Issue 9.5: October/November 2006

Green Betty

story by Julia Steele
photo by Ann Cecil


Pauoa is a working-class neighborhood set behind Honolulu’s high-rises, a place of postage-stamp lots, aging plantation houses and crooked streets. It’s not where you might expect to find a thriving sustainability project—but if a tree can grow in Brooklyn, why not a green house in Pauoa? And by green house, we don’t mean a glass-paneled hot house or a building done in a verdant shade of paint. We mean a Green House, a property that has been designed to leave as small a footprint on the earth as possible. On this 5,000-square-foot residential plot, the sun powers the panels on the roof, the house sparkles thanks to all-natural cleansers, the taro patch out back is nurtured by reclaimed water, and chickens wander around picking off bugs in the edible yard. And in the middle of it all is Betty Gearen, a modern-day Mother Nature who, dismayed by the current administration’s environmental policies, decided to transform her house into an eco-center. But for Betty, that was only the beginning. After proving that everyone can live more sustainably—even in a densely packed urban environment—Betty decided to teach others how to do it, and the Green House became a schoolhouse. Today, classes at the Green House include Jon Abbott’s on making solar panels, Mindy Jaffe’s on composting with worms and Tia Silvasy’s on organic gardening. Betty herself teaches classes on soap-making and papermaking.

“We try to pack as much as we can into a small space,” says Betty. As she tells me this, she’s in her workshop out back, surrounded by oils and herbs for soap, paper freshly created from ginger leaves and marigold petals, and used orange juice cartons that will become butterfly houses. Butterfly houses? Yes, parent-child classes have also become popular at the Green House, and keiki now come to learn to make everything from papier-mâché animals to a garden for butterflies—replete with house. “We’re seeing people showing up from all over the island, wanting to learn about sustainability,” says Betty. “I think there’s a tipping point here.”

For more information and a class schedule, contact Betty at