In the decade that brought CB radio slang, disco and Star Wars, the modern environmental movement arose. The color green became the symbol for ecological activism in the 1970s when the U.S. adopted a host of environmental laws, from the Clean Air Act to the Endangered Species Act.
As people’s understanding about human influences on natural and social environments becomes more sophisticated, it’s appropriate that the focus on green should be replaced by thinking centered on “blue” – blue living, blue manufacturing, blue building.
At its core, the idea of “green” equals “environment” is inherently human-centric, and somewhat short sighted. Think of the dramatic photos of our planet taken from space; anyone seeing Earth for the first time would not say it’s a green planet, but rather a blue one. It may be a matter of semantics, yet simple words that represent complex ideas can dramatically shape the way we act. Thinking blue can help us all see the larger picture, and shift our focus from just solving today’s immediate environmental crises to instead creating a way of life that’s healthy, happy and profitable over centuries and millennia instead of over months and years. It all comes down to how everything on Earth is interconnected at some level.
Until recently, being green has focused on reducing impacts of single actions – recycling an aluminum can, reducing pollution from one factory. Now, thought leaders are advocating a more integrated and holistic approach: How do individual actions interact with one another (negatively or positively) to have far-reaching consequences? It’s an infinitely more difficult question to address, but ultimately more beneficial.
One can see the roots of this new thinking in building practices that consider how a home’s various elements can work together to achieve multiple goals. For example, developing tight wall systems, right-sized HVAC and moisture management systems for high energy efficiency and comfort and healthier indoor air, versus adding more insulation alone or installing a high-efficiency furnace and calling it good.
As we’ve discussed previously in Environmentally Speaking, systems thinking is key. Using a recycled product for a certain building component may be better than a non-recycled product (or not), but that alone doesn’t make a green – or a blue – house. From the floor coverings to the structural elements to the landscaping to how the home’s lot development and location supports other environmental goals such as reduced vehicle trips, all aspects must be taken into consideration.
Such thinking is not only better for the environment, it also creates profound business opportunities. Product manufactures can increasingly partner with one another to mutually promote their products and services that perform well together, and develop new offerings that tomorrow’s customers will demand.
Next month, we’ll probably be back to speaking about green and aren’t likely to change this newsletter’s background color to blue any time soon. But, do we hope to have stretched your thinking, as well as our own? That’s a big 10-4, good buddy.