I am right there with those of you who feel the words “green”, “sustainability” and “corporate social responsibility” (CSR) are over-used. I frequently find people using these terms simply as buzzwords to try and sound like they know what they’re talking about, but there typically isn’t much depth to what they are saying. I don’t know what the solution is because what’s at the heart of it is SO important, but I thought it was worth exploring. More often than not, all of these things are better for our environment in terms of what we are not destroying at the expense of the product (trees, for example) or in the energy they are saving and, in the long run, they will save you money. You might make a larger initial investment in windows/doors, for example, than you would have, but you will come out ahead in the long run. I attended the GREENBUILD Convention and Exposition today (www.usgbc.org) and I was completely amazed at how HUGE the tradeshow floor was and how many different types of products there are that are “green” building materials. Seriously, the variety of insulation, doors and windows that will help save energy (saving you money, while being “socially responsible”), types of flooring you can use made from recycled materials, TOILETS that will help you save water (they look pretty cool too), LED light bulbs (planned obsolescence still exists here, but your lights will be cheaper to use and you won’t have to replace them *quite* as often :-), and on and on.
Perhaps we need to stop using the word “green” and find a better, more descriptive word. The meetings industry in particular is one of the most wasteful industries in existence. But I know personally that I sort of glaze over when I see that word in the title of a session at a meetings industry conference. What new could they possible be talking about that I haven’t already heard? Is there a better word to describe saving our planet in our everyday lives? The number of signs and banners that are created and thrown out for meetings happening every day across the country is staggering. Oracle (www.oracle.com) holds OpenWorld in San Francisco each fall and it’s one of the largest educational conferences (more than 40,000 attendees) in the world and over the years they have become more and more green, which has earned them an award in the industry. The first year that they eliminated water bottles they saved $1 million! Saving that amount of money is awesome, but think about the reduced impact on the planet? They really have blazed a trail and it’s quite impressive to see that they’ve also helped the city of San Francisco to become one of the “greenest” cities in which to hold a meeting. Most signs they have printed are made from recyclable materials, all serve ware is compostable, all left-over food is donated to homeless shelters in San Francisco, and they still serve water, but it’s purified tap water from the city that can be put in their provided (sponsored) container or a compostable cup! Oracle uses digital signage in front of every session room (more than 100 concurrent). And, it took almost an act of God, but they are now also recycling shrink-wrap which was that last bulk item that wasn’t fully recyclable that was the elusive piece of the puzzle. They have done so much more than I just mentioned and each year they make more strides in what they are doing in this area and they deserve to be awarded for it!
It’s hard for me to imagine, but the US Green Building Council has only been in existence for nine years. And this industry (including Solar, which is a MAJOR piece of this that has a life of its own – http://www.solarpowerinternational.com/) is the fastest growing industry right now. Attendance and tradeshow participation at these Conventions is growing by leaps and bounds because it’s something that people care about… And it isn’t going away!! Companies will continue to improve the way we build and hopefully cities will adopt the standards being set in this industry as required standards for new developments.
But I have a challenge for you: the next time someone tells you they have a CSR program at their company or that they have “green” initiatives, call them out on it! Really make them have to describe to you what they think it is and perhaps it will spark a truly interesting conversation… Perhaps you will end up teaching them something they didn’t know? And then, maybe they won’t throw the terms around if they don’t have the smarts to back it up? Or, better yet, they will do their homework and they’ll be able to have that conversation intelligently.
My apartment building has no recycling capabilities currently and it has bothered me ever since I moved in (years ago). I’ve been “doing my part” by separating my bottles and cans and setting them next to my dumpster for the homeless people to pick up, but that doesn’t take into account all of the other items in my trash that aren’t being recycled! I’ve brought it up to the resident manager, but he “blames” the owner for not wanting to spend the money because it’s currently not required by the city for multi-dwelling buildings to have recycling capabilities.
Sometimes doing what’s right isn’t always easy, but remember that in the long run it WILL be worth it. I’m going to impress upon the owner of my building  the need for him to provide this to his residents . If he refuses, then I’ll begin putting pressure on the city to require it. I’m pledging to do that… In addition to questioning (in a nice way:-) people who use those buzzwords I mentioned…
What are YOU going to do?

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