One of the biggest arguments (discussions?) that I get into at work is that Green is “too expensive” or “bad for business”. These arguments often start from associates that think of me as the “treehugger” or “that environmentalist guy”. That was a badge I had worn with pride, but that is changing the more involved I am become in systemic change in our Village. Our Smart Growth steering committee is the first really diverse committee that I am participating in. The Green Committee is pretty safe-we’re all treehuggers-whereas the Planning Commission which constitutes 75% of the S.G. steering committee has a healthy mix of business people that better matches our village as a whole. At our second meeting this week the “us v them” tone started to creep in at times. As a Village we want to push for some fairly radical changes in planning-especially for rural America-cluster development, biogas generation at the treatment plant, narrower streets, less parking, smaller lots, etc. Any one alone is fairly easy to defend (though the smaller lots will be a stretch), but taken all together at once and walls started popping up. Why?

It would be easy to write the wall builders off as “backward”, but that is ridiculous and arrogant, breeding more destructive us v them thinking that is poison to real, holistic change. So I tried a different tactic. Instead I threw out to the group some clarifying points that I feel adamant about and have been absent from traditional Environmentalism:

  • Green is good for growth. Green development creates a sense of place by creating communities that are specific to the locale, plus consumers are educated enough to be willing to pay a premium for Green Homes that are safer for their children and save them real money in energy bills. Developers like the fact (once educated!) that they can achieve the same amount of lots with less expense in infrastructure like roads and sewer due to cluster development.
  • Green is good for Business. Environmentally concerned citizens are legion and in many cases have lots of disposable income. These Green Consumers are passionate about where they “vote” with their dollars-we love to boycott the bad, and will get into a frothing rage defending a corporation or group that has earned our trust. We are willing to pay a significant premium for goods and services that meet our standards. An entire community that supports these issues and earns that trust can become a haven for Green “green”.
  • Green is becoming anti “anti”. The historical environmental movement loved to protest, was very successful at it and effected significant and lasting change. But in many parts of the 1st world the need to chain ourselves to trees is lessening as our ideas achieve broader acceptance in society. At the same time it was changing the worldview of a nation, the Environmental Movement burned some bridges. Saving the Spotted Owl was a noble quest, but that icon is burned into much of the public consciousness as a time when the treehuggers destroyed hundreds of livelihoods and depressed an entire region of the country-a trade off that doesn’t add up for hundreds of thousands of citizens for know the actualities only thru distantly remembered headlines. The new fight-which I prefer to call Sustainability- is much more about finding solutions that are win win. Environmentalists are predominantly left leaning. Followers of Sustainability are eschewing such labels. Everyone Breathes.

This change in my thinking has been coming steadily for some months now. So much so that I bought a new book to further flush out my thoughts. The Sustainability Revolution, by Andres Edwards is now on my armchair stand and is proving to be dead on for where I was heading. Here is how Edwards breaks down Sustainability core beliefs into the 3 (6) “E’s” which are virtually identical to The Natural Step’s.

Ecology/Environment This “E” is framed by three broad concepts: long term not short term thinking, a focus on the systemic understanding of ecosystems critical importance to human life, and finally the strongly held belief that there are limits to the amount of life that the ecosystems of the Earth can support.

Economy/Employment Here is where Edwards (and the Natural Step) begin to grow beyond the traditional Environmental movement. Sustainability focuses on the critical importance of secure, employment and economies that do not overstretch their ecosystems. There isn’t a community on Earth that can be truly sustainable if they cannot meet the needs of their citizens-impoverished Africans will harvest bushmeat and American farmers will turn more and more to industrial agriculture without a viable economic alternative to feed their families and pay their bills. Amory Lovins and Paul Hawkins take this out to a much higher level in their brilliant work, Natural Capitalism.

Equity/Equality Without going all socialist here, the world does not have a resource shortage, it has a distribution problem. Ok, I’ll go alittle socialist-moral issues such as famines and homelessness are all the more terrible because they are preventable if we could just redistribute the wealth/resources already in use in our society. Edwards also stresses community building in this “E” recognizing the inherent importance in concern and cooperation with ones neighbor. “At a fundamental level, members of a sustainable community understand that the well being of the individual and the larger community are interdependent.” We fight for a win win between the owls and the loggers even if we lose perfection in the process. Winning battles the wrong way can lose us the war.

I align myself much closer to the solution building philosophical framework of Sustainability that is willing to allow some flexibility to attain the greater good-less focus on short term achievements than long term goals. But I will still be proud to be called an Environmentalist-at least until the Eco Spin Dr’s can come up with something better than Sustainabilitarianist


3 Responses

  1. I know you had asked about Citizenrē a few weeks ago and I came across this article this morning:

    Selling Homeowners a Solar Dream

  2. I just wanted to send along a word of encouragement! I know it can get draining when you’re categorized a certain way – but as we know, pro-environmental views are catching on nationally, in fact, in many areas it’s becoming trendy; one trendspotter calls it “conspicuous conservation.” So hang in there – the naysayers will come around, I believe.

  3. I really enjoyed reading this post.

    I smiled when I read your first paragraph. I go through the experiences you described, and I’m sure a lot of other ‘environmentalist treehuggers’ go through it as well.

    I bumped into a young fellow in an anti-nuclear facebook group recently. He identified himself as a ‘conservationist’, and said that extremist ‘environmentalists’ needed to wake up. I contacted him and said that environmentalists need not be extremists, and more often he will find that environmentalists are moderate in their beliefs and values. I went one step further to say that arguing the difference in the words conservationist and environmentalist was just running in circles, and that the two words meant the same thing. Well, he would have none of that!

    I live in rural Alberta, and I sometimes find it easier to speak of ecological sustainability, good stewardship and conservationists, rather than bring up environmentalism. The misconceptions and closed minded attitudes about environmentalism can be a bar against communication, and if we really want to have a healthy discussion and information exchange, we need to be kind and patient, even when our colleagues call us ‘idealistic environmentalist treehuggers’.

    I’m idealistic – but I’m realistic too.

    I’m an environmentalist, because I recognize that it’s the environment that sustains us.

    And I hug trees only rarely …when they ask for one.

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