Sustainability Reports Fluff or Fact

A key way in which companies market their sustainable business work is through annual sustainability reports. These documents are meant to assess the progress the company has made toward that elusive goal. They are marketing pieces that tout the company's progress and successes, and without exception, they feature pictures of mountains, brooks, and charismatic megafauna like elk and deer. The problem with these reports is that they're sending the wrong message. The reports say, We're getting...

Aspen as Metaphor

There's one more reason Aspen is a good model It is a surrogate for America, a microcosm of all the problems, obstacles, and opportunities we face in the battle against climate change. *The Ferris wheel and World's Fair discussion evolved from conversations with my friend Ed Marston, author, utility board member, small-time real estate maven, and former publisher of High Country News. Those conversations turned into an essay we cowrote for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Some of the text of that...

Coda on Green Building

For all the barriers and obstacles, pitfalls and potholes on the path to widespread adoption of green building practices, this field is slowly taking root, even among the most jaded and traditionalist of contractors. It is impossible not to be excited as greenness blossoms in many forms throughout the built environment, even if you still can't buy a green home in the average subdivision. I caught a glimpse of this light the palpable spread of the green movement in building at what was one of...

Worlds Fair in Progress

At the time everyone believed that the big hit of the 1892 Columbia Exposition in Chicago, the World's Fair, would be the electric dynamo. But it wasn't. The hit of the fair turned out to be the first Ferris wheel, a giant one that met the technological showboating challenge posed by the Eiffel Tower, the hit of the French world's fair. The fair, Erik Larson writes in The Devil in the White City, changed how Americans thought about architecture, what they could expect from cities (the Chicago...

Are RECs Worthless

It's unarguable that to date corporate reputations have been burnished, if not remade, by large REC purchases, which are lauded by environmental groups, business peers, and government alike. That's why the 100 percent claim matters so much it's a real statement, much more so than a lesser percentage. The elephant standing in the middle of the room when corporate boards decide to buy RECs is that they're not all equal most of the RECs bought early on by corporations, up to and including Intel's...

Aspen A Canary in the Coal Mine and a Shining City on a Hill

We know what we are, but know not what we may be. Where do government and business turn for examples of how to be environmentally progressive Who's running the beta test Where is the lab for determining what's worth pursuing That's where places like Aspen come into play. Despite the fur and leather, the plastic surgery and fancy cars, or maybe because of it, Aspen can be a laboratory, a model for the rest of the world. It's an example of what one community can do to try to find its own biggest...

Aspen Skiing Companys Lever

One day I walked into the office of our then-CEO, Pat O'Donnell, in despair. (Again.) What are we doing I asked him. The work we'd done from improving building and snowmaking efficiency to making renewable energy purchases and using biofuels in Snowcats was so small in the scheme of things it felt like we weren't really making a difference. What was the point of this Pat pointed out that while what we did day to day was important, it was dwarfed by another opportunity, and maybe we should...

Business Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Meanwhile, business is both the cause and the victim of environmental decline. Good example the Chilean sea bass I saw on the menu at a restaurant recently. It will be commercially extinct in two years. Then what do restaurants serve Better example At our ski resorts, we will have to make more and more snow to stay in business in a warming climate, which costs us more and more money and uses more and more energy, which in turn warms the climate, requiring us to make more snow. We are...

Butcher the Energy

Climatically, Aspen really is a canary in the coal mine. It shows changes and suffers consequences before most of the country, even coastal areas, owing to the unique impact of warming on alpine environments. As such, the city serves a role the rest of America might learn its fate or how to avoid it by watching Aspen in the future. In the present, Aspen is a good proxy for America as a whole because Aspen is, like the rest of the country, an energy hog. It's the standard-bearer for conspicuous...

Cascading Benefits of Green

The new lights in the Nell garage were great, but there was another problem The two-level parking area smelled like sewage. On the one hand, this might not seem to be a problem guests didn't go down to the garage, so at worst it was an inconvenience to the staff. But sometimes there was a distinct reek of sewer gas in the Porches, Martins, and Land Rovers the valets drove up to the front door. This would not do, but staff didn't know how to fix the problem. They turned up the garage exhaust...

