Walking the Talk: A Post-pandemic Campus-Community Action Agenda for Sustainability and Resiliency Education

October, 2022

Miku Lenentine, Ph.D., Program Coordinator, Center for Resilient Neighborhoods
Robert Franco, Ph.D.Professor of Anthropology, Director, Office for Institutional Effectiveness

Sustainability in Higher Education stands at a crossroads: do we return to the way things were….or do something different? Covid forced communities to reflect on their ability to respond to disasters and has shed light on how to create more resilient social systems. How do we echo this restructuring and “build back better” for Sustainability in Higher Education? 

Students, staff, and faculty returning to campus are depleted and many no longer remember how to connect the world outside of Zoom. The new normal is running between on-campus meetings, classes, and events then hopping back to the office for back-to-back zoom calls. We are doing more and less at the same time. We need to restructure ourselves, our teaching, and our institutions to foster resilience on and off campus.

In this GCSE essay, we present a framework for reflection on the future of sustainability, environmental, and resilience education. We offer insights on how our strategic planning process has evolved to redefine sustainability education at Kapi'olani Community College (KCC). We will also introduce KCC’s Center for Resilient Neighborhoods (CERENE), a new on-campus center which supports community sustainability and resilience through the amplification of Indigenous Knowledge and place-based learning. We offer our renewed strategic planning model for supporting personal, campus and community resilience as part of teaching sustainability, as we heal from the past and prepare for future disruptions to climate and society. 

Image Credit: Unsplash

Reframing Sustainability Education

In 2016, the ten-campus University of Hawai‘i system developed an Executive Policy on Sustainability that directed each campus to develop a sustainability plan tailored to their campus programs and addressing operations, research, curriculum, community, and culture. As part of this process, sustainability was defined at the system level as well as the campus level through the creation of sustainability and climate action plans. 

One of the missing elements of sustainability education that became obvious in this process was the gap between sustainability and Indigenous Worldviews. The notions of nature, wilderness and environment as being somehow “out there” is a colonized way of thinking that pervades sustainability discourse. Thus, the first step in reframing sustainability education is actually to decolonize the discourse and integrate Indigenous Worldviews into the thinking and framing of educational goals and outcomes. Not an easy task! 

Figure 1. Framework presented as part of the first campus climate plan, connecting “local” to “global”  through mauō (modern concepts of sustainability) and ‘ike (indigenous wisdom).


Sustainability as “innovation for the perpetuation of well-being”

In 2017, the college approved its first Sustainability and Climate Action plan. It was around this time that a new word, mauō, was created by the Hawaiian Lexicon Committee to describe sustainability in the context of modern life in Hawaii: They said, “Formerly, there was no need for the word mauō because it was a normal part of Hawaiian life. But today, it is critical that we distinguish between what is sustainable and what is not.” 

While the new word is not frequently used in everyday discourse, it was integrated into Kapi'olani Community College’s climate action plan in its verb form, to describe sustainability as an action: ho‘omauō means innovation for the perpetuation of well-being (Figure 1).

With this new reframing of sustainability as an action, Kapi'olani Community College (KCC) then integrated this conceptual framework into its Sustainability Across the Curriculum approach based on AASHE Stars criteria for Sustainability-Focused course sections. This approach recognized the integrative nature of sustainability based on the Indigenous Worldviews that nature is not “out there.” Thus, sustainability can be integrated into every aspect of teaching, learning and living.

Figure 2. Venn diagram of sustainability education overlapping with Indigenous Worldviews.


To live in this overlap of sustainability and Indigenous Worldview, one needs to practice both out in the world and within one’s own heart and mind. It’s not just about reducing our carbon footprint, greening our cafeterias, and redefining curriculum. It’s about shifting our thinking about our relationship with nature and our responsibility to the land, and each other. 

In 2018, with funding from Campus Compact, KCC completed a Civic Action Plan. This was one of the other missing elements in sustainability education. This plan provided the connection between campus and community and the development of an engaged faculty, staff, and student body experiencing active learning for the benefit of all. 

In 2021, in the midst of the COVID pandemic, these two plans were woven together into the “ConSOLIDated Climate and Civic Action Plan,” which was approved in March 2022. This plan emphasized that urgent climate actions will not progress without effective and durable educational efforts at developing an active and engaged public. 

The three goals of the SOLID plan are to broaden and deepen educational approaches for climate, sustainability and resilience learning; acknowledge, amplify Indigenous Knowledge systems and advance equity-centered community and civic engagement (Figure 3).

Figure 3. ConSOLIDated Climate and Civic Action Plan


During the pandemic, sustainability-focused course sections and class sizes dwindled, projects and partnerships disintegrated, and funding fluctuated.  It seemed like six years of sustainability planning had amplified talking the talk, but the partnerships and funding required for walking the walk suddenly vanished. 

The “ConSOLIDated” plan recognized this disjuncture, and out of the plan emerged another missing element of sustainability education and action planning: resilience.  

Resilience is the capacity of individuals, communities, businesses, institutions, and governments to adapt to changing conditions and to prepare for, absorb impacts, and recover from disruptions to everyday life (Ola 2019 Resilience Strategy). Resilience education is crucial for our ability to survive hardship and continue to strive toward thriving, abundance and prosperity. Remarkably, in the Hawaiian language, ho‘omauō is also defined as resilience; resilience is embedded within the definition of sustainability. 


Walking the Walk: Resilience from the inside out

Broadening the understanding of sustainability to include resilience opened up new pathways for KCC. The Center for Resilient Neighborhoods (CERENE) was established in 2022 as a potential revenue-generating center for the professional development and community engagement necessary to drive climate action, sustainability and resiliency at our campus and in the wider neighborhoods we serve. By leveraging partnerships and opportunities for grant funding in new ways, KCC created a fully independent, grant-funded center housed at the college in Honolulu (Table 1). CERENE has five strands of resilience research and community projects focused on food, energy, older age adults, resilience “Hubs” and community perceptions of resilience. 


Table 1. Examples of New Funding Sources for CERENE (The Center for Resilient Neighborhoods).


CERENE’s motto is cultivating “resilience from the inside out.” The inside out refers to the support of resilience efforts taking place at the neighborhood level across the island, and also emphasizes the need for intrapersonal resilience. We need both intrapersonal and interpersonal resilience in support of a prosperous interdependence (Figure 4). 


Figure 4. Modified planning framework with the inclusion of the intrapersonal and interpersonal


In alignment with the theme of addressing sustainability, social justice and climate change challenges by cultivating personal and interpersonal resilience, Kapi'olani Community College along with our partners University of Hawaii at Mānoa, Chaminade University and ‘Iolani School are hosting the 2023 Western Region Continuums of Service Conference March 14-17, 2023, with both in-person and virtual attendance options. Sponsors for this conference include State Farm Insurance and Hawaiian Electric Company, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, Youth Service Hawaii, State COS offices in Montana, Washington, Oregon, California and Hawaii. Registration opens in November, 2022. Please come join us. 


This essay is Part I of a two-part series on sustainability and resilience education at Kapi'olani Community College. Part II offers additional information on CERENE’s research and impact.


Opinions expressed in this essay are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the GCSE or its members.