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Policy Lab

Hawaii Legislature: Clean Economy Progress Hangs in the Balance

April 29, 2022

· 6 min read
Josh Stanbro
Josh Stanbro Policy Fellow

The last couple months have been a hard lesson about the danger and limitations of our old-school fossil fuel economy. Hawaii and other communities had to scramble to unplug from Russian oil and the brutal war crimes that it funds. Then the IPCC climate change report came out essentially stating that every corner of the earth is already feeling climate impacts, and that we have less than 48 months to reverse our addiction to fossil fuel or face an “unrecognizable” planet. Whatever field you work in, no matter where you live, the time for talk is over. Only actions and policies that cut the cord with oil will save lives now.

Elemental Excelerator is working overtime to cultivate climate tech business solutions — and supporting policies that level the playing field for climate tech startups to compete against dirty, conventional technologies and remove barriers to rapid scaling — so that Hawaii can truly lead a clean economy revolution, not only in word but in deed. And we’ve proven that it works not just theoretically — but financially. Our startups have solved thorny problems across six areas: energy; mobility; food & agriculture; circular economy; nature-based solutions; and water. But these solutions have also provided direct financial benefit to Hawaii. Our EEx Fund One returned $2.04 million to the State of Hawaii based on a $1.5 million investment from HSDC/HTDC. What’s more, these companies are now creating great jobs and helping transition us towards a clean economy and supporting local agriculture through companies like Farm Link.

We already know what works on the technology side and the policy solutions to help accelerate them, and we need to scale up our policy response NOW — not next year or down the road. Elemental has been advocating for key bills at the Hawaii state legislature that will help open opportunities for hundreds of innovators that are inventing the new, clean economy today. Our experience has shown the dire need and tremendous impact potential for this type of place-based, comprehensive economy-wide approach to be taken in every state across the country.

Here’s where things stand…


SB2963/HB1801 is the “State Lead by Example” bill, which would ensure that state facilities pursue energy efficiency and are built with low-carbon materials wherever possible. Passage of this bill will open up large opportunities for our building and energy startups (such as the Elemental portfolio company Shifted Energy) to deploy their technologies as the state retrofits buildings to cut utility use and save taxpayers millions on energy and water bills. A similar approach adopted by the City and County of Honolulu is making daily progress has already resulted in energy savings of over 50% in many facilities. And many other cities, counties, and states have passed and implemented similar policies in recent years.


SB3158 is designed to accelerate the transition to low-carbon micro-mobility transportation (along the lines of our portfolio company Bikeshare Hawaii), but to also ensure that any financial support goes to the low- and moderate-income community members that need it most. Equity needs to be at the heart of not only every policy Elemental supports, but also built into the approach of every start-up we fund. As gas prices rise, we love that this bill will help people move around town with less impact on the climate and lower their cost of living in our community!

Circular Economy

Hawaii is (literally) swimming in waste, with the great Pacific garbage patch swirling off shore and a close look at our beach sand revealing an array of plastic particles. But what if our packaging was part of a solution rather than the source of our problems? HB2399, which establishes an Extended Producer Responsibility Program, and Elemental companies like Better Packaging Co. can help turn the tide on waste, making sure that the responsible packaging choice is the most cost effective.


Hawaii has had a wake-up call over the past year on the water front. The fuel spills at Red Hill, the shutting down of wells, and the awareness that our islands have the most cesspools per capita in the nation are making water solutions critical. That’s why we love portfolio company Cambrian Innovation and HB1806, which gives the Department of Health the ability to ok new technologies for wastewater treatment that steer us away from cesspools. Thankfully, this bill was approved by both the House and Senate and was sent to Governor Ige for signature! Climate change means that we’ll have less fresh water in our aquifers down the road, so we need to make sure that we are using new tech to reclaim and re-use every drop in the new circular economy!


Finally, while it’s important to adopt good policies in the specific areas that Elemental focuses in, we aren’t going to win on climate unless we push for true structural changes as well that can transform the economic ecosystem and raise sustainable standards across the board. That’s why we supported HB 2278 — the “carbon cashback” bill that we believe is fundamentally necessary to reflect the true social and ecological costs of fossil fuels, and truly open the door for innovative alternative technologies. This bill passed the House but didn’t get a hearing in the Senate, and we’re hoping for more progress next year.


Another bill we supported had the potential to open up a whole new vehicle for financing projects that advance energy and water security. HB 2088, which would allow commercial property owners to finance improvements from Elemental innovators like Stem and Bright Light Systems, was passed by both House and Senate but has failed so far to go to conference committee. It’s too bad. It would have kept more money in our local economy rather than shipped off to pay for imported fuel.

The transition to a just and clean economy requires more than just smart entrepreneurs and innovative products. It needs a level playing field that only good public policy can provide. We encourage the legislature to pass HB1801, SB3158, HB2399 and HB2088 out of conference committee, and send these bills to the Governor for signature.

Our businesses, and our island community, are waiting … for a clear path away from the dangers of fossil fuels and toward the safety of a sustainable future.