Sustainability is Succeeding for Me but Not Necessarily for We

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Continuing where I left off in the previous blog about the net-zero energy movement, over the years that the green message has been a focus and data has been gathered, we have learned that the sustainability movement is failing with regard to “we” but is succeeding with regard to “me’.

What exactly does that mean?  Green has become a personal choice more than a collective consciousness. Green initiatives that relate to your personal life will quickly be embraced but in general, as a culture, we are slower to adopt sustainability measures that are positioned as being for the greater good of our extended community. It seems like the further it gets from home, the weaker our commitment becomes.

Herein lies the path to our more sustainable future; make it personal. Almost all of the “big picture” sustainability issues can be boiled down to personal impact. If the goal is to reduce emissions from power plants, help people understand how the related pollution increases their healthcare costs. If you wish to create a manufacturing culture where the reduction of Eco toxicity is an ever-present goal, capture and show the environmental health and safety costs associated with the use of “chemicals of concern” as part of the life cycle cost analysis of manufacturing. When you do it becomes clear that the cheaper raw materials may be more expensive to store and use.

I suppose for the time being we will need to continue mandating sustainable behavior at the national level: minimum energy efficiency of buildings (net-zero ready), minimum fuel efficiency of vehicles (presently addressed with a tax on inefficiency), and the phasing out of technologies like the incandescent light bulb. But these “controls” only address the purchase of new stuff. What about all of the existing stuff that needs to be upgraded? To help people make more sustainable decisions with regard to how they maintain the things that already are, we need to make it personal. We need to see these things from a new perspective. To quote Max Planck, “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”

 

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Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

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