Sunday, April 13, 2008

Some Thoughts on Green

I attended the Green California Summit last week. It focused primarily on green building, but also on the business and economic opportunities that come with a move to sustainability. Here are a few thoughts based on something I sent off to Carol Harper at the Amador Community Network last week. More to follow soon ...

Business is going "green" -- not because business people are soft-headed do-gooders, but because it makes dollars and sense. Companies that have sustainability strategies are becoming more profitable than those that don't. They are wasting less, spending less on energy and becoming more much efficient. Large insurance companies and the finance industry are starting to be a big force in the push for sustainable business because those businesses have less associated risk.

"Green building" is here to stay. Again, it makes economic sense. It also creates better living and working spaces for people. Commercial real estate people are seeing real demand from tenants for green commercial space. People want greener homes. Kids do better in green schools. Some of the large California commercial builders are starting to do everything to green standards, including the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards.

"Green tech" may make our U.S. economy competitive again. We have the best innovators here, the best minds -- and they are creating new products, new ways of doing business, and "green-collar" jobs. Smart communities are focusing on green tech as part of their economic development strategies and making sure they have education and training available for the new generation of green-collar workers. A community college here -- long a dream of many locals -- could serve that function for us.

Planning has a big role to play in creating a sustainable future. It is not sustainable to have to drive a car for miles to do every last thing -- go to school, go to a job, go shopping, etc. Walkable communities like those we love in our small historic towns are our future. They are more environmentally sustainable than sprawl and healthier places to live, too. Advocates of smart growth have been saying this for some time. Now, the respected U.S Green Building Council is working on LEED standards for neighborhood design.

Even if we can afford gasoline, once supplies of oil start running out (which they may be already), we are going to have to wean ourselves off it, and fast. Fortunately, there is huge progress being made on alternative fuels, but not all alternatives are sustainable -- for example, cutting down the Amazon rain forest to grow corn for ethanol or destroying SE Asian rain forests to create palm oil plantations.

Saving energy community-wide can free up a lot of money in the local economy. If people are paying less to PG&E every month, they have more to spend in local businesses. See this tool, created several years ago.

People need to learn from nature. Nature buys local. Nature recycles its own waste. Nature often makes products very efficiently. Nature uses advanced technology. Defective products are, in the words of Green Summit keynote speaker Hunter Lovins, '"recalled by the manufacturer."

Green is mainstream. And as a couple of speakers said, "There is green in green." Those who think otherwise are likely to be left behind as companies and communities focus on finding new ways to do business, live, create jobs, and build wealth.

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