A Rising Tide of Eco-Optimism

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Let me say right up front that I’m a big fan of all things green, but I’ve been feeling a bit out of it lately when it comes to sustainability. I wrote a book or two about it, and proudly wear the term greenie. I got the solar panels, the Prius, and the compost heap – the whole green nine yards. But lately I’ve wondered if the tide had turned, the world moved on, and maybe I had fallen out of step. Reading David Bergman’s book Sustainable Design, I think the tide is turning again, greener than ever.

Bergman’s book is all that a good design book should be. It’s simple, clear, non-jargony, and loaded with practical steps for buildings that both look good and do good. It’s about making buildings more efficient, more livable, and with a lower impact on the world around us. The book is not just about green buildings though – it’s about better buildings. To get this message across, the book is attractive, and well written to boot. But the real reason I like the book extends beyond the book. The best thing about the book is that Bergman is so gosh darned optimistic. And I find that I’ve missed that lately.

My first book came out in the Fall of 2008. This was a crazy time. It had been a year of heady green enthusiasm, with magazine after magazine jumping on the green bandwagon, competing to see which one could out-green all the others, with the greenest of celebrities gracing their cover. At long last it seemed that people were getting it, embracing the values that green businesses had been working toward for so many years, seeing that green business was good business, that sustainability wasn’t a political position, but a smart thing to do regardless of your political persuasion.

Then the housing market crumbled in the Fall of 2008. And Lehman Brothers collapsed. And big chunks of the economy were falling out, like you’re driving down the road and notice your engine in the rear view mirror. The roving media eye moved on, and fear moved in, about the direction we were all headed in. Fear makes people look backward rather than forward, and isn’t the best atmosphere to mobilize to work toward a better future for all of us. Fear makes us focus on just getting through today, not thinking about tomorrow. Green was out, it seemed. It became a political hot potato.

We’ve heard a lot since then about how green is a scam, that green jobs are not real, that renewable energy is a waste of money, that we should all go back to the way things were.

A funny thing happened though. Even while we were hearing that solar was over, the solar industry kept growing, and doing more than okay – it has been one of the fastest growing parts of the economy. The green building movement has continued to sweep through the building industry, with more and more buildings being designed to save energy, save money, and be phenomenal places to live and work. Our cars have continued to get more efficient, driven perhaps by the high price of gas, but good and green nonetheless.

How could this be? Because going green is not just for those who embrace it regardless of its cost. I’m realistic enough to know, as Bergman points out, that a call to sacrifice is unlikely to be met with a rousing reception. Green buildings are appearing everywhere not just because they are green but because they are good buildings that just plain make sense financially, for people who occupy and own them, and for the planet. People want fuel efficient cars because they make sense for everyone involved, whatever they believe about polar bears or climate change. Going green is the right thing to do, but also the smart thing to do.

The past is gone, and the only route left for us is to go forward. Fear from the Great Recession and the lousy recovery has outstayed its welcome. It’s time to get moving again toward a new and better future for us all. The tide is turning, and it’s time for eco-optimism once again. I’m not so naïve as to think that everyone will get on board with this. Not at first, at least. But given time, the simple fact that these things make sense will win more and more people over, if they are willing to give them a thought. All it takes is a moment to change your mind, and eco-optimism can buy that moment.

I recommend David Bergman’s book Sustainable Design, to help make sustainability more sustainable for the long run. We have great work to do still, great challenges to take on, and very far to go before we are done. But there’s only direction that makes any sense here, and that’s to go forward. And as long as we’re moving forward with perseverance and optimism, helped along by tools like those described in Sustainable Design, we’ll get there, together.

Article by Glenn Croston, author of “75 Green Businesses You Can Start to Make Money and Make a Difference”, “The Real Story of Risk”, and “Gifts from the Train Station”.. You can reach him at www.startingupgreen.com

Article appearing courtesy 3BL Media.

About Author

Walter’s contributions to CleanTechies over the past 4 years have been instrumental in growing the publications social media channels via his ongoing editorial and data driven strategies. He is the founder and managing director of Sunflower Tax, a renewable energy tax and finance consultancy based in San Diego, California. Active in the San Diego clean technology community, participating in events sponsored by CleanTech San Diego, EcoTopics, and Cleantech Open San Diego, Walter has also been a presenter at numerous California Center for Sustainability (CCSE) programs. He currently serves as an adjunct professor at the University of San Diego School of Law where he teaches a course on energy taxation and policy.

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