Showing Initiative

Excellent rant at Grist on how sustainability conferences are ubiquitous and incredibly boring. More grave than the ennui, however, is the other ‘how green saves you green’ schmack that is really the dumbing of the smarter part of such klaches, and reveals, again, how doing anything for money gets you to a place where you’ll only do anything if its for money. Pathetic and sad.

Seems like every single conference just HAMMERS on the idea that sustainability is a good idea but it’s also green both ways, and affordable. But it’s not. It’s friggin’ difficult, more like trench warfare than surgery, and sometimes ROI doesn’t exist. We still need to do it, but let’s not delude people about the on the ground reality. (One of the reasons lots of consultants think it’s cheap and easy and fun is that … they haven’t actually ever done the work!) This has been my consistent message, but this green is green thing is so much the sterotype that someone recently blurbed one of my talks as “Schendler talks about how sustainability is easy, simple, and cost effective,” even though my message is actually the exact opposite!

And the conferences’ issues with conflicts of interest from presenters is actually just as problematic. But this cheap and easy thing, that’s the major issue that obfuscates some of the real possibilities with the subject, especially if the connection to saving money could otherwise be an intro to or expansion on the triple bottom line concept.

Granted, watering down the profit stream is not a welcome idea; but neither is the fact that sustainability is not just about saving money. In fact – it’s not about saving money, right now, at all. It’s about saving your ass and that of your grand kids, which is usually cost prohibitive. The cba will tell you it’s not worth it – and in these terms, it’s not! But this is exactly the thinking that landed us in the place of having to discuss the dread prospect of sustainability in the first place! Onward! No. Just stay right here! Yay? That’s sustainability. And it’s… really not the word or theory we should be attempting to enshrine.

Relatedly, it reminds me of the general phenomenon of sustainability initiatives – which largely amount to discovering innovative methods for saving money at the corporate or institutional level within the guise of saving energy. There’s nothing wrong with saving money, and the case for energy efficiency can be made in exactly these terms. But many such measures could be much more effective as diktats to turn off half the lights in your office or work four ten-hour days, e.g., they don’t require in-depth conceptualizing. Retro-fitting buildings to be more energy efficient would be a lot less problematic if innovative elements of original, late-model designs (skylighting, cisterns) were not allowed to be stripped from the buildings plans, usually by outside consultants, to cut expenses. This happens everywhere as much as you probably imagine. And then, said institution concocts an initiative to find ways to do what the initial, supposedly more expensive design would have done (which, ex post facto, usually turn out to be way more expensive and in need of conceptualizing).

But it’s our nibbling-at-the-edges way of doing things. And now something’s nibbling at our edges. Ah, prophetic capitalism.