Am I a Green Hypocrite?

Filed under: Business Sustainabilty | |

HypocriteIn this post guest author Bob Faulhaber does a little bit of self examination, using his own personal life to illustrate the many ways and the many habits we may have that might make us considerably less green than we would like to think we are. He takes stock of how he lives; in what kind of house; his work; his car; his kids and his personal habits.

by Bob Faulhaber, PE, LEED AP, Founder/Owner of Faulhaber Engineering & Sustainability, LLC. Read his blog, The Green Civil Engineer. Follow him on Twitter @FESCONSULTING. Like him on Facebook. Connect with him on Linkedin.

Am I a green hypocrite? I might be… This is something that I struggle with quite regularly. I consider my self an environmentally responsible individual and sustainability is a core tenant of the business that I founded. With just about every decision that I make, or at least the major ones, I try to consider the environmental consequences of that decision and action. However, I’d be lying if I said that I always made the environmental choice. Most of the time there is probably a good reason for that, but sometimes its really just a matter of preference. Does that make me a green hypocrite? I hope not, but I will leave that for someone else to decide. Here are some of my green and not so green decisions – am I a green hypocrite?

Morning coffee – This is a basic decision that most of us make every day. Its a small thing but it can have environmental implications nonetheless. I rarely get coffee to go in disposal cups which are very resource and waste intensive so this decision is – green! But at my office I have a one cup at a time coffee maker that I use, which may save water but also has more packaging and waste – not green.

Cars – Neither my wife or I drive a hybrid or an electric. But our lifestyle doesn’t require us to drive a great deal and we don’t drive gas guzzlers. My guess is that we have a smaller transportation carbon footprint than most Americans, but probably more than most Europeans. not green.

House – I live in a spec house that was built in 2004, so it isn’t the most energy efficient home around. I have replaced all of my incandescent bulbs with CFLs – I think that I have tried every brand and variation of CFL available! I have also installed low flow fixtures in the bathrooms and kitchen, painted with zero voc paint and use green cleaners, but it is still far from what I would consider a green house. We plan to build in the future, at which point I intend it to be very green, but we aren’t there yet – not green.

Business – Sustainability is a core tenant of my business model. I try to operate my business both internally and externally as sustainably as I can. I have a green procurement policy – I purchase 100% recycled office products whenever they are available, I limit my printing, I buy energy star electronics etc. I also try to design as sustainably as I can within the projects constraints and goals. As a civil engineer some of my projects contribute to the environmental damage resulting from development, but I do my best to reduce that impact. All in all I think that I can reasonably call my business – Green!

Personal habits – This is one area that we have the most control over in terms of sustainability, and the little things that you do (or don’t do) can have an impact. I do my best to recycle everything that I can, turn off the lights when I leave the room, buy environmentally preferable products, unplug electronics, etc. But I do have some less than green habits though – I prefer soda from a can, I eat meat with most meals and I drink a lot of sports drinks from small plastic bottles. All in all though, I would consider my personal habits – Green!

Children – I have three children so some people would automatically say that’s not sustainable because it’s more than the replacement birth rate (birth rate to replace yourself), but I think that might be a little extreme. I try to teach my children to be environmentally responsible in their actions and decisions and I am amazed how much my 6yr old already does it (my other two are younger so the jury’s still out). On the other hand, they have a lot of “things” which I realize is wasteful and resource intensive. Hopefully, they will learn to be responsible stewards of our planet, but only time will tell – draw.

So by my analysis my house and cars are not green, my coffee and kids are a draw and my business and personal habits are green. Does that make me a green hypocrite – I would love to hear your comments with opinions about whether you and/or I are green hypocrites! I may or may not agree with you, but after agonizing over this for some time here is what I have come to find. You can’t do everything! That may sound like a self justification or a cop out, but I believe it. I think that we do sustainability and the environment a disservice when we discount the little things that people do because some of the other things they do aren’t green. We should be encouraging people to do what they can and not discourage them because they’re not green enough. Many people each doing a little can be much more effective than a few doing a lot. Personally I plan to keep on trying to do more so that I can start calling all of the above GREEN!

