Is Green Just a Fad?

July 25, 2007

An article on the ABC News website with the provocative title "Going Green: Fad or the Future?" suggests that while right now "green is the new black," the long term-prospects for the green movement are less certain to remain as strong and as much a part of public awareness as they currently are.

But are Americans experiencing "green fatigue"? The ratings for Live Earth, which was billed as a must-see event, were dismal. The American broadcast drew just 2.7 million viewers, making it the least-watched U.S. program on Saturday night. Despite its undeniable entrenchment in pop culture and media, some experts say that the current incarnation of the green movement is just another "We Are the World" moment that consumers and businesses won’t be able to sustain over the long term.

Of course, this perspective is coming from a media outlet (ABC News) for whom the number of viewers are the most significant measure of importance. But that may not be a reliable indicator of how influential the green movement is. There is a wide gulf between public enthusiasm for a green-oriented rally like Live Earth, and public participation in actual green practice in their daily lives. Small steps, in many cases, but a lot of people have started taking at least a few steps to green their lives.

My perspective lies with the building and construction industry. I see increasing numbers of ads and new product announcements from hundreds of manufacturers. I can’t begin to count the number of trade magazine editorials I’ve seen that begin along the lines of this one: "These days, it seems everyone is jumping on the "green" bandwagon — including many companies in [your industry here]." Green awareness has permeated the building industry from top to bottom. And, while not every new building is a new model of sustainability, green building practice is here to stay.

While media fads can quickly come and go, gearing up a manufacturing company’s production to make a new product that meets greener specifications takes time, money and effort. Suppliers and producers of these materials wouldn’t be making these products and attempting to compete on their merits unless they believed there was a market for them. And, even if it is a fad in the wider community, the products are in these manufacturers’ catalogs, and will be available for years to come. Availability of suitable products was the biggest hurdle for green builders a few years ago. People wanted to have green products, and in many cases they just weren’t available. That has certainly turned around now.

Beyond the issue of fad or non-fad lies a greater truth. Green buildings save money. An energy efficient building may cost a little more to construct, but over time, the cost of operation (and the total cost of ownership) will be lower. Building owners, developers, architects and engineers will continue to use green products because they make for better buildings.

It is difficult to sustain the same high level of energy for a movement after it has won. When I was young, I remember protests and concerns about the use of DDT and the effect it was having, particularly on eagles and falcons. There isn’t that much public attention given to pesticides these days. In large part that is because pesticide regulation has been adopted into laws and regulations. The bald eagle has even recently come off the endangered species list, but it has taken more than a human generation (and many eagle generations) to reach this point.

In the same way, people who advocate for green building today may be like people who clamored for sanitary practices in food handling a century ago. We no longer have a social movement dedicated to cleanliness in meat packing because it has moved from being revolutionary to being policy. The idea of a building that doesn’t have adequate insulation and efficient appliances will seem as unenlightened and outdated as the life portrayed in Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle seems to us today.

See also: "Overwhelmed By Green Fatigue" on Green Options earlier this year.

 


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