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The Greening of America

By: Jerry Yudelson, PE, MS, MBA, LEED AP - Monday, July 31, 2006

Two weeks ago, Newsweek’s cover story, “The Greening of America,” complete with a green-tinged, non-divorced family of four, highlighted the quiet revolution going on throughout this country, as we struggle to move away from excessive dependence on imported energy and deal with the emerging, and increasingly demonstrated issues of global warming. This is in the context of preserving our God-given right to drive gas-hogging pickups and SUVs to the lake on summer weekends, towing our speedboats, for a cherished, but not quiet family time. To quote Newsweek, “All over America, a post-Katrina future is taking shape under the banner of ‘sustainability.’”

USA Today’s cover story on July 26th was all about green buildings in Portland, Oregon. The magazine Plenty this month headlined “The Green Invasion.” Harvard Business Review in June featured Charles Lockwood’s new book, Building the Green Way. Business Week’s Small Biz supplement for summer 2006 headlined, “Do You Need to Be Green?” as a small business person (the answer is an unqualified “yes.”) Pulitzer-Prize winning New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman says, “green technology is going to be the industry of the 21st century…My mantra is that green is the new red, white and blue.” (Urban Land, June 2006, interview)

Other indicators are in the air. The public reception to Al Gore’s sci-fi horror classic, An Inconvenient Truth, has been nearly all positive (a critical acclaim not shared by the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, I might add.) Look at the huge growth in hybrid vehicle sales, the continuing 15% to 20% annual growth in organic food sales, and many other indicators of a paradigm shift well underway.

How are we going to do this? Our newsletter will increasingly highlight technologies, strategies and business practices that are taking us toward a lower-energy-using and water-conserving built environment. Call me a technological optimist, because I firmly believe that America’s “can do” attitude, incredibly diverse society and entrepreneurial spirit can deliver what we need for “prosperity without perspiration.”

Let’s look at some of the trends that illustrate this paradigm shift now overtaking the country. Much of it is contained under the rubric of “Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability,” coined by the Natural Marketing Institute, whose weekly LOHAS newsletter is a “must read” for trend-spotters ( The LOHAS folks divide the market for greening into five different categories, totaling nearly $230 billion per year right now (about 3% of the U.S. economy), with participation from 50 million U.S. consumers.

  1. Sustainable Economy, including green buildings, renewable energy, resource-efficient products, socially responsible investments, alternative transportation and environmental management, etc. - $76 billion

  2. Ecological Lifestyles (think organic cotton clothes, high-recycled-content paper, eco-tourism, etc.) - $81 billion

  3. Healthy Lifestyles (think organic foods, day spas, etc.)

  4. Alternative Healthcare

  5. Personal Development

While our focus in this newsletter is primarily green buildings (and related products), sustainable design and green developments, sometimes it’s useful to see what we do every day in a larger social and economic context. That’s a useful way to engender creativity.

For example, how can we mix eco-tourism and green buildings? A lot of people are now designing and building “eco-resorts” which combine learning about local ecosystems with ongoing protection of those sensitive areas from further development.

Firms engaged in sustainable design also want to “walk the talk” in their own practices, so we see them buying hybrid cars, engaging in heavy-duty recycling and locating their offices in LEED-certified buildings close to urban transit systems.

How many different and valuable ways can you think of to participate in “the green revolution?” Take a blank sheet of paper, a large cup of Starbucks’ dark roast, and start writing!

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