One thing to keep in mind when looking at one’s own way of life and daily habits and the things one has and uses is the embodied energy that is contained in them. It is not always obvious what is more or less green. Viewing things in the light of their embodied energy can sometimes help tease out the true hidden costs that are embodied in some thing or service. To read more see our post: Embodied Energy, a Measure of Sustainability.



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Author: Bob Faulhaber (8 Articles)

  • http://johnbass.weebly.com/ John Bass

    Hi Bob
    What a great article, encourage people to do what we can and strive for constant improvement. It is more encouraging and less intimidating than trying to measure and quantify the impact through rigorous formulas. I make as many choices as possible to be green and will look at this as a way to personalize the process and quantify the results over time.

    While I succeed in many areas such as wearing an extra layer instead of turning up the heat; being “mostly” vegetarian and sealing my windows with plastic for extra winter insulation. I fall down in areas of printing pages and the convenience of driving. I’m certainly more inspired! Happy Earth Day!

  • http://greeneconomypost.com Chris de Morsella

    I agree with the authors conclusion that we need to encourage in ourselves and others the good habits that we do have and while trying to change our bad habits; we should not get overly judgmental about ourselves — or about others. Are you a green hypocrite? I know that to some extent, I certainly am though I try to live with a low footprint.This kind of self examination is good in that it helps us see ourselves and the impact we have on the environment more clearly.

  • daniel maris

    I am sure we are green hypocrites to varying degrees.

    Certainly the decision about how many children you have is the most important one. That extra third child will consume far more energy, resources and animal habitat than you can ever save through green ethics. So to have a third child is a complete denial of green ethics – and that’s not an extreme conclusion, it’s a common sense one. Basically we need to get the population down across the planet if we are to have a sustainable future. We certainly can’t carry on adding tens of millions of people to the ecosystem every year.

    However, I am not a hairshirt green when it comes to individual consumption. Far more important is to ensure that governments make the right decisions. If governments ensure the polluter pays, then green energy solutions naturally become more competitive. If goverments fund electric vehicle research, provide EV incentives and put in place EV infrastructure, then we will naturally move to EVs. Governments need to subsidise green energy solutions, to ensure they are adopted at the earliest opportunity. Governments need to back recycling research, so that we can maximise recycling. They need to ensure proper deposit schemes are in place e.g. bottle deposit schemes.

    Governments need to fund materials substitution research, water extraction research and ways of making urban living attractive.

    I think the future is bright if we vote for the people who will implement green solutions:
    With green energy, electric vehicles, maximum recycling and resource use reduction, green materials substiution, elimination of pollutants from the environment, and what I would call the new agriculture (organic farming teamed with indoors or polytunnel farming) , we can really have our cake and eat it: enjoy the products we want but as part of a healthy and sustainable environment.

  • Geoff Henderson

    Heck of a post Bob, but are you setting the bar just a little too high right now? You can do what you will to make environmentally sound decisions, but we are not just acting as sole agents in our lives, times have changed things around us.
    For example, as a kid, bread was delivered by a horse-drawn cart. If the horse left something behind, you got it onto your veggie patch right then. A truck would call – the green-grocer – and he would sell whatever you needed. Both the baker and grocer serviced a couple of hundred homes daily, and each only used one vehicle to do so. Same deal with milk, a guy came from the dairy, filled your pail with fresh unprocessed milk and moved on. You can see where I am going. And government has seen the need to “protect us” from the extraordinary health hazards occasioned by that lifestyle. I did not mentioned the social exchange that occurred as the householders gathered around and gossiped, and maybe the merchant would pass on stuff he heard elsewhere.

