Quote Unquote: Meet the Man Making a Move Toward a More Sustainable Hawai‘i

Josh Stanbro developed a love for the land growing up on his family’s 80-acre apple farm in Northern California. His affinity for the environment grew when he spent months on an escort boat accompanying voyaging canoe “Te Aurere” to the Cook Islands right out of college. After working for The Trust for Public Land and the Hawai‘i Community Foundation, Stanbro, 46, was tapped last year to serve as chief resilience officer and executive director of the city’s new Office of Climate Change, Sustainability and Resiliency.
Josh Stanbro Going Green
Josh Stanbro
Photo: Aaron K. Yoshino


I TRAVELED THROUGH THE South Pacific, and it opened my eyes to how amazing the spirit of ingenuity is. On that stretch of trips to islands and seeing the ways people and the environment interact really crystallized for me that people are an important part of sustainability. And sustainability is an important part of people.


WHEN I WOUND UP ON THE escort boat for Te Aurere, the grand irony is we lost [power] partway there because we got salt water in our engine. It completely went kaput. So the voyaging canoe was giving us water. They’re like, “Here you go, escort boat. Thanks for all of your help.”


IF YOU LOOK BACK 1,000 years, the ahupua‘a concept and the stewardship of the environment were always the most important ways for people to live in harmony in an island environment. That’s just as true today.


WE’RE WORKING WITH THE VERGE Hawai‘i conference [in June] to have … a transportation [series]. It’s thinking about … how do we implement the mayor’s vision around a 2045 renewable transportation goal?


RESILIENCE IS NOT JUST environmental. You can have shocks and stresses that kind of threaten a community that could come from income inequality, homelessness or lack of affordable housing. We have to look at the sustainability issues of the 21st century in a holistic way.


MY FAVORITE PLACES I’VE traveled to were honestly the Philippines, Cuba and the Orkney Islands (Scotland), which is where my family came from hundreds of years ago. It’s interesting that all of those places that I’ve always enjoyed going to are islands.


“There’s something really comforting about knowing the distinctness of a place, and islands do that naturally.”


WE HAVE AN AQUAPONICS system with tilapia at home. My kids are the ones who feed the fish. We try to eat homegrown food as much as possible. I think that’s a reflection of growing up rural. Part of that is also a cost of living thing. The cost of living in Hawai‘i is no joke.


BEING ABLE TO MIND MELD with the other chief resilience officers in these 99 other cities around the globe, who are trying to figure this out … is really helpful. We’re sort of feeling our way through the cave and yelling out to each other, “I see the light!”


Honolulu was chosen in 2016 to join the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities, which helps communities across the globe adopt and implement sustainable plans and practices.