Examining the Vocabulary of Sustainability

Camila Chaudron '08

December 2, 2014

“A lexicon is a collection of words connected by an idea,” said Douglas Gayeton to a room full of seventh-graders during his recent visit to Punahou on Nov. 19 – 20, 2014, with his wife, Laura Howard-Gayeton. Together, they co-founded The Lexicon of Sustainability, with the aim of deciphering buzz words like “organic,” “GMO” and “local” as well as more complex terms, such as “permaculture” and “biodiversity” using vivid visual and informational posters.

Seventh-grade students examine the Lexicon of Sustainability posters created by Douglas and Laura Gayeton, on display in Kuaihelani Learning Center.

“The Lexicon project seeks to illuminate the vocabulary and imagery of sustainable agriculture to educate, engage and activate people to pay closer attention to how they eat, what they buy, and where their responsibility begins for creating a healthier, safer food system in America,” explained Eliza Leineweber ’92 Lathrop, an Academy English faculty and the K – 12 garden resource teacher who coordinated the Gayeton’s visit.

During their two days on campus, the Gayetons met with over 400 students in grades 4 – 12 to discuss the importance of understanding the food system, explaining their photo collages and the ideas behind each image. “It’s important to put a name and a face to your food,” said Gayeton, who shared many stories of sustainable farming practices happening in the Islands. He also encouraged students to continue questioning where their food comes from and how to incorporate sustainable consumer practices into their lifestyles.

Many teachers are using the format of the project in their classes by having students create their own lexicon posters. inspired by the curricular adaptation designed by Howard-Gayeton. “It takes a lot of research to put together one poster,” said Malia Chong, one of four sixth-grade teachers using the Lexicon of Sustainability as inspiration for a class inquiry project. Academy teacher Emma McGuire is also using the format in her Hawaiian language level III class, where her students have chosen a word in Hawaiian as the focus of their lexicon project.

In addition to presenting the Lexicon project, Douglas Gayeton also discussed his experience making documentary films for PBS with Academy students in the Punavision club and shared writing tips with journalism and writing students following the publication of his most recent book, “Local: The new face of food and farming in America.”

The Gayeton’s visit to Punahou culminated with a free public lecture on sustainable food practices as part of Punahou’s Food for Thought series. “The series represents our efforts to explore how we can create opportunities to shape a more sustainable world,” said Lathrop in her opening remarks. Locally-sourced and organic tomato soup and sweet potato rolls – made by the School cafeteria staff – were served at the event, held in Thurston Memorial Chapel.

“We’re about giving people positive solutions, not a description of the problems the world is facing. There are stories on sustainability wherever you look,” Gayeton said, adding that only by sharing these stories can the cycle of inspiration and awareness continue.


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