    My mum had two kids, one in in nappies (diapers), not toss-away disposables of today. Mom was gifted a Bendix washing machine about 1947 (sic). That machine ran without fault (except for rubber door seals) for 25 years (sic) and after a major repair managed a few years before becoming a parts source at a workshop. Today, getting 30% of that life is about par. Thanks to planned redundancy we raise our personal consumption to needless levels.

    Going back to Bob’s concern my point is that aside from determined personal efforts, profound social change demanded from a “bottom-up” direction is necessary to enable a truly sustainable lifestyle. For me, that means a stepping back in time a bit, and whilst I can’t see a return to horse and cart delivery, there is plenty that can be done at the gross level to reduce consumption to viable levels.

    So cheers Bob, good for you for doing what you can.

  • http://www.vestaperformance.com Alison Kartiganer

    I go through similar thought processes quite regularly, and it is indeed a slippery slope. I’ve heard that there’s even a new term in psychotherapy for those who stress too much about it: eco-anxiety.

    If I may add one note: building a new house — regardless of how many green materials are used or how efficient the house is — is never as green as living in an existing house (due to the embodied energy issue mentioned at the end of the post). So when contemplating a move, please consider buying and/or upgrading an existing house rather than building a new one.

    If you upgrade an existing house, be sure to work with a home performance contractor who can improve your energy efficiency, indoor air quality, and comfort all at the same time. (Full disclosure: this is my industry.) The residential sector accounts for about 20% of the nation’s energy use; this is partially because most builders and remodelers of the past didn’t understand building science and built leaky homes. The good news is that they can be fixed (without expensive new windows)!

    Alison

  • daniel maris

    Alison –

    That makes no sense to me I am afraid. Unless you are saying you want to live in a house but you don’t want anyone else to, new houses are going to be built somewhere – housing demand doesn’t remain the same across time in all localities. No doubt Seattle has needed a whole lot of new housing in recent years. Detroit will need less.

    When you get down to it, I think worrying about not moving into new houses would have a very marginal effect on overall energy consumption.

    We come back to the population point. If you are really serious about not impacting on the environment, have fewer than two children. However, not many people like that message, understandably.

    Geoff – How on earth do you “reduce consumption to viable levels”? Let’s suppose you convince 300 million Americans to reduce consumption, will you get anywhere with a couple of billion Chinese and Indians – a large proportion of whom are dirt poor? I doubt it. I doubt you’d get v. far with the Americans either.

    I think we need to raise consumption – to viable levels.

    It seems to me that the sensible approach is to develop sustainable production methods: develop renewable energy, maximise reuse and recycling, substitute common raw materials for rare ones, reduce pollution, develop low impact agriculture.

    Let’s take one example – if we have ultra safe collision-avoiding computer controlled vehicles is there any reason they have to be built with metal chassis? Why not fibre glass – which can be made from ubiquitous basalt. And vehicles don’t have to be gas guzzlers. They can be electric vehicles and the electricity can come from wind turbines and photovoltaic panels.

    This approach seems more in line with the aspirations of humanity. Most people with families want the convenience of personal transport.

    • Geoff Henderson

      Thanks Daniel. I think your suggestion was along the lines that I was suggesting – developing technology (or using existing) to prolong the life of goods and chattels so that we don’t keep replacing them. That will lower consumption, and it won’t lower living standards.
      But my idea is that general, broad-based community drive is necessary to bring greenhouse solutions home. Certainly you can’t expect it from politicians, and even when government does do something, it is always the impact on the population that gives force and effect to the proposed change.

    • Jim Crants

      I think Alison still has a good point. If Bob has a new house built so that he and his family can live in a “greener” house, the net impact on the environment is debatable. It depends a lot on where he has it built. Does he replace some old place that should be condemned, a short commute from where he and his wife work, or does he clear a place for it in the woods out in the exurbs? Beyond that, his environmental impact depends on things that are hard to predict. Presumably, someone else will move into the 2004 house, and someone else will move in wherever that family used to live, and so on, but does that mean that, for every “green” house someone builds, there will be one fewer “brown” houses? Or does it ultimately mean one more house in a central city goes vacant in exchange for one more house in an outer-ring suburb?

