Look for Ulterior Green Motives

It seems like everyone is using the green tag these days but the term is still completely ambiguous. Imagine your professional association meeting is tonight, and the topic is a hot one: Green Remodeling. The room is filled with contractors, vendors, suppliers, designers and architects. Often people leave one of these seminars more confused than when they entered.

One of the topics the group will discuss is how to recycle, reuse and manage demolition material, project debris, packaging material and other waste that is generated from remodeling and new home projects. One of the speakers addresses this problem and offers his solution to the group. The speaker explains how the contractors could save money if they rented three Dumpsters and separated the project debris on site for the duration of the project. They then could sell the material to local recycling companies for profit.

It was later disclosed that the speaker owned a waste management company. Big surprise! A heavy silence hangs over the room as the attendees try to digest what they just heard. They glance among one another looking for confirmation that they have heard the same thing. Sure enough, one outspoken member of the audience raises his hand and rises to his feet. He poses his question, not to the speaker, but to the audience. “Will someone ask the speaker if he has ever managed a remodeling project? Separating trash into three Dumpsters on site is a load of crap!”

This can be an uncomfortable situation in which to find yourself. On the one hand you agree with the guy who asked the question. On the other hand, you wish he had been more tactful in his address to the speaker. So you decide to play the mediator and further the discussion by raising your hand. You suggest that the three-Dumpster idea may seem green at first glance, but may not be so upon further consideration. In fact, having to use three trucks to haul away waste materials to three different potential sites would cause more greenhouse gas emissions. Then there is the practical issue of placing three Dumpsters on a site. We often have trouble finding space for one Dumpster, not to mention three. Finally, having workers sort materials as they go will undoubtedly slow down the construction process and cost the company and homeowner more in the long run.

Not to be dismissed so easily, the speaker ignores the issue of logistics and explains that the additional cost to the job would range from only 10 to 15 percent — not a big cost to a project’s bottom line when contemplating the future of the planet. There it was … the green trump card.

While most of the attendees were hoping to learn some useful techniques to benefit their business and, yes, the environment, they ended up with little useful information and a guilt trip to boot. We should not feel bullied into behavior that is counter-intuitive and ill-conceived. Many of us struggle with finding answers for many issues that were clearly not thought through by generations before us. But making decisions based solely on emotions, not intellectual reasoning, will only hurt us further in the long run.

Green is a movement that is gaining in strength. For our profession, being green means working to make our design ideas and construction methods blend to achieve timeless, well-balanced projects from start to finish. Just beware of the false green marketing that inundates us on a daily basis.