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January 3, 2011 / robertstockham

Is “Green” your mantra, mindset, or buzzword?

A guest post from Robert Stockham at Great Lakes Green Pages:

I know I am the oddball in the room.  That is fine.  I accept it.  I am that weird guy who has his own name tag, tries to bring his own cup, and often will not take your business card, because I don’t want more paper.   That’s fine.  I don’t mind being different from everyone else, and I don’t mind being the weird one in a group.  I also don’t expect others to be like me.  That being said, I have been to 2 separate sustainability events that were hosted by the local chapter of the USGBC, and it amazes me that people do not even think about their trash or their transportation.  I am that crazy person that drinks draft beer if a location doesn’t recycle, or who takes his juice bottle home.  But when I go to an industry event promoting sustainability, I at least expect people to recycle.

When I last went to Greenbuild, the entire event recycled.  They even had most of the garbage stations manned on the first day to instruct people that their coffee cups are compostable and go in one can, their water bottle is recyclable and that very little actually goes into the garbage.  Care was taken to provide cups made from sugar cane and water was available by the glass, not by the bottle.  At local events, though there is often not even a recycling bin.  We went to an event where a new park was being dedicated.  A building was being taken down and a new green space was going to be created along the towpath.  They provided refreshments, but there was no place to recycle the pop cans or water bottles that we being given out.  Funny, when the whole point was to support new green space and land re use.  So they were a little short sighted.  At least this was not a sustainability event.

So, two events hosted by the NE Ohio chapter of the USGBC.  Both attended by building industry professionals.  Both had recycling bins stationed near the garbage.  Both were well attended.  Both had piles of recyclables in the trash.  I get it when the food is served with plastic forks and you don’t know if they are recyclable or not, or if the plates can be recycled because there are food remnants attached.  But for pete’s sake, if you are going to a “green” event why would you not take the care to toss you glass bottle into the bin on the right that is inches away?

Sustainability and green are not new concepts.  In fact, most of the basic ideas that we are promoting these days were big in the 1970s.  Remember driving less, cause you could only get gas on certain days of the week?  Remember the push for the bottle deposit?  Carter put solar panels on the White House.  Even the “Give a hoot, don’t pollute” campaign is decades old.  But much of the progress that we made in the 60s & 70s was replaced by consumption and consumerism of the end of the 20th century.  Now everyone seems to be on board again.  While the USGBC has been around for nearly a decade, and the building concepts that were behind its formation even older, it has only been the last couple of years that we are seeing the idea of building more sustainable becoming mainstream.  As was said in a presentation today, if  Wal-Mart is doing it, then everybody better be doing it.  But in a room full of building professionals who aspire to do better, why is there obvious recyclables in the trash?  It makes me wonder if this is more about business as usual.

Since buildings account for nearly half of all CO2 emissions,  any reason to build greener is a good reason.  That being said, when we are most concerned about just ourselves, the results are often fleeting.  Are we doing the right thing, because it is important, or because we are trying to find a “leg up” in a tough economic time?  Are we creating real lasting change, or like the fuel efficient cars of the past, are we just waiting for our chance to start buying Hummers again?  As a business, as a  household, as an individual are you using ‘green” as your buzzword, or is it a way of life?  These are the things I wander when I see the parking lot of a green event filled with SUVs and the trash full of aluminum cans.


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