When the green fad fades

A few years ago, I was moderating a panel discussion on green buildings at an ASHRAE meeting of the Cleveland chapter, when after a few hours of dithering discussions on costs, benefits, and performance data, an engineer in the audience piped up and said, “If green were to just become fashionable, people would buy it.


A few years ago, I was moderating a panel discussion on green buildings at an ASHRAE meeting of the Cleveland chapter, when after a few hours of dithering discussions on costs, benefits, and performance data, an engineer in the audience piped up and said, “If green were to just become fashionable, people would buy it.”

Well, thanks a lot, buddy.

The green movement has indeed become faddish and fashionable. Green is gold, the new black, and the new denim. Some are even wrapping the red, white, and blue in green. With all this green, the movement has become a gag reflex.

Who could be surprised? This is, afterall, America, where media coverage and public sentiment can ramp up from scarcity and ambivalence spanning years to saturation and fervor overnight. What shifted the paradigm, moving green's cheese past the tipping point? Was it Vanity Fair's “Special Green Issue” of April 2006, which featured Julia Roberts, George Clooney, and Al Gore on the cover? Or was it in 2003 at the Academy Awards when Harrison Ford and other Hollywood stars hatched out of chauffeur-driven Priuses? Or did the tens of thousands of LEED APs and Greenbuild attendees make a difference en masse? The origin matters not; what's more important is what will happen when the fad fades.

And fade it will. Already, witch hunters and watchdogs are bedeviling hypocrites and greenwashers, causing limelighters to tone it down and true it up. The comparison of President Bush's Crawford Ranch to Al Gore's Tennessee mansion was an Internet sensation; Governor Schwarzenegger sold his eight Hummers (but still commutes by jet to Sacramento); and mega corporations such as Wal-Mart and Shell Oil get their green messages chewed upon like hyenas at a carcass. Such scrutiny means people are not only watching, they've learned what to watch for, analyze, and report.

This sophistication is the partial reason a lot of people are gagging on green, especially in the buildings industry. Cynics and converts alike are sick of the constant feed of basics, bon mots, and vapid reporting. As indicated by the May 2008 Green Space column, “Put your meter where your mouth is,” by Larry Spielvogel, PE, engineers are looking for decision-driving facts, such as performance data and lessons learned. It's no longer newsworthy that a building has earned a LEED certification. What engineers want to know is how purported green buildings are performing against design forecasts and against buildings of similar size and function in similar climate zones two and five years into occupancy. Before we commit to green buildings, shouldn't we ensure our understanding of their design, construction, and operations is correct?

People also are sick of guilt trips, fear mongering, and bullying. A serious backlash is brewing. After all, this is America, where revolution is cool, but counter-revolution is cooler. So, I wasn't surprised to learn that an organization called Grassfire.com launched the first “Carbon Belch Day” on June 12 to protest climate change “alarmism” and potential carbon taxes. People were encouraged to drive, barbecue, and use incandescent lights to their heart's content. Look for more of such shenanigans, T-shirts, and bumper stickers in the future.

If green really is the new denim, it will fade, soften, and become more comfortable with wear. The green market will simply become the market. So, green and bear it. (Gag!)

Author Information

Michael Ivanovich is the editor-in-chief of Consulting-Specifying Engineer . He has a master of science degree in civil engineering (building systems engineering) and previously was a research scientist in the fields of green buildings, indoor air quality, and renewable energy.

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