Climate Change and the Fierce Urgency of

The U.S. should take steps now to reduce emissions in effective and meaningful ways. Some things never change. You can guarantee that at a high school graduation the valedictorian will quote Dr. Seuss's Oh, the Places You'll Go And at sustainable-business conferences, a speaker, probably the keynote, will try to define sustainability, always with much hand-wringing about how difficult a task it is. Over the years, whining about what sustainability means has become a clich . Invariably, speakers...

Concrete and Steel Solutions

In the absence of any policy leadership, the REC debacle was inevitable, as well as symptomatic of our times. Churchill said that Americans could be counted on to do the right thing . . . after they had exhausted all other alternatives. RECs and our focus on corporate green reputation seem to illustrate this. We are exhausting all other alternatives before finally getting down to the business of climate protection. As Randy Udall wrote in a Web post Touting your carbon neutrality is a sign that...

Done

Hard Truths from the Front Lines of the Sustainability Revolution Copyright 2009 by Auden Schendler Published in the United States by PublicAffairs , a member of the Perseus Books Group. All rights reserved. Printed in Canada. No part of this book may be reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. For information, address PublicAffairs, 250 West 57th Street, Suite 1321, New York, NY 10107....

Donnies Parts Washer

Back in Aspen Skiing Company's vehicle shop, Donnie agreed to replace his solvent-based parts washer (used to clean bolts and washers, greasy springs, and other mechanical parts) with a water-based model. An aqueous parts washer, as it's called, is a beautiful thing. It's a dishwasher, but for machine parts. Instead of paying for expensive solvents, you use water. Instead of exposing mechanics to toxic fumes, the parts washer uses nothing stronger than citrus-based soap. Instead of paying to...

Energy Is

Willa Cather once said The road is all.** She meant, in the Zen sense, that it's the journey, not the destination, that matters in life. In green building, you might say, Energy is all. *That said, why not start to bulk-certify buildings using a process like IRS tax audits Speaking as a corporate executive, I can tell you that if we built ten LEED buildings and the USGBC decided to audit only two of them, we'd build each to the same standard. Skimping and the risk that we'd get caught would be...

Ethics Have to Play a Role

The 1970s movement, which was based in large part on a moral foundation, wasn't wrong, but it was presented in such a strident and unappealing way that it turned off whole generations of businesspeople. In fact, there must be an ethical aspect to a corporation's sustainability work, because not every obstacle can be overcome with a return on investment. But instead of destructive I'm better than you or you are evil moralizing, I'm talking about ethics simple, conservative values like honesty,...

Force the Leaders to Lead

Only government can implement existing technologies fast enough. So while corporations need to shoot all their efficiency and renewable energy bullets trying to reduce their own carbon footprint, it's most important that they use their own business as a club to batter legislators with advocacy, use their influence over customers to create a grassroots movement, and allocate advertising dollars to a climate campaign aimed at a broad audience. Individuals must do the same with our votes, our...

From Think Tank to Parking Garage

When I first came to Aspen Skiing Company, I was fresh out of the nonprofit sector, having received my sustainability education at Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), one of the leading think and do tanks in the sustainability field. If I learned one thing at RMI it was that efficiency is doubly green good for the bottom line and good for the environment. I also learned that businesspeople are businesspeople. If you offer them a fantastic return on investment (ROI) 30 percent or better they'll take...

Green Energy The Key to Solving Climate Change and Sometimes a Scam

We are compounded of dust and the light of a star. LOREN EISELEY, THE FIRMAMENT OF TIME. 1960 Green energy is in many ways the philosopher's stone of climate change mitigation. It encompasses everything, from transportation and waste to water and agriculture. If we're going to solve the climate problem as a society and reduce our greenhouse footprint as businesses, we're going to have to create renewable energy supply. The world simply needs energy to operate, that need is growing inexorably,...

Green Is Tough Even for the Motivated

Despite our obvious motivation to succeed, every two years we publish a sustainability report that analyzes our energy and emissions. What we've found is that it's really difficult to do what matters most cut carbon dioxide emissions. Even though we've eliminated millions of pounds of CO2 through retrofits, green construction, onsite renewable energy, and widespread efficiency measures, our emissions are slowly creeping upward, largely because of growth and the increasing energy-intensity of...

