Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Green Guilt

Sometimes, I feel like a hypocrite.  I care about the planet, and about the impact of my actions, I really do.  I think it's important that we start designing better, greener buildings, and retrofitting our existing building stock to improve efficiency.  It's why I went into civil engineering, why I volunteer with the green party, why I lead sustainability initiatives at school, and (part of) why I applied for this internship.

I'm happy that I'm here.  In the less than 2 months I've been here, I've learned more about green building certification processes and standards than I did in my first 3 years of school.  I've learned about some fantastic technologies and applications of green building principles, and I've spoken to some amazing, motivated people (including some people in my own family, who I had no idea were interested in green building).

In 3 years of operation, GBC Brasil has made some unbelievable progress in the country.  Seminars and MBA Programs in green building are offered all over the country.  The Olympics Committee and FIFA have agreed to extensive sustainability measures in their new structures.  The municipal government in Rio de Janeiro has imposed sustainability guidelines on all new public developments, which are based on the LEED system.  Our 1 Degree Less campaign for cool roofs has inspired a draft law in São Paulo.  There are now 16 certified buildings in Brazil.  That's a lot to be proud of.

But then I think about my own impact.  I flew 10 000 km away for this opportunity.  That's an awful lot of emissions.  Is the work I'm doing here actually going to offset that, or is this just a feel-good measure? I'm pushing papers, translating documents and attending meetings with energy companies who want to green their image.   For the past two weeks, I've been working on preparing for an international conference for which we will be bringing people in from the US, Canada and Europe.  Are these speakers going to bring something to the brazilian market that we couldn't find internally?  Couldn't we have them speak via videoconference? Are they going to learn something that they could not have learned in their own countries?  I've also helped map itineraries and book green building tours for my coworker's trips to Chicago, New York and Washington.  As interesting and revolutionary as a trip to Sidwell Friends School may be, is it worth the 10 000 km trip for 4-6 people?  Is seeing it really going to improve green building in Brazil enough to offset the trip?

And then there's the nature of the buildings we're certifying.  Almost all are new buildings.  Shiny, new developments adding more demand onto an already tapped-out system. Very few are retrofits.  Here in Brazil we're excitedly working on new green stadiums and hotels, so that people from all over the world can jet over to watch sports.  But not to worry, the hotel has low-flush toilets and bamboo floors!

I hate to be a cynic.  I really do believe that most people in this movement are well-intentioned.  However, I sometimes feel like we all just need a healthy dose of perspective.  Jetting around the world promoting green principles sure feels good, but we need to really start acting differently. 

1 comment: