What is the Carbon Neutrality Challenge?

The Carbon Neutrality Challenge is a tree-planting initiative from the MoraLab at The University of Hawai’i at Mānoa led by associate professor Dr. Camilo Mora with the mission to make Hawai’i the first carbon-neutral state in the US by planting native trees and restoring Hawaii’s old-growth forests.

The idea came from Dr. Mora’s 7 year old daughter when she suggested to her dad that having a tree-planting competition would help to solve climate change on a local level while making tree planting more popular with students and their parents.


Climate change is the #1 environmental threat of our generation, and that's especially true here in Hawai'i.

Hawaii’s native forests evolved to become one of the Earth’s most unique and abundant biological treasures, home to more than 10,000 unique species, 90% of which don’t exist anywhere else in the world, including more than 175 different native tree species.

Hawai’i also has the only tropical rainforests in the US, and by far the most endemic species per capita on the planet.

Sadly, since human arrival 1000 years ago, Hawaii’s rich wildlife and the forests that support it have been reduced by more than 50%, and this negative trend is getting worse as climate change increases.  

As a result, Hawai’i claims more than 1/3rd of the animals on the U.S. Endangered Species List, and when you include insects, nearly 60% of Hawaii’s total wildlife is endangered, by far the highest percentage of any state.

The accelerating negative consequences of human-caused climate change are threatening to destroy Hawaii's precious ecosystems forever, making the islands unrecognizable and unlivable to future generations of humans, plants, and animals. We cannot allow this to happen.


The ultimate solution to climate change is carbon neutrality – when our CO2 emissions are equal to the emissions removed. Planting trees is the single best way to off-set carbon emmissions, AND, it's the best way to restore and preserve Hawaii's unique ecosystems.

The Carbon Neutrality Challenge is simple. Plant trees. Reforest Hawai'i. Go Carbon Neutral. Solve climate change. Preserve Hawai'i ecosystems for future generations.

The solution is not only bringing back the ecosystems themselves, but also bringing back the deep reverence for the natural world that permeated ancient life in old Hawai’i, and allowing us to recognize our responsibilities as servants of the place, rather than the other way around. “He ali‘i no ka ‘aina, he kauwā ke kanaka” (the island is chief, the human is but a servant).


Dr. Camilo Mora holding a Kou tree seedling to be planted. Dr. Mora leads the Carbon Neutrality Challenge and the MoraLab at The University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.


Even with advanced technology, planting trees is still the most viable solution to convert CO2 into biomass, reduce our carbon footprint, and solve climate change. Planting trees makes a global problem more approachable on a local level, and raises public awareness about the importance of creating a more sustainable Hawai'i.

Besides the benefits for carbon sequestration, there are other practical reasons why planting trees in Hawai’i is important. Restoring Hawai'i forests will have a trickle-down positive impact on the entire state and help bring our island ecosystems back into harmony with nature.

The restoration of Hawai’i forests will in turn improve the quality of habitats for endangered species and native wildlife, it will reduce erosion and its impact on coastal marine ecosystems like coral reefs, and it will enhance water retention and the efficiency of our freshwater supplies.  

We believe that in Hawai’i we have a unique opportunity and also a duty to set a new standard and be a world leader in carbon neutrality – helping to generate new social norms that are desperately needed to avert the pace of climate change while restoring our native island ecosystems. We believe big change starts with small actions, and that making Hawai'i carbon neutral can be as simple as planting trees and restoring our ancient forests.


The Carbon Neutrality Challenge started a few years ago with small scale tests to understand the feasibility and challenges we might face in regrowing Hawai’i forests, and now, with your help, we are ready to take the project to the next level.

Our goal is to plant millions of trees across Hawai’i, but we need people to get excited about this possibility first.

That’s where you come in!


Dr. Mora is an associate professor at the University of Hawai'i. His work on climate change has been showcased in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Newsweek, Time, Fortune, CNN, and others.

He’s authored over 65 scientific publications, three of which have been among the top 100 science stories in the world in 2017, 2013, and 2011. He is among one of Hawaii's top 20 people to watch for the next 20 years according to Hawai‘i Business Magazine.



This project is focused on planting 5 different Hawai'i native tree species, including Koa, Wiliwili, Kou, Lonomea, and Milo. Learn more about them below.

Koa – the most valuable and famous tree in Hawai’i, the word koa also means warrior in Hawaiian. This tree doesn’t grow anywhere else in the world. Its wood is durable, beautiful and long-lasting and sometimes called “Hawaiian mahogany.” In old Hawai’i the wood was used to build ocean-going canoes, surfboards, ukuleles, and spear handles. Koa was considered the wood of Hawaiian royalty and even today is revered as one of the most valuable hardwoods in the world. *Fun Fact: Brink’s guitar is made from koa wood

Wiliwili – really strong deciduous tree that can grow in the harshest environments and able to grow to 50 feet tall and its canopy spreads to 50 feet wide. It’s a flowering tree that can produce flowers of different colors. This tree creates a lightweight wood that was used in old Hawai’i to build canoes, surfboards, and fishing baskets. The flowers were used to make leis and to make medicines.

Kou – highly prized among ancient Hawaiians who used the leaves to dye kapa cloth, create medicines and to create wood art carvings due to the beauty of its grain and ease of carving. In old Hawai’i, kou was used to create dishes, utensils and for food storage. Kou is a flowering tree and the orange flowers were often used to make leis. It’s drought, wind, and salt tolerant making it a really good survivor.

Lonomea – known for their large hanging fruit which is tasty to birds but not people. It’s a large tree up to 60 feet with a white trunk and small white flowers. The seeds were used to create medicines and leis in old Hawai’i and the wood was also used to create spears for hunting and fishing.

Milo – known as “Pacific rosewood,” Milo trees were considered sacred by early Polynesians. The home of King Kamehameha I in Waikiki was surrounded by milo trees. They grow to a height of 50 feet with a spread of 30 feet providing great shade. Its wood was prized for making bowls, carvings, calabashes, and dishes and the bark was used as cordage, the fruits used to create dyes, medicines, oils, and gum. The massive root system of the trees allows them to grow well on sandy beaches in full sun and they are a great way to prevent erosion. The tree produces flowers that resemble the yellow hibiscus, which is a close cousin. There is a Hawaiian proverb which refers to the use of the leaves, blossoms or seeds of the milo in love magic, hana aloha. It says, "He milo ka la'au, mimilo ke aloha." (Milo is the plant; love goes round and round.)

"Life is better with Aloha."

- Brink, Founder of Livin' Aloha





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