Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Too Easy Being Green

Smart growth is so last millennium. And it wasn't that smart as it was overrun by "Live/Work/Play" which is now très passé. Yes Dear Reader, if you've been focussed on the goings on in Dunwoody or the global financial meltdown you are forgiven for missing the new winners in Buzzword Bingo: "Green" and her twisted sister "Sustainability".

Big Green's church of choice is the House of LEED. The problems with LEED, from being a costly moving target, to its sometimes nonsensical system that encourages point-mongering, to susceptibility to third party Certification Charlatans is well documented. You win by scamming the scores, not necessarily building the Greenest Building. The bike-rack vs HVAC system is widely touted as a shining example of the stupidity of LEED certification, which can be obtained without implementing any energy saving measures in the building. Not very Green, eh? But consider this: suppose we were told to replace inexpensive, reliable, non-polluting devices with an alternative offering inferior operation, lower reliability and containing toxic chemicals. Which is Green? Well it should be no surprise in this post-Orwellian world that it is the toxic chemical (mercury, phosphorus) laden product--the Compact Flourescent light. Truly that is the light bulb of epiphany for the Green Movement.

But Green has become a branding exercise and a marketing success. Not just GE, a leader in green branding with its ecomagination, but all manner of brown businesses are green-washing themselves and their products in a feel-good effort to market to the green conscious (but not savvy) consumer. After all, the ultimate green is money.

And this has made Green a bit long in the tooth, so like Raúl taking over for an aging Castro, Sustainability is taking the reins. The benefit of Sustainability as a debatable concept is that it has a closed and easily understood definition:
"the consumption of resources at a rate equal to or less than the rate at which they are produced."
Simple. Grok-able.

Coal fired power plant--unSustainable. Internal combustion engine automobiles--unSustainable. Photovoltaics--unSustainable, unless you ignore the fact that they require more energy to build than they deliver in their operational lifetime.

Wind energy--Sustainable. Breeder reactors--Sustainable. Hydropower--Sustainable.

But sustainability is about more than technology and certainly more than energy. And thus it is a knife that cuts deep.

Ask yourself, is Dunwoody sustainable?

Are we financially sustainable? Do we spend faster than we can tax, or beg grants, or increase "fees"? Do we take money from others while offering nothing in return?

Are we oil hogs? Do we consume directly and indirectly more petroleum than average, or more than in times past? Are we even headed towards sustainability?

What about resources that should be truly sustainable? Do we consume more water than we return to the ecosystem via infiltration, runoff and sewerage treatment? Do we consume more oxygen than we replenish with our flora?

And what about infrastructure supporting growth which we all know is ultimately unsustainable? Take a close look at our schools. Do we at least have the infrastructure for those already here and are we adding more, or are the only trailers allowed by Dunwoody zoning located on school property?

And food? Where's the balance to that equation?

At the end of the day aren't we just "breathing other peoples' air" and shouldn't we stop? Or is Sustainability just another brand, like Green, to apply to products simply to increase profit?