Greening Power Supply Is Sexy to Business

Despite the difficulty of building new clean power plants to scale, one substantial ray of light is the growing interest in clean power from the corporate sector. In the past four years, corporate purchases of renewable energy have become something of an arms race. Big, powerful, influential businesses really, really want this stuff. First, Whole Foods made the biggest buy of renewable energy in corporate history. It was soon surpassed by Vail Resorts, which itself was trumped by Wells Fargo,...

Hitting the Reset Button on Society

The scale of the climate problem is so great that to many people it is incomprehensible. Therefore, most plans for action are inadequate. It's fine for people to buy a Prius and use canvas bags at the supermarket, but we can't afford the delusion that such individual action is enough. My friend Randy Udall, an energy expert who ran a resource efficiency nonprofit for thirteen years, points out that we're not talking about small things here. You have to transform the energy system and find...

Its a Test Not a Guide

When I was a student at Stuyvesant High School in New York, we studied to the tests, and we were damn good at it. If you did anything less than 95 on the state Regents exams each year, people worried that you might have cognitive problems or wax in your ears. But while I got really good at taking tests a skill that served me very well I didn't learn all that much in high school other than how to take tests. The same problem has evolved with LEED builders are designing to LEED points instead of...

John Norton and the Bicycle Powered Lights

The initial response to the idea from one of the senior managers was I don't believe the lights will save money. Wait a second, I said. We're talking physics here. I have engineering estimates on the savings. I don't care, was the response. I still don't believe it. But every Fortune 500 company in the world is doing just this kind of efficiency work. I don't care. Prove to me that this will save energy. The manager explained that one of his concerns was that we were committing capital based on...

Leveraging Government

In an effort to pull the government lever, in 2007, at the request of friends at the Natural Resources Defense Council, Aspen Skiing Company filed an amicus (friend-of-the-court) brief to the Supreme Court on a lawsuit called Massachusetts v. EPA. That filing, which has been called the most important environmental lawsuit ever to go to the Supreme Court, *Since that time, the family has spearheaded a dedicated effort throughout all their businesses to save energy, family members serve on the...

Looking for a Few Good Men and Women

As a building owner, you have to recognize what's important energy efficiency and insist on it, not settle for a decent LEED rating but lousy energy performance. It is sooooooo easy to respond to an engineer who says, It's too expensive to do 50 percent energy efficiency . . . will you settle for 20 with a sigh and an Okay. Instead, to quote Winston Churchill, you must never give in. Never. Never. Never. Never.8 And if you fail, instead of telling the world about...

Make Love Heat the House

Ultimately, the success or failure of the green building movement may hinge on how good we are at being teachers, not builders. It's much easier to go through a LEED checklist than to show someone how to build a green building. But it's much more interesting and valuable (and fun ) when designers or builders tell war stories. A man named Jack Aley used to guest-lecture to environmental studies classes at Bowdoin College when I was a student there. He talked about the house he had built in...

Making Sustainable Business Practices Durable

One of the hardest parts of selling sustainable business practices to management (and staff) is that the programs are typically seen as a cost center to the company. And therefore one of the least sustainable aspects of a corporate sustainability effort is that the department in charge or the program itself is usually the first to get cut in times of economic downturn, or even as a result of changes in leadership in the business. Unfortunately, environmentalism has always been seen as a luxury,...

Making the Pitch for Green Business Practices

The pitch has become universal and straightforward a host of benefits are associated with sustainable business practices, starting with cost savings and ending with good PR. Some of this work may be difficult, but in the end there are some good reasons for it. Your business will be more efficient and therefore more competitive. There is payback, even if it's not always great. And we simply have to get after the climate challenge if we want to have a prayer of solving it. The benefits and...

Making Things Happen Sometimes Hurts

Discouraged, I went to the CEO of the company at that time, a man named Pat O'Donnell. Pat was the person who had created our environmental department, and he was the moral force behind the company's greening efforts. He was also a tough guy, having been a lifelong outdoorsman and rock climber, with a specific personal focus on suffering. In his youth, he was on the first American attempt of Anna-purna in the Himalayas. It was a disastrous expedition Half his team died in an avalanche. Pat had...

