Sunday, September 5, 2010

Slow Green, an antidote to unrealistic expectations?

Reflecting over the Labor day weekend here in the U.S., hearing all of the recent unemployment numbers, all the debate about are we or aren't we still in a recession, when will these endless wars we keep fighting end?  How can we be optimistic for our children during such challenging times?  As a Green architect and design thinker I sit here a bit broken hearted about how the Green Movement seems to be stalled in effecting positive change, helping to right this unstable economy and get America back to work etc.
I've sometimes been called Mr. Obvious by some, but maybe adopting greener behaviors takes time?  Maybe we're a bit impatient and lack the ability to see the forest from the trees?  What if we thought about the Green movement as a truly multi-generational process happening over two hundred years rather than in the next ten. We  might find more comfort in what we have achieved as a World rather than feel so negative about what we haven't.  It's not a quick movement but a slow movement.  Much like the Slow Food or Slow Money movements recognizing it takes time to effect positive change.

I think if we called this movement the "Slow Green" movement rather than the Green Movement  it more aptly describes our reality.   A few years ago, we had a false positive so to speak with the atmospheric rise in energy prices in early summer of 2008.  I was ecstatic in a utterly weird way. It created a lot traction in Green Building.  It drove customers to Greener behaviors and effected buying habits dramatically.  Well, that bubble of excitement lasted about a year and then our economic crisis and bad behaviors from the last 15 to 20 years caught up with us all.  The bubble burst.  The residue of what remained behind is importan.  Behaviors shifted.  People didn't exactly go back to their same old habits but incrementally changed.  Many of us continue to ride trains, carpool more often,  did energy efficiency upgrades to their houses even though energy prices lowered greatly.  It still seemed to make sense.

Well, where do turn to energize the change many of us are convinced must happen to help smooth the tough landing to come?  Copenhagen and reaching a climate accord didn't work out so well. I think we have to keep pushing on all fronts and be satisfied with incremental change which over the course of the next couple generations to come will add up to significant progress.  Will it be too late?  I don't know but it's more realistic to expect given how reactionary human nature it will work out eventually, but it will be a lot slower than all of us would like.  That's why I call it Slow Green.  

All I know is my friends and neighbors here in Vermont have started to do things differently since the wake up call in 2008.  More of us are carpooling, using alternative energy sources, reducing overall energy usage on a statewide basis,  and recognizing the value of buying locally grown food and products.  Our communities seem tighter knit.  Maybe it was the onset of 9/11 coupled with the energy cost spike in 2008, then the powerful recession which is still running its course which has added up to changed behaviors.  Maybe it's also the rise in activism and recognition of the challenges we face.

Bill McKibben's 350.org a climate change movement is at least is committed to positive action and education.  On 10/10/10 they are hosting the 2nd annual  global climate action day called a Global Work Party. Last year's event had over 5,248 rallies in over 181 countries bringing thousands together in an unprecedented manner.  It was the most widespread day of political action in history.  The event focused on the 350 number, which scientists say is the safe upper limit for carbon dioxoide in the atmosphere in terms of parts per million of CO2.  

This year, the event is going to be even bigger than last year and focus on getting to work.  All around the world virally organized events will high-light positive actions seeking to educate and reduce the impact of climate change. My point is this Global Work Party is a small step, albeit a large one focused on education and advocacy on a local level. It's about shifting behaviors which can lead to bigger things. 350.org and its work is just one example of the Slow Green movement which I think will help to locally reshape the conversation about climate change and what we can do about it in our homes, communities and workplaces.

Another more well known example over the last 20 years is the rapid transformation of the building and construction marketplace with the acceptance of the US Green Building Council's LEED System, (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). It's a third party verification system similar to a Green Label identifying buildings and building owners who are committed to reducing energy use, water use, adopting better site design practices, use of materials and higher quality indoor environments.  Over the last 15 to 20 years, the LEED system has become increasingly adopted by federal, state and local governments, universities and college systems, the residential sector, and most recently the real estate and retail development marketplaces.  It's remarkable so much change has taken place so quickly. 

Obviously the adoption of the LEED system and framrework are not enough but offers a great example of Slow Green where behavioral shifts take time.  LEED has transformed the marketplace in my professional lifetime.  On one level, it doesn't seem fast enough but when you step back it's truly impressive.   The important thing to remember is that the LEED system isn't the answer unto itself, it simply is a means to an end.  The end being finding a common system of verification of efforts to design, build and operate increasingly better buildings, places and developments. This way we can measure how we're doing and how far we have yet to go.  Using system like this builds credible measurable and verifiable changes in behavior over time.  It's Slow Green by its very nature  which adds up.

Do you agree with me calling our movement Slow Green?  Let me know.  I'd be curious what you think? 



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