Issue 17.6: December 2014 / January 2015

The Green Police

Story By: Michael Shapiro
Photo By: Elyse Butler

Scott Cooney approaches the front door towing a hand truck loaded with ominous-looking black Pelican cases, but I’m not worried. My new solar system is pumping cruelty-free kilowatt-hours into my house. My bimonthly report from Hawaii Energy says I’m doing GREAT :) :) (all caps, double smileys), and that I’m the twelfth most efficient of my one hundred nearest neighbors. The Prius in the garage sneers at Chevron, and the GMO-free soybeans in my ENERGY STAR freezer are specks in Monsanto’s eye. It wasn’t easy or cheap, but I’m greenish—enough at least that Cooney won’t get much mileage out of his red pen. I open the door and shake his hand more in challenge than greeting.

Cooney is the owner of Pono Home, whose mission is to help Island residents be better people or, as the name implies, more pono—Hawaiian for “right” or “proper.” Cooney scours your home for sources of waste, inefficiency and pollution; then he fixes them. For this eco-guilt-trip (he calls it an “audit”) you will pay him $80. But there will be no green-shaming, he assures me. “People don’t have time to do everything they should, which is totally fine,” and here he flashes an affable smile. “I’m non-judgmental.”

But the problem—and the niche for Pono Home—goes beyond people being merely too busy to stop hurting the Earth. There’s a disconnect between our good intentions (let’s save nature!) and our follow-through (but The Bachelor is on!). Cooney tells me about a study by Canadian sustainability researcher Doug McKenzie-Mohr, who invited forty people to a free workshop, gave them energy-saving tips and even equipment, like water heater insulators and high-efficiency shower heads. In the weeks after, only two had wrapped their heaters, and only eight had installed the shower heads that they got for free.

When Cooney heard McKenzie-Mohr speak at the University of Hawai‘i in 2013, the LED in his head flickered on. Someone needed to make the horses drink. Thus Pono Home: Cooney audited his first house that year, and it’s been green lights all the way since then. In fact, Hawaii Energy Excelerator selected Pono Home as one of fifteen clean tech startups that have the best potential to wean the Islands from imported fossil fuels. That’s because, basically, humanity’s learned goodness is no match for its innate laziness. “Our whole economy is built on convenience,” Cooney says. “Why should sustainability be any different?”

But I am not lazy, I bristle. You know: solar, soybeans, hybrid car? “A lot of people say, ‘I’ve done everything I can,’” Cooney replies, “then I find six hundred more things they can do.” He cracks the Pelican cases full of light bulbs, faucet aerators and auditing tools and sets about finding those things. He tosses hygrometers in the fridge to measure humidity (ours is ideal), drops dye tablets in the toilets to test for leaks (watertight). He checks for vampire appliances sucking power (all dead), vacuums the (already clean) dryer lint trap and the (dust-free) refrigerator coils. Immaculate.

But things go south at light bulbs: all mercury-filled CFLs and—mea culpa—a few prodigal incandescents from the twentieth century. My shower head, too, is apparently the household equivalent of a fire hose. Cooney adroitly swaps in LEDs and twists on a high-efficiency shower head. I get poor marks, too, for not taking advantage of the energy-saving features on my appliances, which Cooney promptly sets to more pono. When it comes to my pantry and bathroom, I’m an abject embarrassment: BPA in the plastic water bottles, carcinogens in the canned food, endocrine disruptors in the baby shampoo. I’ve been so busy not hurting the Earth, I forgot about not poisoning the baby.

After three hours Cooney gives me a list of recommendations. I ask him in all honesty how pono I am—what’s my grade? “Pretty good,” he says. “Maybe 75 percent.” Brutal. Just PRETTY GOOD :/ . But I look forward to my next report from Hawaii Energy, which I’m confident will be GODLIKE :) :) :) after I’ve followed through on Cooney’s recommendations, which I aim to do when I’m done binge-watching the fourth season of Walking Dead on Netflix.