More Grunts Fewer Visionaries

In sum, we must act now because we have to, and so that we are ready, with experience on the ground, to move even faster when good policy arrives, good policy that we helped bring about. Through it all, we have to focus on action, on actually getting things done. After years of studies and not much change, after small piddling projects that get big press because they're accompanied by huge marketing campaigns, after ineffective or meaningless government programs, and after the thousandth...

Net ZeroEnergy Monster Homes

In Aspen, the most iconic symbol of consumption is the trophy home the city has 150 monster mansions with floor areas greater that 10,000 square feet. In the summer of2008, the Denver Post reported on Aspen's vacation homes as energy hogs. Citing the whirring motors of cigar humidors and wine cellars, and the flicking on and off of 24 7 floodlights, the report summarized a study by the Sopris Foundation, an Aspen nonprofit, which found that, with their heated driveways, outdoor hot tubs and...

Onthe Ground Realities

The great flaw in the sustainable-business movement today is that few are willing to admit that achieving sustainability is difficult, and maybe impossible, without big changes in the way the world currently operates. The gulf between reports, benchmarking, and action is wide and deep it's called analysis paralysis. It's always easier to commission another study to figure out just how bad things really are, or what the best ways to solve it might be, than it is to roll up your sleeves and...

Policy Leadership Is

Given the complexity of implementing efficiency both the difficulties we run into when we try to pull it off and the popular confusion about its success described here it's clear that we need leadership from somewhere to navigate this tangled thicket. And it's not clear where that leadership would come from if not the government. The good news is that sensible government policy works Mike Brylawski notes, for instance, that congestion pricing in London has cut vehicle miles traveled by 20...

Resistance to Change Is Endemic

Five years ago, Aspen Skiing Company started designing some new luxury condominiums in Snowmass Village. The condos would be above eight thousand feet, so air conditioning should not have been necessary. But during early meetings with the design team, it became clear that full climate control would be installed. I was incredulous. Why would we install air conditioning this high in the Rocky Mountains, where temperatures rarely get uncomfortable and we could design buildings that provided...

Retrofitting Your Grandmothers House

New construction is just a piece of the building challenge there's a dark side to the remodel business, too, and remembering Mazria, we have to fix existing buildings if we want a prayer of solving climate change. There are millions of hogs like the one I'm typing this in throughout the United States, the vast majority built to very lame energy efficiency standards. So what's our problem Let's get on it Yet in this arena, too, there are significant barriers. As David Roberts has pointed out on...

Set the Hook with a Sexy Project

At least on the pure emissions reduction front, the best way to start projects at a new corporation is to follow the ways of the drug dealer. Provide a little bit of your product free of charge then once they're hooked, you have a long-term customer. In fact, the best approach to bringing such projects to a business is to make the projects happen first, under the radar, and then bring the incredibly successful results to management. For example, even though the Nell garage retrofit was...

Sustainability Fork Split

And I only am escaped alone to tell thee. The Little Nell Hotel in Aspen, Colorado, isn't exactly the kind of place where you'd expect a sustainability revolution to begin. The Nell is America's epicenter of pampering, the country's cradle of luxury. It has ninety rooms with prices that range from 500 to 5,000. Here's the hotel's tagline Nestled at the base of Aspen Mountain, the Little Nell blends the virtues of a country inn with the indulgences of a grand hotel. And here's a sense of how...

SUVs Are Not the Devil

It has long been in vogue to hate both sport utility vehicles (SUVs) and their drivers. The environmental community encourages commando citizens to paste I'm Changing the Climate, Ask Me How bumper stickers onto the biggest offenders. A group called Earth on Empty, based in Somerville, Massachusetts, was ticketing SUVs for failure to pay attention to your own behavior, among other crimes, and the Sierra Club, after dubbing the Ford Excursion the Valdez, had a hand in the company's decision to...

The Case for Sustainable Business

Dollar savings from energy efficiency Risk reduction (for example, aqueous parts washers eliminate hazardous waste and therefore the need for regulation and potential fines) Improved community relations and easier project approvals Ethical obligation (It's the right thing to do) Supporting ownership values Most other smart, well-managed businesses are doing it (GE, 3M, Toyota, Starbucks, Wal-Mart, FedEx, Kinko's, Staples, and so on) Worker attraction and retention (idealistic young kids who...

