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Hawaii Business' SmallBiz 2013 Editor's Choice Awards

Hawaii small businesses are honored in five categories: New, Green, Woman-Owned, Innovation and Long-term Success

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Winning companies in five categories: Green Business, Innovation, New Business, Woman-Owned, and Long-Term


Left to right, Amy Brinker, Ross Yamasaki, Vance Arakaki and Tamara Armstrong

Photo: David Croxford

Best Green Business

KYA Sustainability Studio

Nominator: Scott Cooney, The GBO Group

KYA Sustainability Studio is a think tank that specializes in environmentally friendly and culturally sensitive design, development and architecture. Full of young and energetic associates, the studio is the brainchild of architect Ross Yamasaki and an offshoot of the KYA Design Group.

The studio started about six years ago, when Yamasaki decided to simultaneously address the brain drain of smart young people from Hawaii and the need for strategic sustainability planning by businesses and communities.

“My passion and vision existed beyond architecture,” Yamasaki says. Accordingly, the employees of KYA Sustainability Studio hold degrees ranging from environmental studies and anthropology to political science, law and architecture. This multifaceted approach was partly a response to organizations working in separate niches without sufficient cooperation.

Tamara Armstrong, director of client relations at the studio, has a BA in sustainability from UH-Manoa. “When I was going to school,” she says, “people still needed an explanation of what my major meant. Now the challenge is to elaborate and talk about sustainability on a deeper level.”

The KYA crew believes that ecological and cultural sustainability can be merged with economic efficiency and financial benefit. While Armstrong and director of analytics Vance Arakaki contribute their technical expertise on, respectively, reducing waste and improving organizational efficiency, the team says another fundamental facet of their work is preserving Hawaii’s sense of place and uniqueness. Director of policy Amy Brinker finds inspiration in the pluralism and fluidity of traditional Hawaiian culture. Thus, according to the studio, the most respectful homage that could be paid to local traditions is in embracing innovation and progress with a clear awareness of historical continuity. The team strives to pay equal attention to both local geographical factors and culture, including Hawaiian and immigrant traditions.

“My favorite example of work where we implement this set of values is our renovation of the (Honolulu International) Airport,” says Armstrong. KYA says it was instrumental in the Department of Transportation’s new sustainability program and that it designed guidelines for future development, addressing issues such as energy efficiency, water conservation, and waste and carbon management, along with cultural appropriateness.

KYA’s modernization of HNL’s lobbies 2 and 3 won a distinguished entry at the 2012 Honolulu Awards of the American Institute of Architects. “The airport is important,” Brinker says, “because it’s the first place most people see when they come to Hawaii. It is also the last before they leave. At the same time, we don’t want it to be just another airport – it’s the Hawaii airport.”

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