Friday, April 22, 2011

OMG, It's Earth Day! So What!


Since I work for a company that helps other large companies manage their sustainability efforts and reduce things like waste, water, electric energy and the sort, you would think we have a HUGE celebration for Earth Day and treat it like a National holiday.

But, like the rest of the world, we simply shrug our shoulders, smile at a tree (hugging just seems…well…wrong), and go on with our day. Despite all the hysterics, moral imperatives and business reasons to do things that apparently save the earth, the majority of people across the world simply don’t care. “So What!” is the collective cry.

And…with very good reason. If I think about what our clients deal with as they attempt to gain engagement throughout their organizations and with their clients – who tend to be all of us – consumers who buy stuff in retail stores, “sustainability”, “environmental efforts”, “energy efficiency”, “corporate social responsibility” are all a VERY TOUGH SELL.

Remove the politics and the moral imperatives for a minute. Take what I would call a “pragmatic approach to fill in large word here denoting reduction of use” and try to get people engaged. It’s not easy and one of the best parts of my job goes into effect.

Like a three year old, I have the luxury, and the imperative, of continually asking “Why?” And when I do that about the struggles in adoption of “sustainability” and everything else, it’s a pretty easy answer for me.

Unlike so many aspects of our lives, especially in the ADD society of today, those intangible things, like electricity, sustainability, carbon footprint, environmental impact are difficult to grasp, hold on to, and become passionate about in our everyday lives. Now, add on the global turmoil, the crummy job market, and the continual depletion of our incomes, all of these things become less important.

If I think back across my career, 18 years in energy, sustainability, etc., I can emphatically state that well over 85% of the people I’ve met, have no clue what actually happens when they flip a switch to turn on a light, a computer, or the television. So, replacing an incandescent lamp with a CFL, something many people do everyday, I believe is done because of herd mentality and moral imperative!

I believe if the average person actually understood the true cost of electric energy or the real cost of water use rather than the subsidized, monopolized and sanitized costs we are exposed to, radically different decisions would be made. But, until that happens, and since I cannot SEE the request for electricity going from the switch to the transformer to the substation to the powerplant and the actual supply coming all the way from the powerplant to the device…INSTANTANEOUSLY…I don’t think about it.

Whether it’s CFL’s (that horribly ugly white light), 100% post-consumer recycled content(huh?), solar panels(you mean the $15,000 I spent covering my roof with these things so I can turn on all my ugly CFL lamps for four hours per day?) or the more intangible subjects of coal versus nuclear( men covered in soot and trapped 3 miles below ground versus Chernobyl), smart grid(you mean the meter and higher utility bill I’m paying?), carbon footprint(blame the cows) or hybrid cars(the guy in the left lane going 45 in a 65 and SMILING), the average person does not understand the engineering marvel that makes up the electric grid, the entire process that occurs before you buy the loaf of bread or the new shoes.

Our failure to understand how things are made, how stuff is produced, how products are delivered, what we consume, all lead to decisions we MAY not make if we took the time to understand its “history.” And I am absolutely not one to force anyone to make a decision on any of their choices but, wouldn’t it be helpful if you had all of the information you need to make an informed decision?

Earth Day is silly. I’d rather celebrate “Information Day” where we get to discover the true environmental comparison of purchasing a Toyota Prius and the potential petroleum I might save versus the long term impact of trying to dispose the lead batteries it uses instead of gas! Or, how about the production costs and energy use of producing the hybrid car versus the 1967 Fastback Mustang that guzzles the gas and let’s be honest, is SOOOO much more fun to drive?

So what? Yep, so what! Enough with Earth day! We’ll achieve the same or BETTER result by starting, celebrating and embracing “INFORMATION DAY!”

Now, go hug a database.

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