The Climate Crisis Is Happening Its Here

In November 2007, the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its fourth synthesis report, which was signed off on by delegates from 140 countries, including China and the United States. The New York Times reported that members of the panel said their review of the data led them to conclude as a group and individually that reductions in greenhouse gases had to start immediately to avert a global climate disaster, which could leave island nations submerged...

The Ripple Effect

Even recycled paper represents a new technology, and a reality is that the chance of getting burned by new things is omnipresent in business. To wit waterless urinals. It seemed like a good idea to me. In 2000 the waterless urinal was a relatively new technology, but one with great promise. It presented a rare opportunity to cut water use to zero in an appliance, with no change in service. After all, I asked when presenting the idea to senior management, Who flushes a urinal anyway (Eric...

Theres No Success Like Failure

Imagine for a moment that you are the environmental director at a world-famous resort. After much political wrangling, you manage to install energy-efficient lighting in a high-end hotel restaurant. The project will save thousands of dollars in electricity costs while preventing tons of carbon dioxide emissions from adding to climate change. It's the rubber on the road of the sustainability movement, the blue-collar work of the climate battle. The restaurant opens, and the manager is put off by...

We Are All Hypocrites

For obvious reasons, many evident in the discussion in this chapter, Aspen is wide open to calls of hypocrisy, something American diplomats hear all the time when discussion turns to climate treaties like Kyoto. In Aspen, what we hear is You haven't even started to try to solve your second-home problem, but you announced the Canary Initiative to great fanfare. And globally it's You can't ask us to do anything until you Americans deal with your own massive consumption. In Aspen, local papers are...

What Good Energy Policy Looks Like

It is important to note that the good government policy I suggest, like carbon regulation which most lawmakers support does not involve mandates to use wind power or drive a Prius. Instead, the transformative policies force markets to reflect the true price of power carbon taxes, for example thereby sending a signal and letting people and businesses find their own creative solutions. Occasionally, during presentations, I'm told that subsidies for renewables are bogus and that we should let free...

What Is Green Power

If you want to buy green power that is, renewably generated electricity that comes from solar, wind, small hydro, biomass, or geothermal sources you can't plug in directly to, say, a wind farm, because the infrastructure for such a connection doesn't exist. (Nor do the logistics. The wind doesn't blow all the time, so it wouldn't work so well.) Instead, renewable purchases typically come in the form of renewable energy credits, also known as renewable energy certificates, or RECs. An REC...

What Matters Most

The writer Paul Hawken has a great response when people ask him if he is optimistic or pessimistic about our ability to confront the climate crisis. He says that if you've looked at the science on what is happening in the world today on the environmental front and you aren't pessimistic, you have the wrong data. But if you meet with some of the people working on these issues all over the world and you're not optimistic, you have no heart. I used to have a quote by Ren Dubos on the back of my...

When the Sales Pitch Fails

Ethics aside, sometimes you have to win ugly. Or, as Al Davis of the Oakland Raiders is famous for saying, sometimes you have to just win, baby. It doesn't matter how. Often the only way to overcome cultural resistance is to wait for the person in charge to go away, whether by leaving the company, getting fired, retiring, or dying. That was the case when we tried to change our trail maps and marketing materials from a virgin paper product to something with postconsumer recycled content, like...

Your Motivation for Going Green Is Irrelevant as Long as Youre Doing It

In the sustainability field, we talk about businesses that are motivated to address climate change by profit, return on investment, better worker productivity, and so forth. Managers who espouse these incentives are seen as visionary, progressive, and deep green. But businesses and individuals are often afraid to say that their green efforts have a profit motive behind them. There is a persistent feeling in our culture that individuals and corporations should undertake environmental work out of...

Youve Got to Be Tough

We had another opportunity to do a large garage lighting project on the scale of the Nell this time from scratch in an eight-hundred-unit underground garage planned in Snowmass Village. When I suggested during the design phase that we use the efficient type of lighting installed at the Nell, the engineers we had hired came up with a reason for not using it that I hadn't heard yet. There was a garage in Oakland where someone used a baseball bat to knock out those fixtures. Then the guy attacked...

