Sustainable America Blog

Mini Doc: Jack Johnson’s Sustainable America

Jack Johnson digs through worms as part of a compost lesson at Lanikai Elementary School in Hawaii.

Jack Johnson digs through worms as part of a compost lesson at Lanikai Elementary School in Hawaii.

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 over 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!

Jack Johnson plays music for kids at an elementary school in Hawaii as part of his Kokua Foundation work

Touring Green
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,” says Johnson. “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 says.

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,’” says Johnson. “It’s about planting these little seeds. And to see that snowball effect…that’s what give me hope.”

We would like to thank the following for helping make this mini-doc possible:
EcoScraps
Hawaiian Earth Products
Jack and Kim Johnson
Kokua Hawaii Foundation
Lanikai Elementary Public Charter School
Leilani Munter
Nationswell

Related Articles
How to Compost in Your Apartment
Food Rescue: Now there’s a Map for That
A Milestone for Zero-Waste Events

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By the Numbers

Currently 50 million households suffer from food insecurity, meaning that family members cannot always meet their basic food needs.

10 million people a year could be fed through the recovery of just one-fifth of food waste.

Only 2% of food waste is composted or otherwise recycled—62% of paper is recycled.

Consumers throw out about 40% of the fresh and frozen fish they buy.

The U.S. produced 208 pounds of meat per person in 2009—60% more than Europe.

Low income commuters spend a much higher proportion of their wages on gas—8.6% versus 2.1% at $4 per gallon.

Food prices rose 35-40 percentage points between 2002–2008.

Americans consume 25% of the world’s produced oil, but our nation holds less than 3% of the world’s proven oil reserves.

The International Energy Agency says greenhouse gas emissions rose 3.2% last year, with a 9.3% increase in China offsetting declines in the US and EU.


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