Sustainability is the capacity to achieve enduring self-reliance by satisfying personal, ecological, socio-cultural & economic needs.


Sustainability can be thought of as an ongoing game with you as your own player or avatar. Ecological, socio-cultural & economic systems are interdependent aspects of the gameboard. Individuals in government, business, education, non-profits &/or the community are the players that influence other players & the gameboard. Each individual, group & system has needs. We can achieve sustainability by satisfying those needs. The OBJECTIVE OF THE GAME is to improve personal, ecological, socio-cultural & economic health & wellness as much as possible.


The gameboard represents the 3 interdependent systems that we interact with:

  • Ecological
  • Socio-Cultural
  • Economic


There are 5 main types of players with a couple key subsets:

  • Government
  • Business [Media, Technology (Soft/Hardware)]
  • Education
  • Non-Profit
  • Community


The rules of the game exist for the levels of each interdependent system:

  • Ecological: Laws of Nature
  • Socio-Cultural: Laws of Society
  • Economic: Laws of Finance
  • Personal: Laws of Human Nature (Physical, Emotional, Cognitive, Spiritual)




Land, Air, Water and Energy (LAWE) are the primary, yet limited, resources that we use to satisfy our most basic needs of food, air, water and shelter. How do we improve the conditions of these basic resources for generations to come?


Groups of individuals are the main elements of a social structure. Though many groups have varying beliefs and values, we’re all trying to satisfy the same basic needs. How do we foster the best social structures to satisfy those needs for generations to come?


Money is a medium of exchange that makes it convenient to buy things we need. The better we manage limited resources, the longer we can satisfy our needs. How do we create the best economic structures to ensure security and enrichment?


Hawaii's one of the most remote, highly populated places on the planet. It's also one of the most ecologically & socio-culturally diverse places. In many ways, our islands & community are like a mini version of the entire planet. The coastlines of our islands make it clear that we have very finite natural resources. In order to become more self-reliant, we have to prioritize how our personal, ecological, socio-cultural & economic needs get satisfied.


We are each part of one or more related groups - government, education, business, non-profit or the community. Each of us strive to make life better for ourselves, others and the places we live. When each of the five groupsʻ perspectives are taken into consideration in relation to the needs of the ecological, socio-cultural and economic systems, it will enhance our capacity to become more self-reliant and help improve quality of life for all.


An individual is the most basic part of a democratic government. This government acts in the interests of its people and does so within the framework of an evolving legal structure. How do we create the best legal structure to help improve our lives?


Teachers, teaching aids, students, families and the educational structure are the key components of an educational system. Within this system, students are influenced by their teachers, families and peers, whom are influenced by the structure, which is influenced by the government, which is influenced by the people who are the teachers, families and peers. It is a circle of influence. The intent of education is to enhance our skill sets so we are more able to satisfy our needs. How do we create the best educational system to help satisfy our needs for generations to come?


Jobs and money are the core elements of business. We use lots of our time figuring out how to make and sell goods and services to get money for things we need. The more enriching goods and services we buy or make from local sources and sell to non-local sources, the more money we have locally to satisfy our needs. How do we best use our time to satisfy and maintain our needs?


Community-oriented organizations often bridge the gap between government, business and the community to address issues of social equity and the many externalities not accommodated by flawed neo-classical economic models. How do we identify the needs of the systems and overcome barriers not addressed?

Communications (subset of business)

Information and interpretation are the most basic components of communication. Information is everywhere. Interpretation brings meaning or value to the information. The internet, television, radio, printed documents and personal interactions are tools for sharing meanings or values. How do we best use these tools to enhance our lives?


An individual is the most basic part of a group or community. As parts, we affect and are effected by each other. The benefits for a community increase with each person acting in others’ best interests. How do we act in others’ best interests? To engage in informed action, we must prioritize and plan short-, mid- and long-term, needs-based goals from ecological, socio-cultural and economic perspectives.

Technology (subset of business)

Hardware and software are basic building blocks of technology. Open source movements have enabled massive scale collaboration across all areas of human interest. How do we best use open source technology to efficaciously benchmark, monitor and improve our systemic health, wellness & security?

