Greenbuild NEXT International Expo was jam-packed with places to go, people to see and things to do. There was absolutely not one dull moment to be had. To give you an idea of how big this conference has become, there were about 25,000 attendees, 1700 exhibitors, 105 education sessions available over 4 days.
The opening keynote address included an opening statement by Rick Fedrizzi, the President and CEO of the US Green Building Council, an opening keynote speech by Thomas Friedman and a roundtable discussion including Mr. Friedman, former Prime Minister Kim Campbell, and Dr. Paul Farmer, moderated by Cokie Roberts. To top off the evening there was an excellent performance by Maroon 5, a band dedicated to lowering its carbon footprint, singing out on behalf of Haiti, and leading green lifestyles. I never knew that, I’ve always just enjoyed their music.
Tom Friedman was the highlight of the evening for me. He spoke about how it wasn’t a coincidence that the current economic and environmental crises are occurring at the same time. Regarding environmental sustainability, we are borrowing against our grandchildren’s future with the attitude being “IBG” — meaning “I’ll be gone” so it doesn’t matter. On the economic side of things, several practices and changes have meant that we no longer practice restraint with our accounting — both personally and corporately. There has been a generational shift to sloppy accounting practices resulting in events like the sub-prime lending fiasco; instant gratification is the norm, spend now, catch up later, especially since money is cheap. But we never end up catching up.
Mr. Friedman quoted some scary statistics that came out in a World Wildlife report. We are currently consuming 25% more natural resources than our earth can regenerate. We are creating a smaller and smaller base of natural resources from which an ever increasing world population must live on.
The way to fix this problem is with price signals — pricing natural resources so that the consequences of taking them out of the natural environment or adding CO2 into the atmosphere is reflected in the price of any product. Natural resources are not finite, despite the fact that they have always been valued that way. As Mr. Friedman notes, the way our current financial system works, we under price our natural resources while the financial gains are privatized by corporations and the losses are socialized (weather extremes leading to hurricanes, drought, etc.) becoming government and therefore, tax payer burdens.
He aptly notes that while a price signal is the key to changing human behaviour, we shouldn’t be looking for it any time soon. This current American (and Canadian for that matter) administration isn’t about to radically overhaul the pricing structure before they’re out of office. Let’s face it, a price signal right now would be political suicide — even if it is necessary.
He compared the IT industry with the “green revolution” by saying the difference is that with the IT revolution you got a product that had a function that was seen as beneficial such as cell phones, personal computers and all the software and technology that’s developed around these devices. At the end of the day with the green revolution, all you’re getting is the same things you already have: heat, cooling, lighting, transportation. Where is the incentive in converting to cleaner methods if the price signals aren’t there? To me it’s like when you take your car to the mechanic’s to get some work done and all you get back is a working car and a big fat bill; nothing visually has changed, and your bank account has decreased a little. It can feel deflating. (Don’t you think the least mechanics could do is vacuum the inside of your car just to make it look like you’ve gotten something for your money?)
So, after this frank lecture, which was pretty depressing because he was stating the reality of the economic and environmental mess we’re currently in, he did offer some hope. On his travels across the US, he meets lots of fascinating and ingenious people. People with ideas about how to solve the world’s problems while still earning a decent living. He’s glad that these grass roots people “didn’t get the message” that a price signal was necessary to overhaul our problems. Maybe our ingenuity will save us after all. So, to all of you inventors, keep on inventing and us find our way out of this mess we’ve created.