This is a guest post by Aaron Szymanski, President of Evo Design, an award-winning industrial design firm housed in a refurbished water treatment plant in Watertown, CT.
The good thing about the economy sucking cheese right now is that it’s given me some free time to catch up on my reading. I moderate a discussion forum called “The Green Room” and while catching up on what people are sniping about I came across an interesting thread that included many questions.
The primary question being, What are we really supposed to do to be more green? My contribution to the group was that I believed people wanted to do the right thing but that it was truly unclear to them exactly what is better.
For example, after reading E the Environmental magazine’s recent issue, I felt ultimately that we should all be vegetarians. I’m not a die-hard meat lover but I’ve read enough credible writing that lead me to believe that it’s impossible for the earth to produce enough veggies to do this. Meanwhile, pondering the question, I still eat Slim Jims and summer sausage.
All of this is discouraging and a little embarrassing because I feel, as a moderator, that I’m supposed to be able to answer these simple questions, at the very least, for myself. Not because they’re particularly profound complex questions but because they’re completely the opposite. These are ordinary, everyday, basic sustainability questions like:
• Why don’t we recycle paper towels?
• What is better for the planet: high octane or low octane?
• French press or automatic drip?
• Would it be more sustainable if I just ate vitamins and no food?
• Does taking compostable materials out of the landfill really help? Don’t they aid in the decomposition of more difficult materials?
• What really happens to the economy if we all “reduce” and, for example, live with just one pair of shoes per person?
• If we are serious about sustainability why don’t we immediately stop recreational fuel consumption, like NASCAR and Indy racing?
• Isn’t working out a huge waste of energy in that you are consuming calories that you then have to “work-out”?
• How can the 2008 Olympics call itself green with all of the airfare required to bring athletes together? Can’t they compete virtually in every individual sport?
Then I started thinking about my own questions, applying them to my own life. Maybe I should cancel my trip to the Grand Canyon this summer with my eight-year old to save the jet fuel. And while I’m at it, I’ll cancel the order for the new conference table chairs for the office. I’m sure there’s a National Geographic DVD on the Grand Canyon whose purchase would create a way smaller carbon footprint than driving or flying for a visit.
And, the 10 year old Umbra chairs we have now aren’t broken, they just make my ass fall asleep when I sit in them for too long. So maybe for the benefit of all I should just keep the chairs and get up every 15 minutes and walk around the room. Or maybe we could just all wheel our own office chairs into the conference room when we have a meeting. Would my clients find that weird or inspiring?
As I reread what I wrote, I realize it sounds like I’m being a sarcastic tool but honestly, I am seriously and genuinely perplexed by these questions. Does the fact that I already compost, drive a hybrid, wear recycled boots and eat a lot of hummus mean I have done enough? Can I go ahead and take that drive to the Grand Canyon? Or would it be more sustainable if I took a plane? The plane is going there anyway and I am sure there are empty seats so how much fuel do my 68 pound son and I require? Or is that even the right question?
When I read all the other bloggers’ articles, listen to my peers’ discussions, and hear the presidential candidates debate, I feel like everyone else has the answers but me. Like my eight-year old, I want to be able to shrug my shoulders and say, “whatever”—but I can’t. Instead, I search for more wisdom.
I’m reading a somewhat caustic biography of Thomas Edison called: The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World. It’s really an enjoyable book that focuses on the idea that Edison’s primary lasting contribution was the creation of our celebrity icon culture, with him being among the first.
In the same way Edison’s inventions had people wondering about how his new products affected their everyday lives, we are asking similar questions today as to how being green shifts our vision and affects our day-to-day living. Many during his time spoke as though the path was so clear– only to have time show that they were totally wrong. For example, Ford convinced Edison to stop working on his fuel cell electric automobile because they were both so enamored by Ford’s transportation solution, the internal combustion engine. (At the time Edison’s electric prototype could go 70mph with a range of about 80 miles–this was in 1911).
Even so, Ford and Edison made what they thought to be the best decisions based on what they knew at the time, and that’s what I have to do to help untangle myself. In the day when it only takes a few seconds to Google our way to every “fact” it’s normal to think that every answer is out there waiting, as long as we have the proper search words. For now, because it’s all I can do, I’m going to try and search a little more thoroughly for the answers to my questions, but also start acting. Starting with canceling my trip and the order for my conference chairs.