Auden Schendler said he wrote his book “Getting Green Done: Hard Truths from the Front Lines of the Sustainability Revolution” because he realized that nowhere in the sustainability field was anyone really being straightforward about anything.
“People weren’t being honest about green project implementation, green building,” he said. “Every green building that was ever built came in on budget and works great — that’s not true in the real world. These projects are nightmares; most buildings usually don’t work initially.”
Schendler said he was interested in accomplishing two things with this book.
“First, telling the story of the process and what really happens to help people do what is right and avoid potholes; the true story of how to do sustainable implementation,” he said. “The second key point I wanted to talk about was what matters and what doesn’t. There’s big confusion in the American public’s mind on what is environmentalism and what is meaningful. Unfortunately, a lot of what we do isn’t meaningful in the context of climate change, which is sort of the uber problem that encompasses everything else.”
These two tenets will be addressed in the third and final discussion of “Getting Green Done,” the 2014 Summit Reads Community Project book choice, on Tuesday, April 29, at the Silverthorne library. Jonathan Geurts, an associate facilitator with the Keystone Center’s Science and Public Policy program, will be leading the book discussion.
As vice president of sustainability at Aspen Skiing Co., Schendler works on meaningful solutions to climate change in business and beyond.
“It’s broadly important because we have to solve this problem,” he said. “Climate is something that threatens everything anybody cares about. We have to fix it, and my point is that we have to be honest about the challenges, both the problems of climate change and the challenges of fixing it. We need to be realistic if we really want to solve it.”
Schendler said the scale of the problem means that sustainability needs to be approached at a corporate and policy level, rather than with individuals.
“If we are going to solve climate change, we have to cut carbon dioxide emissions by about 80 percent by 2050,” he said. “That’s not going to happen with individuals trying to do the right thing. My message isn’t not to do things like recycle, drive the Prius, change the light bulbs, install solar panels — those are great, important things to do — and then you have to think about what solves climate change at scale and think about that, too.
“If every American did all those individual measures, we’d still fail to solve the problem. The something else is to find big leverage that you have access to. Get involved in policy to some capacity.”
Schendler stressed that each person doing his or her small, isolated, individual work toward sustainability will never make enough impact to effect change; rather, we each need to sit down and ask ourselves, what has scale?
“Some examples from Breckenridge would be, hey, if Breckenridge Town Council wrote to Washington or went to Washington and said, ‘We need to move on climate.’ If the ski resort and especially trade groups start talking to elected officials, that has scale,” he said. “Individuals can play in that process and do high-leverage things like write the CEO of the ski resort and ask them to take action on climate, join the town board and change building codes, join the board of your local utility. There’s an infinite amount of high-leverage things, but it sometimes takes thought to get to them.”
Are these ideas realistic?
Geurts said he thinks the message of Schendler’s book is important because no matter what business you are in or what circle you are in, you do have the ability to enact change on a larger level.
“It’s important to look for the levers; it’s important to figure out where you can best make a difference,” Geurts said, acknowledging that the implementation of these ideas can be intimidating. “It does seem a little bit daunting to me, as well.”
Geurts said he will be taking a much more iterative approach with the final book discussion.
“I’ll be hosting a brainstorming session to find what kinds of solutions can come of it, trying to figure out what to do with it,” he said. “That will be my tack for my talk is just to brainstorm with everyone present what they can do within their own organizations. Evaluate the whole idea; see if it’s doable for most people or something that’s limited to folks from Auden’s perspective because we do want it to be widely applicable.”
Geurts said he was impressed with some of the hard challenges Schendler put forth in “Getting Green Done” in order to enact change.
“It needs to happen at the policy level, so one of the interesting things was, OK how do you get involved at the policy level?” Geurts said. “That’s where I come in because I work at the Keystone Center. We’re involved with hosting policy dialogues with the idea that we’ll be helping folks to articulate their visions and make recommendations for developing new policy.
“One of the things they take on in that book is, are there any ideas that are worthwhile to start talking about and gaining consensus about?”
Getting creative about solutions
In order to get moving in the right direction with climate change, Schendler said companies and policy-makers have to look beyond what is economically beneficial and start looking at what is ethical.
“A lot of the conversation goes to, well, this saves money, but if you just do the things that are going to save you money in Breckenridge, you’re only going to chip away a little piece of the fix,” he said. “It’s going to be good, but it’s not going to be enough. To get to the full fix, you have to go beyond that. It can’t be profit; it has to be something more. It’s ethics; in Breckenridge, it would be lets preserve this winter economy that we care about. There’s a moral element to that as much as an economic one.”
To bring these broad-scope ideas into practical implementation, Geurts said Summit County residents are going to have to think outside the box.
“Reading through it, it’s like, well, OK, I’m going to have to be a little bit more creative, I think, from my point of view than he would be given his platform,” Geurts said. “But I think the book is valuable that folks like him are out there, and for those of us who might not be in those positions where we can leverage, we can still can be heard by folks who have those leverage capabilities. You need to be creative, come up with it and figure out who to talk with in order to enact these big things.”
The key, Schendler said, is to keep asking yourself if you are doing enough. Each person needs to put his or herself into a position to drive change.
“To simplify, is what you are doing high leverage in the scope and scale of climate change?” he said. “You have to keep asking that question and you will get to a point where you have more influence. Become a citizen and engage with leadership, but there’s so much more that you can do and you just have to dig. If you are on town council and you’re driving for change, you’re doing what you need to do. It may not be effective at first, but eventually you will be.”
“Getting Green Done” was published in 2009, and Schendler said his thinking has continued to evolve since then. He said solving climate change is the greatest opportunity that the human species has ever had.
“If we do this thing, we enable all of our oldest hopes and aspirations as people,” Schendler said. “If we don’t, we lose all of that. This is not about you, this not about individuals, this about how we move society along. You need to challenge your conventional ideas of what constitutes meaningful action.”
“I just invite everyone to come and try to figure out what the book means to us,” Geurts said. “And I really do want it to be a brainstorming session, trying to figure out what we might be able to do if the book is realistic. If not, what else can we do to direct the situation?”
“If every American did all those individual measures (to fight climate change), we’d still fail to solve the problem. The something else is to find big leverage that you have access to. Get involved in policy to some capacity.”