Study highlights green economy

HONOLULU — A new study from the University of Hawai‘i Economic Research Organization compares economic indicators among three sectors that are key to Hawai‘i’s sustainability future: Renewable Energy, Agriculture and Natural Resource Management.  

The study, released May 30 with support from Hau‘oli Mau Loa Foundation and The Nature Conservancy, includes unprecedented data collected about Hawai‘i’s natural resource management sector. It is designed to help inform decision-makers of the current contribution and the future potential of these sectors.

“Hawai‘i’s economy and environment depend on one another,” said Suzanne Case, executive director of The Nature Conservancy’s Hawai‘i Program. “Our globally unique geography, natural beauty and resources draw people and commerce to the state.

“When Hawai‘i’s environment is healthy and well cared for, our natural resources can provide abundant fresh water, food from the land and sea, and other benefits that allow life — and business — to thrive in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean,” said Case. “This UHERO study provides the first snapshot of the economic indicators needed to track our public and private investment in caring for our precious environment.”

Utilizing existing economic data and a survey of organizations engaged in natural resource management, UHERO explored employment, average salaries, total expenditures and share of state gross domestic product to make its key findings.

The study indicates a promising climate for future job opportunities in renewable energy and natural resource management. Renewable energy jobs alone are growing at an annual rate of 23 percent over the past five years, the study states.

While most agricultural economic indicators declined dramatically from 1970 to 2007, the number of farms increased steadily from 3,000 in 1974 to 7,500 in 2007. The report suggests this is a transition to smaller farms and diversified agriculture.

The report says this sector is likely to strengthen given the public’s growing interest in food self-sufficiency, school garden programs, community supported agriculture programs, and buying local products.

Natural resource management jobs in Hawai‘i increased roughly 1.5 percent over the past five years, at a time when the state lost 1 percent of jobs overall. There are now a total of 3,279 full-time natural resource management jobs statewide.

The report says this figure represents a lower bound estimate, as the natural resource management survey response rate was approximately 58 percent.

Hawai‘i’s natural resource management expenditures in 2010 were at least $465 million, with likely future growth in public and private sector management of watersheds, invasive species, marine resources and other natural resource management priorities.

The report says there are opportunities to strengthen Hawai‘i’s economy and sustainability. At the same time, it calls for local training and education programs.

Read the complete report at www.uhero.hawaii.edu.

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