Walking The Green Path – October 7, 2007

walking the green path

Growing up as a lower middle class child of the 60s and 70s in Brooklyn and New Jersey economic necessity was the driving force behind my parents’ strict green rules of “sustainability.”  We had a whole different kind of green math that concerned us then. 

 My dad wasn’t worried about his carbon footprint when he was threatening to leave his own footprint on my ass if I didn’t turn the lights out when I left the room, or if I left the TV or the radio on in a room I was no longer occupying.  Using lots of high-powered appliances or equipment was out of the question, because we didn’t own any.  Turning off the air conditioning when it was warm outside wasn’t a problem because we couldn’t afford any air conditioning.  Practicing good green habits like line-drying clothes; using a push mower; washing and reusing plastic containers; buying recycled clothes, furniture, sporting goods and toys; or using public transportation and ride sharing were all the result of trying to save a buck, not save a planet.

 And as it turns out, I learned to be creative about making things last and not wasting resources at an early age.  Despite what my therapist now says, the reasons why weren’t nearly as important as the knowledge and experience I developed as a result.  Once you develop a radar and a sensitivity about waste and what it costs you, it’s not easy to turn that voice inside your head off.

 Back in the day, I couldn’t afford to spend the green that being wasteful cost.  Now that I can afford THAT green, it’s the green of our planet that we can no longer afford to spend – even for someone like me who has no kids and no great love for the younger generations.

 Because being green today isn’t about self-interest or saving the planet for your kids or your children’s children – it’s about your core character, your values and your worth as a human being.  It’s about doing the right thing and being a caring, decent, enlightened member of a civilized society or being a self-serving, clueless abuser and destroyer.  It’s about whether you can look at yourself in the mirror.

 If you want to fool yourself and buy more time to be arrogant and self righteous as you drive your Hummer you can make believe there is a legitimate debate going on about global warming and issues of air quality, water quality and sustainable land practices.  But you’d be wrong.  There is no debate, there is only the question of how much personal responsibility you’re willing to accept, how long you’re willing to wait before you make your move, how much slack you’re willing to give yourself.

 With that mindset I begin Creative Greenius, this new green blog and what better place to start than with my own green path and the legitimate question of whether or not I practice what I preach.  Am I green or am I just greenwashing?  Am I talking the talk or do I really walk the walk?  Is my green just the flavor of the moment for Mr. Joe or do I have any trail cred, as we call it in the great wide open? 

 I thought about that a lot as I was hiking through Yosemite’s High Sierra backcountry trails to celebrate my first half century here on the big blue marble.  This was my big celebratory vacation after months of nonstop work, the one I chose to mark my Mr. Joe 5.0 milestone.  Money was no object, so naturally I went off the grid to spend 10 days with no electricity, no cars, no internet, no phones, no radios, TVs or i-anything.  Of course I carpooled with two other people to get there.  We backpacked 62 miles on the High Sierra Camp loop – but as REAL backpackers will tell you we did it the slacker way not having to carry tents, sleeping bags, food or cooking equipment.  Still, when it comes to walking the walk, nobody else straps those boots on for you and does the switchbacks.

 And as I was putting one foot in front of the other and breathing hard in the 9,000 foot altitude I had a chance to think about just how green I really was.  Turns out I’m much better than average, but not nearly as good as I aspire to be.

 I drive an 11 year old car, a Honda del Sol which I’ve only put 40,000 miles on.  It gets over 30 miles per gallon and has a low emission VTEC engine.  My miles are so low because I telecommute and I have for over 20 years now.  My wife drives a Honda too.  

 Just like when I was growing up, my house doesn’t have any air conditioning, but now it’s because I live near the beach and we use the ocean breezes to stay cool.  If it gets too hot in the summer or during the Santa Anas I bring out a couple of fans.

 One by one as we’ve gotten new appliances we’ve become an Energy Star certified household.  Last month’s purchase of the new refrigerator finally made it a clean sweep.  Edison even gave me $35 for my 15 year old fridge and picked it up for free to recycle it. too

It’s been over a year since we replaced all the lamp light bulbs with CFLs, and now with the introduction of dimmable CFL spotlights for our 20 different dimmable spots throughout the property we will have eliminated all incandescent lights at our place.  It cost me about $250 to replace all the spotlights, but each one is supposed to save me over $300 over the life of the bulb.  $250 out for $6,000 in savings.  Do the green math.

I also enjoyed taking advantage of Southern California Edison’s green lamp replacement program a few weeks ago in which we traded two Halogen torch lamps and a couple of old incandescent desk lamps for four new CFL lamps.

The new Solatubes we recently put in the living room have made using any kind of electric lights unnecessary during the daylight hours and magically brought cheery sunlight into the two formerly dark and gloomy corners of the room.

 Did I mention that my wife ripped out the lawns at our place a few years ago and replaced them all with gorgeous gardens designed for low drip irrigation water use and to be an irresistible habitat for hummingbirds and butterflies?  All pesticide free and using both captured rainwater (on those rare occasions when we get any) and the compost she makes from our green waste. 

All of her different gardens look especially vivid through the new energy efficient replacement windows we had installed which really cut both the noise and the outside air leaking through my home’s original 1949 windows.

I’ve been supporting green causes like the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, Audubon Society, Heal the Bay, the Tree People, National Land Trust, and dozens of others for decades now.  I’ve spoken out on environmental issues during the Reagan years as a public radio commentator.  In the 1980s I lead the Long Beach Coalition for a nuclear free harbor which helped get the Navy’s nuclear arsenal out of a heavily populated costal community.  When it comes to trashing the ocean environment few have a worse record than the US Navy. 

In the 1990s I co-founded The Parks Company with a mission to “Preserve, Protect and Promote America’s National Parks” and ten years later we are still doing just that.

More recently I helped create and launch a new energy efficient lighting company, LumaBright, that develops high tech, low energy replacement lighting for the advertising and promotional industries.

Today I find myself increasingly consulting on green strategy and communication programs for clients like HP and I have never found my work more satisfying or energizing.  I have strong feelings on these issues as you can tell from this post and I have over two decades of interest, research and experience.  These days I spend every day thinking and working towards the green future I know is as easily achievable as putting a cell phone into the hands of every living American under the age of 30.  It’s all a matter of creative persuasion.

Considering my loves for technology, communications, politics and business, and my record of succeeding where others fear the challenge, you might understand why I heard bells and saw flags waving when a friend of mine recently declared me a Creative Greenuis.  She was being kind and using the hyperbole that top TV executives are prone to exclaiming, but I know a worthy aspirational goal when I hear one.  

And so off I go.  Why don’t you come along?  That way we can use the carpool lane.

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