You can’t hide from green
Last Monday I returned from vacation and as usual it was a hectic week catching up at work. My publications and RSS feeds piled up. The size of the pile itself is newsworthy. Yes, Earth Day is around the corner (April 22). And the Supreme Court did rule that the Clean Air Act gives the federal government the power to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles. Still, it’s hard to keep up when every publication, from tech’s CIO Magazine and mainstream outlets like Fortune, Time, Newsweek and Vanity Fair to the monthly newsletter for my wife’s baby group, was focused on giving people the information they need to make smarter decisions to live more sustainably.
I have a file from when I actively started tracking news coverage in clean tech and sustainable business in December 2005. At the time there were a few stories covering the greening of the data center, Vinod Khosla’s push for ethanol, and some buzz about solar power (of course there were niche green publications covering a lot more). Not much really changed until late summer 2006 when coverage started to go more mainstream. The past eight months have been a blur. What will be interesting is to see how this hype cycle plays out. How long will this coverage sustain itself? Has there been enough of a shift in popular thinking for the public to have enough knowledge and motivation to carry out everything being talked about when/if the media moves on to the next hot topic? The coverage keeps taking on a new life; what’s next?
Some would argue that this press attention isn’t going anywhere. Things have changed enough that we’re never going back. New environmental TV shows are popping up and outlets like NBC are setting trends giving their chief financial correspondent Anne Thompson the environmental beat, and some of the world’s largest corporations like GE, SC Johnson and Dow Chemical are spending significant ad dollars to drive their eco message.
We’re absolutely right thinking that press attention isn’t going anywhere if we think the way many of us are accustomed to — in the short-term. It will, without question, be with us until the conclusion of the 2008 elections (unfortunate comparison given that this issue is much bigger than politics). But global warming and sustainable thinking, as the scientists and people a lot more knowledgeable than me will tell you, aren’t short-term issues. They stretch into future generations and require that the public be the drivers to take them forward with or without the help of the media’s attention.
This issue cuts to the core of the American identity. Our society was built on consumption. I look around my house and it is filled with gadgets (iPods, entertainment system, computers, cameras) and my sports room is piled high with gear (2 pairs of skis, 2 surfboards, 3 backpacks, 2 tents, 2 sleeping bags, soccer balls, 3 bikes, snowshoes, avalanche gear…the list goes on).
This isn’t scientific. We drive too much, we fly too much, we eat too much, we wash our clothes and dishes too often, we have too many clothes, our homes are unnecessarily large, we buy junk that needs to be replaced too often, and we buy junk that shouldn’t ever be replaced because it’s junk. Straight and simple. That’s the American Dream. It’s what people have been fighting for. The rewards are plenty. I sure do like my toys and hobbies. The downside is junk and excess, not too mention what is done to the other animals who we share planet earth with that rely on the same resources as us.
And here I am. Consumer of junk. The reason this is a long-term problem. The solution? We either innovate like we’ve never innovated or we digress in ways that go against what’s in our blood, what makes us all American. I’ll get off my soapbox and let us innovate. I’m optimistic.