Thursday, July 15, 2010

How Green?

The fact of the matter is that “Green-Washing” is prevalent the world around. Green Building here, Green Energy There, Go Green, we say, as if it is a switching of a light from evil to sublime environmental utopia; but the truth is that there are shades of Green. Yes we all want to “Go Green”, we all want to make a difference and be eco-conscious in our ways. If we are given the choice for free, or course we will “Go Green.” The real question is how green? Does replacing one light-bulb with Compact-Fluorescents have the same impact as riding your bike to work every day? Sure, we would say these are both “Green”, but how green? Is reducing the nation’s waste by 10% more “Green” than cleaning up the Plastic Flotilla in the Pacific Ocean? Is using Photovoltaics, Solar-heating, and recycled water irrigation systems more “Green” than building a Cob or Rammed-Earth House? Is LEED Certification more “Green” than an Earthship? Is “Green” an on-or-off claim? Are you saving the earth or killing it? Are you good or bad? Are you a shade of green?
A solid rating system needs to be developed to give a quantitative value for the relative sustainability of products, services, businesses and styles of living. The idea is to say, if everyone in the world were living as you are living, using the given product as you are using it, performing business day in and day out as you are, what is the potential lifespan of your actions and effects upon the world around you. Businesses and People alike should have Sustainability Audits.
My initial impression of the rating system would be the inverse of a logarithmic function where the high end sustainability numbers (say 100%) are extremely hard to achieve. Ultimately if you wish to achieve the 100% Sustainable Mark, you must be able to perform your actions as you do now into infinity without any substantial change. In between we should be considering:

Alternative two seems most appropriate for getting individuals and businesses to buy into the idea of being “Green” as it is easy to take the initial steps with minimal effort; whereas, Alternative one would likely create a better bell-shaped distribution of lifetimes with a median just up-hill of the inflection point allowing you to effectively establish a standard by precedent.
All facets of the rating system are relative, interrelated, and dynamic, though based upon present values. For example, if we were to calculate the Percentage of Sustainability of a Bottle of Water, we would consider the consumption of Petroleum Products at Current Levels and solely change the Bottled Water Market’s contribution to new petroleum and recycled bottle consumption.

Product, service, or practice audit of resources required for finished product.
Share of global market of each individual resource required
Estimated amount of resource potentially available for each required resource
Current Average Consumption of product, service, or practice
Global Population

Some Limitations:
Based upon the concept of rating for this system (based upon timeline of depletion of resources), levels of sustainability are subject to change due to other industries. For example, petroleum was no longer the preferred fuel for transportation, water bottle consumption would suddenly become more sustainable.