New ENV 490 Sustainability Innovation class stimulates paradigm shift
Aside from being tongue twisters when said in succession, the terms sustainability and entrepreneurship are indeed big words, as pointed out by ’Inana Sustainability Entrepreneurship Program’s coordinator, Mariane Uehara. Tasked with creating a curriculum for the inaugural ENV 490 Sustainability Innovation course, Uehara admitted that she “jumped into the unknown” when she joined the United Nations’s CIFAL Center at Chaminade University.
At the core of the ENV 490 is a student-driven project that’s in partnership with a local company. The goal was to balance the triple bottom line—people, planet and profit—while addressing the long-term impact of business activities on the environment and society. Sustainable entrepreneurship recognizes the interdependence of economic development, social well-being and environmental health, and seeks to create value in a way that is responsible and ethical.
“All the students’ projects had to align with at least one of the United Nations’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” Uehara explained. “Although the vision was blurry at first, we figured out the puzzle together, and we had fun while doing so.”
According to Uehara, the three goals of the ’Inana Program are: 1) To develop and implement programs for the education and training of undergraduate students in subjects directly relating to successful entrepreneurship; 2) To support minority business enterprises (MBEs), including building a diverse entrepreneurial pipeline to grow the number of MBEs; and 3) to create a UN Certificate program in sustainability entrepreneurship.
Divided into three teams, 14 students presented their final entrepreneurial projects, working alongside with Ten Tomorrow, Re-use Hawaii and Plantoem. Under the mentorship of Uehara, and Cort Isernhagen and Jamie Lui of Diamond Head Research—a company that helps small companies track and assess their activities to identify trends and innovative business models that best support Corporate Social Responsibility, Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance, and philanthropic initiatives—the aspiring entrepreneurs demonstrated their ability to think outside the box.
“First of all, who are you guys,” rhetorically asked Lui after listening to the students’ presentations. “You’re a completely different group from when we started this class a few months ago.”
Exuding confidence, Sarah Carroll ’25 proposed a “Hanau Hana Aloha Event,” which would advertise Re-use Hawai’i as a community-based nonprofit worthy of long-term patronage and donation. Additionally, it would also pose these solutions: Engage an eco-conscious audience; showcase Re-use Hawaii’s mission beyond social media; and connect with long-term donors through a captivating experience.
“Hosting an upcycle consignment event for Re-use Hawaii would present an innovative solution to address several pressing challenges,” the Data Science and Visualization major said. “It would help Re-Use connect with the community and give it more visibility, as well as broaden its donor pool.”
Other Re-use Hawaii members included Katherine “Kat” Liu ’26, Sano Tanna ’24, Lihau Keoneula ’24 and Kaila Frank ’24.
Pairing with Ten Tomorrow designer Summer Shiigi, Jasmine Mondelo ’25, Ka‘I‘inipu‘uwai “Mini” Keli‘iho‘omalu-Holz ’24, Lyla Gonsalves ’25 and LaVelle White ’26 aligned their entrepreneurial proposals with the local clothing company’s line of modern resort wear. An Environmental Studies major, Keli‘iho‘omalu-Holz identified the problem of having to bring in fabric, which contributes to carbon emissions, microplastics and landfills.
Keli‘iho‘omalu-Holz’s solution was to source fabric that would be less harmful to the environment. She cited such alternatives as hemp, organic cotton, bamboo, recycled material and Tencel fabrics, which are produced with environmentally responsible processes from sustainably sourced natural raw wood fibers. Tencel textiles are also certified biodegradable.
“I have a really keen interest in fashion, which is why I chose Ten Tomorrow ,” Keli‘iho‘omalu-Holz noted. “I wanted to find cost-effective solutions and sustainable fabrics that didn’t have a negative impact on our environment.”
Alexandra Zingarelli ’24, Sydney Danielson ’25, Pūnohu Keahi ’25, Aleeyah Lemons ’24 and Conor McMahon ’24 partnered with Zoe Zhang of Plantoem, a portmanteau of plant and poem, and suggested a “Plantoem’s Appreciation March 2024.” Each week would tackle a different aspect, from the significance of native plants and “Aloha ʻĀina: Environmental Health Talk Story Event” to carbon offset, plant therapy and sustainable living workshops.
“They really listened to what I had to say,” said Zhang, who founded Plantoem because of her love for plants and poetry. “Their proposal to me is highly viable. Since we came up with the awareness month idea during their second visit, I have already been in touch with some of the speakers who are interested in participating. The basic structure of the event month has already been sketched out. And the students are coming back to help work on the events in March.”
In his closing remarks, Isernhagen commented on the diversity of ideas and the prototypes the students developed. “I liked the fact that you met the businesses where they were,” he concluded. “Your lenses were all sharply focused around sustainability. And I liked the fact that you collectively approached one problem but each of you came up with your own individual solution.”