Re-localization and Sustainability:
Linking Industrial and Political Ecology on Molokai and the Big Island, Hawaii

Aerial of Agricultural Lands in Molokai HI

Aerial view of agricultural lands on Molokai, HI

While it is widely agreed that current human systems are moving along unsustainable trajectories, there is little consensus regarding what a sustainable trajectory might look like. A growing body of academic and popular literature associates localized systems of production and consumption with improved sustainability, but the role of localism in the production of sustainable development outcomes has yet to be systematically studied. The proposed research will investigate the political and ecological processes underlying re-localization efforts on the islands of Molokai and the Big Island within the Hawaiian Islands, and the implications for sustainability. This project will employ an interdisciplinary approach that combines industrial and political ecology, two fields that employ divergent approaches to the study of coupled human-natural systems but that have the potential to be synergistic.

To determine whether and how re-localization is a viable pathway to sustainability, this project will examine the different ways in which re-localization is articulated, the conditions that enable or disable re-localization, and the ecological, cultural, and socio-economic effects of re-localization on two island sites in the Hawaiian Islands that face particular sustainability challenges and that are especially concerned with the creation of localized and sustainable economies. This research will integrate political and industrial ecology in order to qualitatively examine the politics of re-localization—how are ‘local’ boundaries defined, whose interests are represented and who wields the power to re-localize—as well as to quantitatively measure baseline material flows and the material change that is precipitated by re-localization movements. Integration of political and industrial ecology in the context of re-localization initiatives in the Hawaiian Islands will allow for the examination of both the political-economic factors that shape and respond to material flows and the quantitative changes in resource flows that accompany socio-political change, respectively.

Along with its intellectual and theoretical contributions, this project aims to facilitate the development of a long-lasting broad-based sustainability network based around two main goals: the holistic integration of on-going sustainability-oriented research in Hawaii—much of which is currently separated by disciplinary institutional divides—and the strengthening of linkages between sustainability research, community development, and policy-making. This project will involve significant engagement with the public through activities oriented towards active learning (e.g. school visits, mentoring of undergraduate research assistants), cross-sector dialog (e.g. through quarterly community forums), and public participation in policy-making.


PI: Clare Gupta

Academic mentor: Dr. Marian Chertow

Community Partner: The Kohala Center

Time Period: September 2012-February 2015

Funded by National Science Foundation SEES (Science for Education, Engineering and Sustainability)