Global warming can be changed, says Rob Watson, CEO of EcoTech International and the founding father of the LEED standard for buildings but only if we change how we think. For one thing, we need to focus on the real danger of “irreversible damage” to humankind if we don’t do something about CO2 concentration. “The planet is fine and can take care of itself,” he comments. “It’s humanity that’s in danger.” What danger? 150 years of Katrina on a global scale.
As part of this, we need to move beyond what Watson calls egonomics – politics and the habit of thinking we’re the center of the universe. Egonomics assumes that the impact of economics transactions can be separate from the transactions themselves. In this view, efficiency and renewable energy require some sort of payback. Watson calls this an 18th century prescription that is no longer a useful framework for the 21st century.
When what’s green is new, it can be more expensive, but that’s because it’s new, not because it’s green. Once green is mandatory, the price will come down over time. The biggest cost of green is inexperience. You can’t do LEED except before you do the drawing.
Carbon caps, trade and taxation also represent egonomics in Watson’s view. His prescription? “We have to do the right thing every day. Energy demand is choice, not fate.” We know what to do. We have the technical and design knowledge. We have the solutions. Can we get them into place? Maybe not.
What we can do specifically:
- Stop designing buildings, industries and cars to be inefficient. Use technologies we already have effectively. Buildings represent the largest single source of environmental problems – almost 50 percent of all CO2 emissions – twice as many as all cars and trucks combined.
- Integrate market and mandatory mechanisms as California is doing, rewarding early adopters.
- Establish regulatory certainty. Incentives need to be ongoing, not just for a year or two.
- Build the case for nonbelievers by creating value around the product. Set your goal and budget and stick to them; adopt new thinking. . “Your competitors are doing it. They’ll kick your ass! WalMart started doing it as a defensive posture. Then they found it made more money! The leaders are out ahead of you and will eat your lunch!”
- Move from a centralized energy grid to one that’s distributed to cut the high cost of moving energy around in order to make it available.
My thanks to the Columbia Business School Alumni Club of New York for this opportunity to hear and talk with Rob Watson face to face. Much more can be found at www.greenerbuildings.com.