By the end of Greenbuild, I was exhausted/troubled/elated with all sorts of conundrums swirling around in my head — not to mention a few partly written blogs, abandoned in favor of the next conversation...
... I had wanted to write about the 'executive roundtable' that happened that Wednesday — and responses to the twitter-submitted question "what single thing would have to change to make buildings actually regenerative?" (as in, way past 'less damaging' — past neutrality, even). I was encouraged to hear the execs express what I see as core issues (summarized and/or quoted below — no, I didn't record who said what):
- Waste and consumption is ridiculously cheap. If energy costs go up to the tune of $150/barrel for oil (or on-site renewables became radically cheaper), and/or if a cost is attached to emissions (not just air — also sewer and solid waste), we could get there.
- Our financial accounting systematically discounts the future. "We're trapped in a paradigm of net present value (NPV) — one of the worst tools known to man.... We need a new tool — 'Net Future Value'... and to start to reconceptualize buildings to see them as multigenerational assets."
- Corporations have to focus on shareholder's financial return above all else. Yes, the technology is there to do zero energy buildings but "for a profit making business with shareholders expecting a return they cannot generally be duplicated over and over."
On the last point, the phrasing I found interesting — because later they were asked how to tell green from greenwash — and one of them said "you'll know a business has credibility when they stop talking about one-off projects and demonstrate [that performance] across the board."
I put these two quotes together, out of context, because what I think it points to is that if we're really going to take green to the scale that is needed, we can't kid ourselves that we can do it all within the current economic rules-of-the-game that stack the deck against stewardship and the future. (Don't get me wrong, the Green Building movement is doing an incredible job within this context, but that doesn't mean the system works — rather, it's a testament to the smarts, creativity, passion, and perseverance of folks making change despite an imperfect market designed to thwart their best efforts).
At another session, the speaker reminded us that our economic system is a social construct — it's a story we've created, and we can revise that story. Let's not forget that, because ultimately if we don't find a way to align individual and corporate financial success with the wellbeing of future generations and the environment, we'll find ourselves without either.