Thursday, June 24, 2010

Individually green

The "sustain-o-meter" discussion last posting got a number of good comments and got me thinking about how this might apply to individuals and their living habits.

Actually, to be fair, I was sort of thinking about this but then saw an article on by Joel Makover posted on June 17th titled "Who's the Biggest Greenwasher of Them All?" The article discusses the statements of major corporations indicating their commitment and accomplishments in creating green business and the degree of skepticism that we often associate with these statements. The article asks, basically, if this level of scrutiny was applied to consumers (yep, you and me) would we be able to show that we've stepped up to the plate and made significant changes in commitment or documented accomplishments towards "greening" our lives.

After all, the products these companies manufacture and sell are bought by someone. Are consumers stepping up in choosing to embrace sustainability and green behavior?

Gulp. Apparently not.

Mr. Makover refers to "anonymous polls and surveys in which high percentages of consumers make boastful claims -- saying they regularly seek out green products, recycle and compost at home, are more energy conscious in their purchasing decisions, switch brands in favor of greener ones, take public transportation whenever possible, invest their money with so-called responsible funds and companies, and otherwise take action on behalf of the planet."

But, truth be known, the reality is different. Mr. Makover states that "Shoppers overwhelmingly buy what they want, most likely the same things they've always bought, perhaps with an exception or two. Except during brief periods of high fuel prices, they drive what they've always driven with little regard for alternatives. Despite 20 years of green consumer surveys suggesting otherwise, people haven't changed their shopping habits much."

And I've heard anecdotal evidence to support this regarding the tremendous differences noted when surveying consumers on their purchase preferences on entering a major "big box" retailer and then reviewing what they actually bought on exit.

Mr. Makover does also balance these comments with companies who have shown clear evidence of greenwashing in the past - so he levels the complaint equally. But, he says "If consumers were a corporation, we'd be boycotting them."

(Note: If you are interested in more on the topic of greenwashing, the posting of last July 30th covered some definitions and links to sites for reviewing examples from advertising.)

But back to the "sustain-o-meter." Although this was designed with a "corporate" context in mind, it can apply to individuals. For example, you can do a global search and replace for:

- "customers" to be replaced with "vendors" as in "engaging supply chain and vendors"
- "implement" to be replaced with "purchase or install" as in "define and purchase or install" tech wedges for more challenging problems"
- "manufacturing" to be replaced with "purchasing" as in "proactive sustainable purchasing," and
- "design" to be replaced with "living" as in "proactive living for sustainability"

and add this to the meter and this gives some better rating bases for individuals.

I have to honestly say that I'd place myself at the mid-point of the scale - somewhere between "defining solution wedges for low hanging fruit" and "define and install." Meaning, I've done things like:  changed all the incandescent bulbs to compact flourescent, installed a digital thermostat for changing the heating periods in my house (and shutting of the furnace at night), and installed a very efficient gas furnace (no chimney ... just blows out water vapor through a PVC tube!).

Oh, yes, and my brother got me a "kill-a-watt" meter for my birthday last year so I can see what my appliances are doing. That's "measuring and tracking performance."

But, you can also check on what your appliances are up to at a neat-o GE website for "Visualizing your gadgets' energy thirst."  Did you know 1 kWh of electricity will make 36 pieces of toast in a toaster but 100 pieces in a toaster oven? Or print 1,333 pages on a printer? You could spend hours checking things out on this site. But, be careful - you only get 7 hours of computer monitor use for a kilowatt!

Where would you rate yourself on the "sustain-o-meter"?

Next time we'll look at how some industries are doing and guidelines/strategies they are using to move up on the "sustain-o-meter."

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