Good vs Bad RECs

An independent report in 2006 by an NGO called Clean Air-Cool Planet suggested that some consumers are being duped by offsets and RECs for the simple reason that not all RECs are equal. It is important to note that there are both good and bad RECs. The contrast between the two is stark. A bad REC costs about 2 and comes from, say, a wind farm that has been developed already. Bad RECs don't do anything to drive new renewable energy development. Your purchase may be a nice bonus for the wind farm...

Do Customers Care

Still, a niggling question, at least from a pure business perspective, is whether anyone cares. Does green marketing, greenwash or not, actually do anything for your business This question is especially hard to answer given that there is limited empirical evidence that being green, or having a green product, helps anyone sell product or thrive as a business. An infamous Wall Street Journal article by Geoffrey Fowler in 2002, titled 'Green' Sales Pitch Isn't Moving Many Products, pointed out...

The Proximity of a Sustainable World

One of the oldest dreams of mankind is to find a dignity that might include all living things. And one of the greatest of human longings must be to bring such dignity to one's own dreams, for each to find his or her own life exemplary in some way. BARRY LOPEZ, ARCTIC DREAMS. 1986 In 2006, Paul Cherrett came from Four Seasons Resort in Jackson, Wyoming, to take over Aspen Skiing Company's hospitality programs, including the Little Nell. Cherrett, who grew up in Florida riding road bikes on the...

Redneck Ten Commandments

Frank and forthright, brusque and loud, Jack is a classic Maine straight shooter even though he's from Illinois and was educated at Dartmouth. And maybe that's what we need most of all to complement our integrated processes and biomimicry and LEED and life-cycle analysis a painfully candid, redneck ten commandments of green building. 1. Don't bother with green building unless you have a committed owner, sufficient time, and a good project manager. 2. Focus on talent Hire the best goddamn...

Forgive Me Father I Dont Have the Money

As with everything in the sustainability business, the hurdles in the building process aren't technological. So what are they Often, it comes down to money. Here's a case study that illustrates the tensions that can arise between green champions and contractors The building is either in the design phase or designed and ready to go. The green champion says Look, I know your budget is fixed. But for just 10 percent more, spent now, for some better heating and cooling equipment, window upgrades,...

Energy Efficiency The Promise and the Challenge

Here's a funny truth by far the cheapest new source of energy supply isn't supply. It's energy savings, also known as energy efficiency, or what Amory Lovins calls negawatts. In short, energy saved through efficient lightbulbs, pumps, and motors, good building design, and refined industrial processes provides utilities with more available capacity for others who need it. So instead of building a new coal plant, many utilities can and do try to save energy first by distributing efficient...

Green Buildings Simple Elegant and Crucial

And the shadows filling up this land Are the ones I built with my own hand. EMMYLOU HARRIS, PRAYER IN OPEN D An architect in Santa Fe named Ed Mazria has convincingly argued that buildings or more broadly, architecture are responsible for almost half of global greenhouse gas emissions and that, as such, they are the key to solving the climate challenge. There are more than 130 million buildings in the United States. Almost all of them are on life support, like patients in intensive care....

The Issue with Tissue

While government action is crucial, some businesses are so big that their programs have the impact of government policies. Therefore, it's important to crack the whip on other businesses as well. In 2006, in response to a request from Forest Ethics, Aspen Skiing Company joined a Greenpeace-led boycott of Kimberly-Clark K-C paper products, including the legendary brand Kleenex. The concern about Kimberly-Clark was the company's use of paper and pulp from endangered ancient forests. Greenpeace's...

Finding Your Biggest Lever

Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world. I get a nightmarishly recurring call from businesses trying to go green, and it goes something like this I work with a hotel management group, property management firm, Fortune 500 business. . .fill in the blank . The caller wants to sit down and talk about how they could be greener. What do you mean by that I ask. You know, the caller says, recycled paper and stuff like that. Then I usually say...

Adam Palmer Another View from the Trenches

To understand the challenges facing green building so that we can do it better, we need to get even more granular than Anson's perspective. We need to know what the contractor is saying on the ground, day to day, on a green project. Adam Palmer is the guy to talk to about that. He runs the green building program of Eagle County, Colorado, and he's a true believer. He built his own house in super-green fashion, living the vision. In his midthirties, Adam was Vail Resorts' en vironmental...