GROUP RULES: the Seven Triads of Sustainability


The involvement of the community in any activity that affects them is necessary in all stages of project implementation.

  • Communication (verbal & non-verbal) – Effectively sharing information, ideas and opinions
  • Commitment – An agreement or pledge to do something in the future out of mutual respect and shared responsibilities
  • Cooperation – Working together towards common and mutual benefit. Group bonds are enhanced as common interests, objectives, and standards are identified.


Everyday individuals, households and communities make choices that have broad and lasting impact which include issues of ownership, visioning, flexibility, informed consent, community choice, etc.

  • Consensus Building – creating collective agreement within the community is important for action
  • Awareness Building – facilitating overall understanding of the causes and effects of actions
  • Review and Hearings – involving all members of the community to discuss, debate and critically analyze the issues


A relationship between individuals or groups that is characterized by mutual assistance and responsibility for the achievement of a specified and agreed upon goal. The key to effective community partnership is that members of a community bring to the table different resources, skills and knowledge needed to take action.

  • Interdependence – mutual respect of each members strengths and weaknesses
  • Clustering – bringing together the different skills and resources needed for a particular/specific action
  • Networking – interacting with people who have similar interests or concerns, or providing support


Works when societal norms and practices enable and encourage communities to take increasingly greater control over their own development, without impinging upon the accepted rights of others which includes issues of impartiality of resource allocation, adaptation of external and internal pressures, responsiveness, representation, information disclosure, etc.

  • Transparency – processes, institutions and information are directly accessible to those concerned with them, and enough information is provided to understand and monitor them
  • Accountability – capable and responsible members have more authority and responsibility for decision-making, can improve delivery of the community’s aims and objectives, and can improve management of human and financial resources
  • Efficiency – the best use of locally available resources to maximize the output achieved

Knowledge & Information

Knowledge and Information lies at the core of a community’s ability to become aware, make appropriate decisions, communicate and act. This principle includes issues of learning, formatting and packaging information, targeting, delivery mechanisms, information sharing, technologies, etc.

  • Appropriateness – in a form that can be easily understood
  • Timeliness – quickly made available to assist in shaping short-, intermediate- or long-term consequences
  • Accessibility – all are able to acquire the desired knowledge and information regardless of socio-economic barriers or aptitudes

Continual Improvement

The setting up of a corrective and preventive action system, as well as a learning environment that makes use of lessons learned and involves all members of the community which includes issues of capacity building, indicators, etc.

  • Monitoring and evaluation – checks the progress of a project
  • Feedback – community members’ input helps increase efficiency and effectiveness
  • Needs Assessment – setting up targets and goals against which progress can be measured and monitored


As goals and processes, lifestyles depend externally on the smooth implementation of the other six triads, but are intrinsically linked to behavior patterns, ethics and value systems of individual community members which includes issues of quality of life, respect, dignity, self-esteem, etc.. The success of Sustain Hawaii will largely depend on choices adopted by the community and the value placed on consumed resources.

  • Behavior – integration of being-feeling-thinking, having, doing and interacting
  • Values – defined levels of worth or quality (good/bad) based on needs satisfaction (pleasure/pain)
  • Ethics – group-defined propositions of appropriate conduct, primarily based upon satisfaction of needs.
An example is our cyclic rule of circumstance and intent:

…you give what you get what you give…

This rule is the combination of the Golden Rule and social learning theory: “Do unto others as you’d have done unto you” reworded as “you get what you give” and then merged with “Do unto others as you’ve had done unto you” reworded as “you give what you get”.

INDIVIDUAL RULES: Needs-Based Rules of Behavioral Development

Behavior is the integration of our basic qualities of being-feeling-thinking, having, doing and interacting. Each item in the following list represents increasingly complex layers of a nested system.

