Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Go Green - Without Compromise?!

Do you always have to compromise something to Go Green?  I think this is a critical question that determines how we frame the discussion surrounding sustainability.  More often than not, the perception is that we have to give up this or that for the sake of the planet or "Going Green".  Contrary to that, my opinion is that you CAN go green without compromise.

Don't get me wrong, often it's appropriate and necessary to compromise for the greater health of the planet.  But more often than not, the green decision involves less compromise than the alternative; but we must understand that there are different types of compromise. We tend to be a culture of immediacy - what effects me and my immediate space, time, family etc. right now. Going green without compromise requires that we view and discuss the bigger picture.  We must get beyond the first cost, right now thinking and consider the long term costs and impacts of what we are doing.  It's also important to focus on what is important and relevant to you, your client, your business etc.  Its always best to do as much as you can, but start by focusing on what makes sense and provides a real benefit rather than a compromise.  Here are some examples.

  • I am working with a hospitality management group on a hotel seeking LEED certification.  This group develops and manages its properties. One of their most significant ongoing costs is energy and water. In working toward their LEED certification and sustainability goals we chose to focus first on energy and water efficiency because it reduces their costs and risk.  We also pursued other green building goals, but we always focused on what made sense for the hotel guests, staff and owners.  By doing that they are able to benefit without compromising by going green.
  • The Chesapeake Bay Foundation is a group whose mission is to protect and preserve the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.  They do this primarily through research, education and advocacy.  In 2001 the foundation constructed a new headquarters facility that received LEED Platinum Certification.  The foundation uses the facility to demonstrate its commitment and to educate the public.  Rather than simply building a structure to house their offices the Chesapeake Bay Foundation created an effective tool for the work that they do.  No compromise - just green!  If they had built a less green building they would have compromised this opportunity.    
  • The Coca-Cola Company uses tremendous amounts of water when manufacturing and bottling their beverages around the world.  Many of their operations are in parts of the world where access to clean water is a problem for locals.  Recognizing this inequity and the impact that they were having on the environment, Coca-Cola initiated a water stewardship campaign to reduce their water use and return clean water to the environment.  Coca-Cola also has other sustainability initiatives that are important and effective, but water use is one of the most important areas that is relevant to their business and provides benefit to their bottom line and the communities that they work in.
In order for going green to be truly sustainable we must focus on the benefits rather than the compromises.  Doing business without regard for the long term environmental and social impacts of our work is not sustainable.  Nor is ignoring the impact on the bottom line in the name of the environment.  We must find this balance by encouraging people and businesses to do what they can, educating them about the long term costs and effects of not going green and by pointing out the win-win rather than the compromises.


  1. It depends on what we mean by "compromise." I was told often in engineering school that engineering itself is an exercise in compromise. "Tradeoffs" was the more common word, and from that perspective, most activities -- especially in business -- require some form of tradeoff analysis and decision-making in the face of uncertainty. I strongly believe and agree, however, that "going green" does not automatically mean being more restrictive, less competitive, or slower moving. Smart, whole-system analysis can uncover whole-system benefits.

    Ray Anderson's "Confessions of a Radical Industrialist" is a great book on just this subject.

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