Four months ago I gave birth to a beautiful boy who has changed my life and how I view everything. Gone are the days of leisurely bike rides and contemplating where sustainability is heading in the built environment. Now my days are filled with strategies for sleep maximization, changing diapers and efficient utilization of the three-hour period between feedings.
Efficiency is practical; Not only when it comes to water use and lighting choices but daily, from speed weeding the garden and getting in a half-hour swim before my growing baby lets me know that his little belly needs more fuel.
Our society by and large rewards being efficient; the ability to get things done often results in premium salaries and senior positions.
Human beings are naturally selected toward efficiency, take babies for example, they eat and poop at the same time, which is often followed by a smile as if to say, “look mama, I can multitask too.”
Perhaps it’s too much to expect the built environment to run as efficiently as humans or maybe by watching my infant son grow I can learn something more about applying efficiency to the world that we build.
It’s been nearly a year since I sat at this computer and wrote about sustainability. Efficiency has taken on a whole new meaning for me but before launching into that dialog, let’s recap of the past year.
Professionally in an 8 month period working 20 hours a week I left the COO of a Bay Area low income housing developer acknowledging the following:
“With the help of Lisa Goddard, our Green Associate, EAH secured over half a million dollars in grant and loan support from the Marin Community Foundation. This will help us begin our “green” effort, and give us best practices as we move the project to more regions. Our commitment to sustainability encompasses many actions throughout our company and properties, both managed and in development. This currently include water audits, recycling training, efficiency lighting upgrades, solar installation and upgraded Energy Star appliances. EAH Housing is well on its way to become a certified green business — please stay tuned to see how you can support our efforts!”
Since that press release, EAH is being recognized in February 2011 by the California Sustainability Alliance for their leadership in sustainability.
I’m thrilled that I contributed to the success of EAH.
I’ve spent the last two weeks learning about the affordable housing infrastructure — trying to find a point of entry to implement sustainable retrogrades without disturbing the multifaceted financing structure. I find myself observing a system that has little room for new ideas to penetrate.
An influential professor from my days at Cal described a professional mindset that I am now witnessing in the work environment. Her theory asserted that an expert develops certain tried and true practices and uses specific technologies that consistently yield the results they seek. However, new information or technologies that are introduced to the expert that would disturb their systematic approach to a problem are often dismissed for fear of the experts displacement or a strong aversion to change.
When it comes to bringing sustainability or any “green” technologies forward there is a palpable wall of dismissal. Busy experts working on performing their tasks with skill, precision and know-how have little time or interest in accommodating the greening of the larger system.
I’ve enter the system where the expert resides and as long as I don’t disrupt their daily functions than I will be tolerated. Adopting sustainable practices however requires that daily functions shift and soon I anticipate that tolerance will shift to resistance.
Sustainability is first and foremost about endurance. I know the road ahead requires the steady pace of a marathon runner and I’m glad I’ve got the shoes for it!
Today while getting out on my bike between bouts of rain, I rode past a woman who was balancing on a ladder about 9 feet off the ground trimming some long branches in front of her home. Between her shoulder and ear she held a cell phone and carried on a conversation while stretching toward a renegade branch. Efficient, some may say; others might add that she had mastered multi-tasking but to me, this was just another example of how technology has limited our ability to be where we are.
Technology and our addiction to being connected hasn’t really made us more connected at all. iPods do what their name says, they put you in your own pod and allow you to disengage with the world around you. iPhones are just like iPods in that they remove you from experiencing where you’re at, but they allow you to Tweet about the experience, even though its limited because you are clicking a little touch screen instead of simply being where you are.
It seems to me that we are communicating less with each other and reporting more about what’s up in our pods (in 140 characters or less). As I write these words it doesn’t escape my notice that I am also guilty of the very behavior that I point out. Perhaps its time to set aside my wandering iRant and be where I’m at for awhile.
Tomorrow I start a part time job after 6 months of looking. I have an opportunity to implement green practices and energy efficiency into low income housing. A challenge that will require multi-tasking but also focus, collaboration and effective communication. Instead of writing about my lack of participation I will begin to participate again. My self appointed role of observer of the game must take the backseat for awhile; I’ve been called into the game and although I didn’t make the rules, I know I will make a difference.
Walking in the rain on the way to volunteer at my city’s climate action project, I strode warm and dry under my polypropylene and Gortex. I wondered what it would be like to live in a walkable community where our consumer culture feasted on good rain gear and bicycle fenders instead of Xbox’s? The car has certainly carried us far away from what was once our primary mode of transportation. It’s carbon consequences are now being discussed, negotiated, argued and refuted in Copenhagen this week.
Our President’s message from across the Atlantic was: It’s better to act than to talk. I couldn’t agree more, but do-able solutions like an aggressive tax on carbon, higher fuel prices and curbing consumption through stronger mandates bring with it a conservative backlash that invokes political paralysis back home. The ability to act by the legislative branch of our country causes eyes to roll across the globe.
We live in a world where clean tech companies and environmental entrepreneurs are muted by lobbyists for the biggest carbon emitters. Innovators are creating technologies like man made carbon filtering trees resembling giant fly-swatters that are designed to suck carbon out of the atmosphere and sequester it underground. One would think that public funding for this type of venture would be readily available in a culture that has no desire to change its behavior toward driving.
As long as the actions taken amount to more talking, then perhaps ideas such as adding lithium to water as a worldwide suicide prevention strategy is the solution to keep the masses mellowed and lulled into silence. Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World provides a glimpse of that terrifying future where people like me who still walk in the rain and run errands on the bike would be considered savages.