  • daniel maris

    Geoff,

    I don’t think we’re really agreeing.

    Firstly consumption is determined by productive capacity, not green manufacture. Cheap green energy – which is definitely where we are heading – will create huge amounts of productive capacity.

    But it seems to me population is key here. We can have rising per capita consumption with no detriment to the environment if we (a) use green production methods and (b) reduce our population.

    Politicians are the key in my view. It is they who put in place all the incentives and statutory requirements that promote green production methods and they are also in a position to affect population levels (as we have seen in China with the one child policy).

  • daniel maris

    Jim Crants –

    Well I don’t think I said Alison had no point, I think I said it was pretty marginal. Assuming you have an economy with near full occupation of premises, but a rising population, then a personal decision to renovate an existing property will have no effect on the need for new housing.

    I guess the situation may be a little different in the USA where your housing is perhaps less permanent than ours in the UK, so maybe the choice between tearing down an old timber house and renovating it is a more pressing one. In the UK most of our housing is brick built. So hardly anyone ever tears them down in any case…I guess it may be more like the choice between sticking with an old car or buying a new one, but then we know that old cars can have bad environmental effects and the same could apply to old housing in terms of energy efficiency.

    Personally I’d like to see much more experimentation with housing. There are some interesting ideas around e.g. the Ecodome idea (building with sandbags really). Ultimately we might be able to reduce carbon in the atmosphere by sequestering carbon to create structures similar to coral or limestone, laid down automatically.

  • http://www.fesconsulting.com Bob Faulhaber

    I wanted to thank everyone for their comments. I am glad that the post has generated so much discussion. The primary reason for writing the post was for me to acknowledge that while I attempt to be green, I also make decisions about my lifestyle that are not so green. Some may disagree, but I don’t think that detracts from the “green” decisions that I do make. I think that it is important that we encourage all people to examine their choices and decisions in light of their environmental impact and do what they can. I firmly believe that many people making small changes can have a bigger impact than a few making big changes. In my experience the best way to do that is to give people options, educate them about those options, allow them to make their own decisions and encourage them for the steps they do take rather than deriding them for the ones they don’t make. I also think that it is important to keep it simple and relevant for the average person. As an engineer I can crunch numbers and talk technical jargon until everyone in the room falls asleep, but I have found that tends to deter people rather than encourage them.

    Thanks again for all of the comments. I would love to hear your thoughts on my other blog posts as well. Please feel free to visit my site at http://www.thegreencivilengineer.com and leave your comments there.

  • http://eco.allpurposeguru.com David Guion

    A very interesting discussion about a heartfelt article. Some people (I’ve heard them called energy anorexics) take going green to such an extreme that they intimidate nearly everyone else. I suspect that a lot of people taking smaller steps will ultimately have a greater impact. That will be a lot of people who care enough about the environment to do something about it, but who are by definition, not entirely green. Hypocrites? Certainly not.

    I am encouraged by the actions of several corporations. For example one built a luxury hotel to LEED platinum standards that cost mere pocket change more than traditional building techniques. Another worked for two years to achieve zero waste to landfill. Another recycles plastic bottles to make fabric that is becoming cost competitive with more traditional polyesters. (Etc!)

    And so I disagree that political actions are the key to sustainability. Millions of people and tens of thousands of corporations being as green as they can will put far more pressure on all levels of government to do what only government can do than any amount of letter writing campaigns, rallies, demonstrations, or any other overtly political activities. In other words, sustainability is much more likely to come about in a bottom up direction than top down.

  • ted

    I appreciate your forthrightness and willingness to take criticism, so here it is: having three kids is not green; it’s selfish and irresponsible. Eating meat at most meals is eco-destructive, cruel and in no way green. Drinking colored stuff out of plastic bottles is terrible.