Is Like Fighting Ali in His Prime

Sweet Jesus What do we do The prospect of trying to solve this problem is beyond daunting. It's as if you'd been invited to go into the ring with Muhammad Ali, in his prime, for a fifteen-round bout. The obvious response is No thanks. But with climate change, you have no choice someone has a gun to your head and you've got to fight. So what do you do One option would be to cower in the ring and let Ali pound you until you die of organ failure. But another approach...

Silver Lining

Even though Anson failed with some trophy homes but not all he's got many successful projects completed or in progress , something interesting has happened to his business. It's not the very rich but the middle class, living downvalley from Aspen, who have taken on the idea of net-zero-energy and are implementing it, often investing what is a huge amount of cash relative to their net worth. And business is booming. Why is this happening with the middle class much more so than with the wealthy...

Time Is Running

One answer is that change takes time. The problem one of my mantras in this book is that we don't have time. To stabilize atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations at twice preindustrial levels, we have to displace seven gigatons of CO2 a year. Buildings are a big part of that equation, and we have to cut those gigatons soon. In fact, we have to cut them now if we want to reduce emissions radically in the next decade. That's why the slow growth of the movement is alarming. We must look for ways...

The USGBC and LEED

The good news is that the idea if not the practice of green building has become understandable, even sexy, to the masses. For this, we have to thank Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, the flagship program of the U.S. Green Building Council. LEED is a certification program designed to rate a building's environmental performance. It provides a means for novices to create, understand, and certify buildings. It created a national standard for green buildings where none existed...

Why Is Green Building So Hard

Not long ago, an article in Colorado Company magazine highlighted the partners in Dorado Developments, a company that differentiates its business in one way It believes in nothing but green building. This was a wonderful story. But it brings up a question Why was this still a story at all Despite all the buzz surrounding green building, the massmarket building sector remains oblivious to the issue. Most of the structures in building magazines like Architectural Record and Architectural Digest...

Shameless Self Promotion and Why It Matters

Those who tell the stories rule society. Climate change is the defining problem of our time. Even George Bush, who has long denied the problem or admitted the problem but denied the need to take action , started to come around He finally mentioned the words climate change in a State of the Union message in 2007 and organized a summit on the subject a year before he left office. Nothing came of it. The prime minister of Australia the only other major Western nation that didn't sign Kyoto was...

Scrapping the Easy Bake Oven

There is a children's toy called the Easy Bake oven those of you over thirty might remember it as the Betty Crocker oven. This device heats small pies and breads using a light-bulb. This was always confounding to me as a child. Why did this oven use a bulb, which was designed to give off light, as a source of heat The goal was to cook the food, not light it up. But the reality is this A lightbulb is a space heater that happens to give off light. And it works through a very roundabout approach...

Leed A Tool and an Obstacle

By 2005, if not earlier, LEED had become the last word on green building, and it is even more powerful today. That makes it even more imperative that the program work very, very well. For all the program's good qualities and all the improvements to it since its inception, there remain three outstanding challenges facing LEED today. Some of these problems would be endemic to any certification program, but they are worth discussing because green building is so important to the future of the...

Scrapping Biomimicry for Simplicity

LEED isn't the only thing that contributes to the notion that green building is some sort of secret language. One annoying school of obfuscation that has evolved in the green building community is called biomimicry, the idea that buildings should be modeled on natural systems. Nature has done millions of years of research, the argument goes, so why not tap into that If we could only learn how spiders make thread stronger than steel at room temperature, or how clams make ceramic at ocean...

Sustainable Sustainability Creating Lasting Change

When you walk into a public bathroom, the door almost always swings in, meaning you don't have to touch the nasty, germ-infested handle you can open the door like a waiter, with your foot or shoulder. On the way out, though, you can't avoid it. But that doesn't make sense. You want to be able to exit the bathroom with clean hands . . . and we don't want people with dirty hands contaminating the doorknob for everyone else. Why don't public bathroom doors have the handles on the outside And many...

Aspen Skiing Companys Vision

The restaurant lighting story might lead you to believe that Aspen Skiing Company isn't all that progressive or may not really care very much about the environment and climate. But that's not true. Aspen Skiing Company's environmental mandate is ingrained in the culture. We have a unique set of guiding principles that steer the company, and one of those principles is stewardship of our mountain environment. This may sound froofy so Aspen , but employees can and do slap the principles down on...