Jack Johnson Helps Connect Children to Their Land, Water and Food
By Amy Leibrock, Sustainable America
It's easy to like Jack Johnson's laid-back, acoustic-rock music. For the eco-minded, it's even easier to like the Hawaii-born musician for his environmental activism and green touring practices.
Recently, we got the opportunity to visit Johnson in Hawaii, where he and his wife Kim started the Kokua Hawaii Foundation, a nonprofit that provides environmental education in Hawaii schools and communities. Johnson showed us his foundation's work in action at Lanikai Elementary Public Charter School where he was acting as a docent for a third grade composting lesson (worms, cool!). We also learned how the island of Oahu deals with its food waste and how Johnson is moving the needle to lessen the music industry's environmental impact.
It's all here in this mini-documentary we made with Johnson in partnership with Nationswell.
Shaping a New Generation
Lanikai Elementary participates in Kokua Hawaii Foundation's AINA In Schools program. The program, named for the Hawaiian word for “land," connects children to their local land, waters and food by providing lesson plans to schools about gardening, nutrition and waste reduction. Parents, grandparents, community members—even Jack and his wife Kim—volunteer to teach the lessons.
The goal of the program is to get more local food into the schools and teach the next generation the importance of sustainable food. This message is especially relevant in Oahu where more than 90 percent of food is imported and most food waste is burned rather than composted. Fortunately, things are starting to change. The Big Island will soon construct a composting facility for food waste and compostable packaging. Hopefully, with help from this video, Oahu will follow their lead!
Johnson also carries his environmental messages on tour. Early in his career he became concerned with the enormous impact concerts have on the environment. So he started making changes, like running tour vehicles on biodiesel and making refillable water bottle stations available to fans. He has compost bins on tour buses and requires the venues he plays to cooperate with an environmentally responsible rider. Sometimes the changes he requests become permanent policies at venues.
“A lot of this stuff I've learned from Neil Young and Willie Nelson, these guys who have been touring for a long time," Johnson said. “It's something we take real seriously and we're trying to improve on every time we tour."
Over the years, Johnson says he's seen improvements in sustainable practices in the music industry, especially in the food area. A decade ago, he had to bring his own caterer to source local food at each location to feed the crew. Now, he's able to find caterers in each city that specialize in local sourcing.
Johnson's team also donates any leftover food through local food rescue groups whenever possible and makes sure the rest gets composted, even if it means bringing it to the next town until they find a place that can take it. “We've even had times where we're crossing borders and getting in trouble because we have all this food waste," he said.
But even one of the music industry's greenest musicians can get discouraged that the environmental movement isn't moving fast enough. “You can't help but wondering if all the work you're trying to do, is it working at all?" he said.
That's why Johnson's work with children is so important. "All it takes is for me to meet a sustainability major or an environmental engineering major who says, 'I remember when you came to my school and a big part of why I chose this path is those lessons I used to do,'" Johnson said. “It's about planting these little seeds. And to see that snowball effect … that's what give me hope."
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By 2030, almost a third of all the energy consumed in the European Union must come from renewable sources, according to binding targets agreed in 2018. Sweden is helping lead the way.
Sweden is a world leader in renewable energy consumption. Swedish Institute/World Bank
Naturally Warm<p>54% of Sweden's power comes from renewables, and is helped by its geography. With plenty of moving water and 63% forest cover, it's no surprise the <a href="https://sweden.se/nature/energy-use-in-sweden/#" target="_blank">two largest renewable power sources</a> are hydropower and biomass. And that biomass is helping support a local energy boom.</p><p>Heating is a key use of energy in a cold country like Sweden. In recent decades, as fuel oil taxes have increased, the country's power companies have turned to renewables, like biomass, to fuel local 'district heating' plants.</p><p>In Sweden these trace their <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360544217304140#fig3" target="_blank">origins back to 1948</a>, when a power station's excess heat was first used to heat nearby buildings: steam is <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/engineering/district-heating-system" target="_blank">forced along a network of pipes</a> to wherever it's needed. Today, there are around 500 district heating systems across the country, from major cities to small villages, providing heat to homes and businesses.</p><p>District heating used to be fueled mainly from the <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360544217304140" target="_blank">by-products of power plants</a>, waste-to-energy plants and industrial processes. These days, however, Sweden is bringing more renewable sources into the mix. And as a result of competition, this localized form of power is now the country's<a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360544217304140#fig3" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> home-heating market leader.</a></p>
Sweden is using smart grids to turn buildings into energy producers. Huang et al/Elsevier
Energy ‘Prosumers’<p>But Sweden doesn't stop at village-level heating solutions. Its new breed of energy-generation takes hyper-local to the next level.</p><p>One example is in the city of Ludivika where 1970s flats <a href="https://www.buildup.eu/sites/default/files/content/transforming-a-residential-building-cluster-into-electricity-prosumers-in-sweden.pdf" target="_blank">have recently been retrofitted with the latest smart energy technology</a>.</p><p>48 family apartments spread across 3 buildings have been given photovoltaic solar panels, thermal energy storage and heat pump systems. A micro energy grid connects it all, and helps charge electric cars overnight.</p><p>The result is a cluster of 'prosumer' buildings, producing rather than consuming enough power for 77% of residents' needs. With <a href="http://www.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:1232060/FULLTEXT01.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high levels of smart meter usage</a>, it's a model that looks set to spread across Sweden.</p>
<div id="d7bf9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8757b138d5570bec9d6aad18074a429a"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1273556364263071744" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Read more about Western Harbour and book a visit: https://t.co/ujSmVs9rNK 🏡🌳🌊 https://t.co/C5PuPziqIM</div> — Smart City Sweden (@Smart City Sweden)<a href="https://twitter.com/SmartCitySweden/statuses/1273556364263071744">1592474473.0</a></blockquote></div>
Scaling Up<p>A recent development by E.ON in Hyllie, a district on the outskirts of Malmö, southern Sweden, <a href="https://www.eonenergy.com/blog/2019/February/sweden-smart-city" target="_blank">has scaled up the smart grid principle</a>. Energy generation comes from local wind, solar, biomass and waste sources.</p><p>Smart grids then balance the power, react to the weather, deploying extra power when it's colder or putting excess into battery storage when it's warm. The system is not only more efficient, but bills have fallen.</p><p>Smart energy developments like those in Hyllie, Ludivika, and renewable-driven district heating, offer a radical alternative to the centralized energy systems many countries rely on today.</p><p>The EU's leaders have a challenge: how to generate 32% of energy from renewables by 2030. Sweden offers a vision of how technology and local solutions can turn a goal into a reality.</p>
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