Going green — what does that really mean these days?
Everyone is doing it; it’s the latest “in vogue” craze. The modern world is overrun with environmental messages, and with good reason. There is finally consensus that the planet is in peril and immediate action is needed. To keep up with the trend, millions of Earth’s 7 billion inhabitants are conscientiously replacing light bulbs, using cloth bags and buying organic. But the statistics and scientific forecasts just keep getting worse, making mankind’s efforts seem like Sisyphus pushing a boulder up a hill for all eternity.
For real change to happen, and happen as quickly as it needs to, a new approach is required. Author Auden Schendler lays out a compelling case for the strategy he advocates in his provocative and practical book “Getting Green Done: Hard Truths from the Front Lines of the Sustainability Revolution,” which has been selected as the 2014 Summit Reads pick.
From his years working for Aspen Skiing Co. in its sustainability division, Schendler learned the hard way that going green isn’t easy or glamorous and the problem of climate change certainly can’t be solved by substituting a few light bulbs. Because of the monumental tasks ahead, each little effort by an individual feels like trying to put out a fire with a thimbleful of water. He points out the danger of allowing the resulting sense of pessimism to deter future efforts to implement changes. Humanity simply does not have the luxury to be lazy or defeatist.
The author emphasizes that a shift in attitude needs to take place, and to take place now. Energy now directed at lambasting sport-utility vehicle owners would be better spent on bigger, more logical solutions. In fact, he points out that attacking individuals who do not adhere to one’s ideas of “going green” really does more harm than good. Stereotypes of long-haired, holier-than-thou hippies really do little to advance the idea that changes need to be implemented that have nothing to do with plastic bags and SUVs. But no one wants to be the first one on the dance floor, especially if the only available dance partners are using unrealistic steps that fail to move one forward.
Unfortunately, big businesses have been a part of perpetuating this skewed focus on the irrelevant, as it takes the burden off their shoulders, which is where, Schendler, insists, the onus needs to be. Businesses are not going to give up on being profitable, so the key is to find ways to make sustainability monetarily rewarding.
By using extensive examples from his work with Aspen’s famous Little Nell Hotel, Schendler highlights the challenges faced by a world full of extravagance and decadent lifestyles. Short of closing towns and cities of excess — and there are many — what is one to do? The answer, he claims, lies in fixing the whole picture, rather than focusing on individual paint strokes that have been applied a bit heavily. Policy must be a driving force, and therein lies the crux of his argument. The problem is so much bigger than some of us recycling and changing those bulbs. Businesses can make the biggest impact by choosing what products they sell and endorse and by using what leverage they have to push the debate forward with the consumer and, more important, with government policy makers. Schendler states that “corporate sustainability won’t occur without a company mandate that springs from ethics, rather than from economics.”
This requires a mind shift — doable, Schendler insists, even in a place like Aspen, which can serve as a petri dish of possibilities in the sustainability movement. If a town like Aspen can make changes that matter, then so can everyone else.