said Trevenna.

There are three approaches used to achieve a net zero energy goal: conservation, efficiency and production of energy.

The typical office building in Hawai‘i uses 27 percent of its energy for lighting. For a retail business, that figure rises to 50 percent. One solution is to change to compact fluorescent lights (CFL) that consume only 27 percent of the energy of an incandescent light bulb.

Office space is generally kept at 72 degrees. But, Trevenna and her colleagues discovered in survey results from residents of Saunders Hall that 76 degrees is comfortable in the Hawai‘i climate, and most people dressed accordingly.

The move from 72 degrees to 76 degrees cut the air conditioning bill for the building by 53 percent, according to Trevenna.

Another source of home and commercial energy leakage is in plug load—the energy used by a device that is plugged in but not turned on. Modern electronic devices, appliances, TV’s, etc. draw power even when not in use. This “Phantom Load,” according to the U.S. Department of Energy, constitutes 15 to18 percent of household energy use.

The solution is smart strips that turn off the energy flow to a device that is plugged in but not in use. These are becoming increasing available to the public.

“We don’t have to be like former President Jimmy Carter, who sat in front of White House fireplace in the 1970s wearing a sweater while giving a speech about the need for energy conservation,” Trevenna said.

In fact, she said, the real message is that “sustainability is not sacrifice, and it leads to a thriving economy that makes people and the planet happier.”



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