Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Importance of the Why Question

I work at an energy conservation company, and as such, I get to see a lot of interesting and occasionally really bizarre green initiatives and products. Over my time here, I've come to realize that the absolute most important question you can ask when making a violent lunge into the wild frontier of green products is "but...why?" Let me explain.

You know how sometimes you go to the grocery store, and you'll see something like a bag of potatoes, and it says something absolutely ridiculous like "no peanuts!" on the label. You just stand there in the aisle, right, enjoying your own private moment of WTF, because why would potatoes ever have peanuts in them, and if you have a friend on hand, you can point it out and say all serious-like, "hey, these are PEANUT FREE POTATOES" and then you laugh and move along to buy the rest of your grocery list.
My life is not very exciting.

So anyway, we have a couple items here that are very greenie, and they all mostly pass the But...Why Test. For instance, we have cups that are made out of things that you would not usually expect cups to be made out of. Like corn.


he idea behind it is that these corn cups break down more easily, thus reducing landfill space and avoiding the release of horrible chemicals into the ground, etc., etc. I can get behind this. They're comparably priced, and people here like them. The hot cups are made of potatoes, I believe. I assume that they are peanut free.

We order all these things from a company called EcoProducts, and they seem to really have their act together. They also understand that the way to my heart, for corporations at least, is through random and unexpected cheap company swag. The demonstrated this knowledge by sending me a mug for a holiday gift. Thanks, EcoProducts! The mug declares that it is "made from plants, not oil" (read: more corn), and has some handy green living tips on the back of it, not a single one of which is one you couldn't come up with on your own, but I appreciate the idea.

This is a great mug for me, but I can see how it would be problematic for other people. I drink tea and coffee like I need it to live (at this point, I probably do), so I usually just rinse my mug out between uses, and it rarely sits out for more than about 12 hours. I also only get hot water for tea out of an electric kettle or the high octane coffee maker in the cafeteria that fuels the IT department. It all works out for the mug and me. However, it's not microwaveable, and it has to be hand washed, so unfortunately it's pretty close to the "but...why?" line of demarcation. Rich, for instance, always microwaves water when he needs tea or TheraFlu or whatever, so this mug would not be his thing. Green industry is a tricky thing.

This is, I think, particularly relevant given the green boom and the current economic stimulus discussion. I like working where I do primarily because they are one of the first green companies that really get how to sell environmentalism. Nature preservation, environmental issues and green energy have long been favorite issues of mine, but up until relatively recently, the primary voice on the topic was freaking Greenpeace and other organizations, who want you to buy in to the concept based purely on your love for your environment, or whatever guilt they can stir up in you over littering that one time. What's so intensely frustrating is that people do care, kind of, until they have to pay for it, at which point they say, "I have three kids to put through college...no offense, endangered tree lichens, but you can go pound sand." The way to successful environmentalism is through finding alternatives to what's actively causing trouble in the environment. Right now, we need a macro approach to things, and the biggest swath there is green energy management. Find the alternatives, get everyone to insulate their houses and swap out inefficient boilers, get off the fossil fuels, get real about nuclear power, and then we can worry about the animals and streams and plants that are still suffering. The latter can still be attended to throughout, but the main push should be for energy development and green living.

The way you SELL this idea is to tell people how much money they can save, and talk about the benefit to the environment as a side effect. I know, you don't care about people saving money. I know, you want the trees to rejoice. We all want the trees to rejoice. The problem is that we don't want to spend money to that effect, so we need to embrace a more cynical and less emotional motive to get this shit done.

This is what answers the "but...why" question. Green energy is more efficient (now in certain ways, and potentially in many more) and is renewable, does less damage to our ecosystem which in turn allows us better access to untainted natural resources. The nice thing is that it allows us to get out of nature's way a little bit, which in return can give us cleaner air and water, which boosts health and allows us to spend less money on bullshit healthcare expenses. It's not a cure all, but at a point where we need jobs and less mayhem in the area of the oil markets, it's also not an idea I think we should be kicking out of bed.

One of the many things I hope the Obama Administration can bring to Washington is a good, healthy does of the But...Why? Question. I love that when a hue and cry arose over an ancillary issue (funding for contraceptive promotion and supply) on the economic stimulus proposal, they simply axed it in the interest of getting down to work. Now, I hope that our political elite do eventually take up the absolute idiocy of the contraceptive debate (Really, sex ed without talking about contraception? "Don't have sex. If you have sex, because you will get pregnant. And die." While Pelosi was a moron to approach this from a pure cost-savings approach with an air of What the Fuck about it, I have a hard time understanding why we're even having this argument in 2009.), but right now, economic reform is more important. Now, I'm not 100% in love with this idea of the government solving all of our problems, but I do appreciate seeing some coherent and unified movement in a direction, period.

I really like my mug though.

No comments:

Post a Comment