Green Needs Economics

February 20, 2008

Kohler BodySpaEconomics may be the strongest Green Building Element. As much as we would all like to believe that people will somehow decide to reduce consumption…the power of the purse is more dependable than good intentions.

Stanford students protest new water-saving showers (via Jetson Green) (pic at right not from Stanford, but from Kohler, see after the jump.)

Forgive the massive generalization from another part of the country, but aren’t college students, and particularly California college students, supposed to care a whole lot about environmental good intentions? Guess they’re just as partial to their habits as the rest of us, and unable to remember the big picture when it comes to hot water. Yes, if everyone did the small things, they would add up, and make a difference…but everyone won’t, and we should plan for that.

The clever design strategy is to provide solutions that steer the market into good decisions overall.

For example, in clothing, Patagonia is a brand that is ‘cooler’ than other durable outdoor clothing catalogs, to my mind. The branding takes advantage of association with extreme sports, like surfing and rock climbing, but their clothes work perfectly well for less-intense uses, too. Since their company culture values the environment (like many outdoors people), they use post-consumer, recyclable, or natural materials, and their stuff just plain lasts.

It’s the durability of both product and styling that makes Patagonia appealing during belt-tightening times, and is a particularly ‘green’ aspect. Patagonia’s CEO Yvon Chouinard says (in this interview with TreeHugger) that economic downturns yield some of “PataGucci’s” strongest sales periods, in spite of their very healthy price points. If only Kohler would do similarly – they’ve got the ‘cool’ branding and beautiful style, but I haven’t seen them promote anything more than golf weekends at their famous American Hotel with it, and I’m on Kohler’s email list. I predict that the first big building product to successfully transfer Patagonia’s “it’s cooler to be green” marketing strategy will make a very green mint.

Other ways to think about how economics can help green building:

5 Myths About Earth-Friendly Energy via the Washington Post

Top Ten Things Environmentalists Need to Know

I expect, having read the Rocky Mountain Institute‘s Primer for Sustainable Building, that new materials will take care of themselves via capitalism, free markets, etc. Where passion for The Right Thing is really needed: on all the existing buildings out there. That would be those that haven’t yet been deemed economically unusable and turned into landfill.