1) Existence – the system we are a part of, interact with and depend upon; Instinct exists at this base level – inborn drive to satisfy needs (short-term)

The grid represents the four interrelated parts of an individual. The left half identifies mental-emotional aspects of life and the right half identifies the physical. Similarly, the top half represents the individual side of life, while the bottom suggests the group. Existence is the first assumption we can make regarding behavioral development. Upon conception, we become a viable part of our ecological, socio-cultural & economic systems. [table id=1 /]

2) Experience – a short while after conception, in utero, experiences begin to leave their impressions. The interaction of sensory receptors with external reality providing base satisfied-unsatisfied/pleasure-pain info; retention and relation enables perception of the subjective here and now; Habits begin to form at this stage – classical conditioning (mid-term); We are all driven to minimize pain and maximize pleasure. Pain is an internal signal of some physical, emotional and/or mental imbalance with external reality. It let’s us know that certain needs are not being satisfied. Pleasure is a bit trickier because if it’s not systemically and critically analyzed it easily leads to short-, mid- or long-term pain. So, if we are interested in minimizing our pain and that of others (future generations included), we must cautiously indulge our pleasure. With experience the individual begins to form a mental-emotional or psychological framework in which their unique thoughts and feelings begin to form their personality. [table id=2 /]

3) Meaning – natural mental-emotional by-product of an experience that’s stored and then related, via memory, to background experiences (the root of our perception of change). This is also the stage in which the “value filter” develops to define level of worth or quality (good/bad) via satisfaction of needs (pleasure/pain). It is not the environment or external stimuli described in “objective” terms that influences our behavior, but rather the meaning that each individual attaches to his or her experiences of the environment … [which] is a function of the totality of all previous experiences, something to which one can’t possibly have complete conscious access to. This hard view of subjective meaning creation has been described as extreme relativism, solipsism, operational closure, semantic impenetrability and/or computational irreducibility.

4) Logic – cognizance of inevitable change forces projection beyond the present moment, causing the desire of needs satisfaction (pleasure) and fear of needs being unsatisfied (pain – the root of insecurity)

    • As individuals and group members, we have physical, emotional and mental needs (existence)
    • We have experiences that don’t satisfy our needs
    • We may not have learned, via experience, what our needs truly are
    • If we do know what our needs are, we may not have associated the proper meaning to them, nor learned how to satisfy them…or are unable to
    • Yet, we strive to maximize pleasure and minimize pain by satisfying perceived needs
      • If base physical needs aren’t satisfied first, mental-emotional needs will not be adequately satisfied
      • Many physical resources are finite or non-renewable
      • If we all are driven to satisfy our needs and many of those needs are based upon finite resources, then we require a process that balances and sustains the supply and demand. Without it, violent conflict is inevitable.
    • Pain is an internal signal that certain needs are not being satisfied
    • Insecurity is a fear of pain
      • Fear is an expectation of a painful future experience
        • Expectations are projections based on the revealed patterns of past experience
          • Patterns are the foundations of belief, trust and truth
    • Insecurity, then, is a belief that certain needs won’t likely be satisfied

5) Action – experience-driven effort to accommodate logic (satisfy desire and reduce fear); this is the stage where intention seems to come about – operant conditioning (long-term)

6) Learning – heuristic approach to the system: trial and error reveals level of success in modifying our strategy to maximize pleasure and minimize pain; this stage is where the knowledge filter develops and adds to our needs-satisfaction repertoire by recognizing new or modified patterns

7) Belief – learned pattern of success or failure in a certain process; perceived long-term stability of the pattern establishes trust or perceived truth. As we learn about ourselves with respect to the systems we interact with, patterns begin to emerge. The patterns are the guides for maximizing pleasure. Increased pattern recognition creates increased awareness of interdependence. Understanding our intricate interdependencies deepens proportionately with enhanced physical, emotional, cognitive & spiritual need-satisfaction within our ecological, socio-cultural and economic systems, enabling us to progressively act more efficaciously in the best interests of all.

8) Wisdom – physical-emotional-mental balance and the ability to extend it outward.

9) Love – acting in each other’s best interests due to an implicit and explicit understanding of our common, interdependent nature; extinguishes insecurity and minimizes pain.

