By Frank Whitman
“Sustainability is not just about the environment anymore,” said Austin J. Shelton III, associate professor of island sustainability and director of the University of Guam Center for Island Sustainability and Sea Grant. “Sustainability is really about creating a future for ourselves and for our children and their children.”
The center recently hosted the 2023 University of Guam Conference on Island Sustainability from April 11 to 15 at the Hyatt Regency Guam.
More than 450 people attended the annual conference. Participants were from islands throughout Micronesia including the Marianas, Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia; from South Korea, Hawaii, American Samoa, the U.S. mainland; and 25 or 30 people from the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.
The Caribbean attendees are members of the National Science Foundation including SEAS Islands Alliance, of which Guam is a member.
The alliance has made the Guam conference an important meeting place, Shelton said.
The conference featured a dozen speakers from the FSM, Guam, Palau, American Samoa, Somalia, Texas and United Airlines in addition to panel discussions, meetings, tours of Guam ecosystems and “green” projects.
Keynote speakers Henk Rogers and Julian Aguon garnered the most attention, Shelton said.
Rogers is a technology entrepreneur who is most well-known for his role in bringing Tetris to the world. “He has his new movie on Apple TV about how he went into the USSR and was able to pull out the rights to Tetris along with the creator of the game,” Shelton said.
More recently, Rogers has been working on a project to move the world to adopting 100 percent renewable energy by 2045. “We ended his keynote presentation with a special (memorandum of understanding) signing with the governor of Guam and Henk Rogers’ Blue Planet Alliance,” Shelton said. “We also signed an MOU with the University of Guam to continue the education and training that supports that mission for 100 percent renewable energy.”
The Blue Planet Alliance is an organization that supports the renewable energy goal.
In 2019, Guam became the first U.S. territory to enact a law – Public Law 35-46 – setting the goals of 50 percent renewable energy by 2035 and 100 percent by 2045. In doing so, it followed Hawaii, California “and a few other states that have done something similar,” Shelton said. “Blue Planet Alliance appreciates that we are now in that circle of island leaders that are pushing forward with that. They came by (the conference) to offer help and support for us to be able to achieve that ambitious goal by 2045.”
The other keynote speaker, Aguon, is a CHamoru from Guam and “not just a popular attorney here, but well-known worldwide as an international human rights lawyer,” Shelton said.
In addition to numerous books, articles and lectures, Aguon – while representing Vanuatu - recently secured a resolution by the United Nations General Assembly requesting an advisory opinion on climate change from the International Court of Justice. The March 29 ruling has “been covered all over CNN and international news media.”
The conference is one of a number of initiatives of the Center for Island Sustainability intended to make people aware of, and take part in, opportunities to help build a sustainable future locally and globally.
“We’ve got a team of science communicators who work at our UOG Center for Island Sustainability,” Shelton said. “We put on this world-class conference that brings hundreds of people from around the world. We’re constantly putting out educational outreach materials; we have people physically going out with our outreach team to schools and community events. We have our conservation corps on the side of the road every week; they attract volunteers to come on Fridays for an island beautification event where volunteers are welcome.”
Other innovative ideas come from the Guam Green Growth initiative. “We have things like the Guam Green Growth Circular Economy Makerspace and Innovation Hub where you can turn waste products into new marketable products,” he said. “You keep materials in use, you design out waste and pollution. Instead of thinking about trash as waste, you think of waste as resources.”
Those who make use of the maker space at Chamorro Village have access to 3-D printers, laser cutters, computer numerical control routers. “Bring in the materials; create something new and get the business development resources to help you succeed and make money off something people were throwing away for many years.”
G3 community gardens are in Dededo, Talofofo and Hagatna.
The third season of the G3 Conservation Corps is underway. Under the conservation corps, 12 individuals are sent into the community where they get workforce training in the green economy, working in aquaculture, agriculture, renewable energy and other environment-friendly industries.
Another significant project is the Guam restoration of watersheds, or GROW initiative. “We’re planting trees and putting in sediment filter devices to reduce land erosion and improve the health of downstream coral reefs,” Shelton said. “We’re also now leveling up the science to use drone technology to drop seeds into these hard-to-reach places and speed up our restoration process.”
In order to keep track of the island’s sustainability progress and identify problem areas, G3, in partnership with the governor’s office, in 2020, posted an online dashboard that is aligned with the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. It includes metrics for a wide range of indicators that include infant mortality, number of farmers, obesity, renewable energy, small businesses, alcohol use and poverty.
Sustainability is defined as “meeting the needs of today without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs,” Shelton said. “A simple way to say it is ‘living here in Guam like we intend to stay, like we want a future here.’”
And while he notes that sustainability is no longer limited to environmentalism, it also “is not just about sacrifice either,” he said. “We can see pathways to a prosperous and sustainable future through green growth initiatives.”