Additional Rules

  • Each moment represents our best attempt, given our current knowledge and skills, to satisfy our needs.
  • These needs are the general motivation for everything we do.
  • Vital limited resources, like land, water, air and energy, must be cared for and distributed equitably to accommodate everyone’s needs for generations to come.
  • Once survival needs are likely to be continuously met, we are ready to act upon satisfying deeper and broader needs for the mid- and long-term.
  •  The progressive satisfaction of the needs provides an individual the luxury of time to consider, explore, feel and understand more encompassing systems.
  • Unsatisfied, basic needs increase the likelihood for violent behavior, elevated health care risks, etc., which translate to higher risks and costs for everyone over the long-term.
  • The longer (time) an individual’s short-term needs go unsatisfied, the greater the risks for others. Risk is also often related to proximity (space) – the closer someone is to an individual who hasn’t satisfied their short-term needs, the greater the risk.
  • Once we have satisfied and sustained our short-term needs, it is beneficial for us to help others satisfy their short-term needs because it minimizes our own risks.
  • Individual desires and actions are externally influenced, which tend to be motivated toward satisfying a socio-politico-economic system’s needs.
  • A system’s needs, however, may vary from our individual needs, so it is necessary to critically evaluate each system. Does it take the full spectrum of individual needs into account? How can the needs be identified, described, and satisfied? How can the system be modified to accommodate the individual’s needs?


In order for any of us to live truly good lives we must satisfy our basic needs. “Human needs are few, finite & classifiable (wants are infinite & insatiable). Needs are also the same in all human cultures & across historical time periods. What changes over time & between cultures is the way or means by which the needs are satisfied. It is important that human needs are understood as a system – i.e. they are interrelated & interactive.” (Max-Neef 1989).

The vertical column on the left represent types of needs. The horizontal column on the top represents different parts of us that make us who we are. When the rows intersect with the columns, we are able to more specifically identify what will help us satisfy our needs. There are multiple types of satisfiers and each satisfier may have different qualities influencing their efficacy: intensity, duration, certainty, delivery, cost, proximity, fecundity, purity, quality, instrumentality, expectancy, direction, consciousness, number of people whose interests are involved, etc. [table id=4 /]

(Max-Neef 1989)


Satisfiers can be economic goods, types of social practices, organizations, political structures, subjective conditions, values and norms, spaces, contexts, types of behavior and attitudes. These satisfiers come in three forms: depleters, maintainers and enrichers. Enrichers are best for all situations. Maintainers also work, but less effectively, while depleters should be avoided entirely if possible.


Depleters come in three unsavory flavors:

  1. Destroyers don’t actually satisfy needs at all but destroy the possibility of satisfying a need and impair the satisfaction of other needs. An example of a destroyer is the arms race. It was meant to satisfy the need for protection but instead threatened to destroy those societies that were to be protected.
  2. Pseudo-satisfiers generate a false sense of satisfaction. Stereotypes are examples of pseudo-satisfiers which appear to satisfy a need for understanding, but which do not give real understanding.
  3. Inhibiting-satisfiers oversatisfy a given need, thereby hindering the satisfaction of other needs. E.g. an authoritarian classroom may oversatisfy the need for understanding and hinder participation, creation, identity and freedom.


Maintainers (or singular-satisfiers) accommodate one particular need. Insurance is an example of this. It satisfies the need for protection, without satisfying or hindering other needs.


Enrichers (or synergistic-satisfiers) contribute to the accommodation of several needs while taking care of one intended need. Breast feeding, for example, contributes to satisfying the need for subsistence while also contributing to protection, affection and identity.

(This concept of satisfiers is the work of Max-Neef 1989)


“Emotion is a complex set of interactions among subjective and objective factors, mediated by neural/hormonal systems, which can: (a) give rise to affective experiences such as feelings of arousal, pleasure/displeasure; (b) generate cognitive processes such as emotionally relevant perceptual effects, appraisals, labeling processes; (c) activate widespread physiological adjustments to the arousing conditions; and (d) lead to behavior that is often, but not always, expressive, goal directed, and adaptive” (Kleinginna and Kleinginna 1981 p. 355).

Most of our feelings or emotional responses are based on how well our needs are presently satisfied or were in the past. Below is a grid of emotions. The far left column represents the root of our emotions as satisfied or unsatisfied needs. If satisfied, we experience some form of pleasure. If unsatisfied, we experience some form of pain. Negative emotions, and their correlated behaviors, most often mean that some need hasn’t been met or that a memory of an unmet need has been triggered. Pain is our cue that something is out of balance and must to be accommodated to regain that balance. [table id=3 /]

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