Has apathy killed the environmentalist star?
Interesting article in Grist about a new piece of research from Pew that has found that being an environmentalist is at an all time low. Which is kind of in line with other trends that we are seeing in the world. So here are some opinions from others, some thoughts of my own and some take home hopes.
First some opinions of others.
A friend and believer in the industry “Sustainability seems to be all talk at the moment”. Hhhmm, there is some truth in that. But maybe the recent state of the construction industry has a lot to do with it.
Or from a recent convert to believing in climate change “if it is true, why is there so much apathy about it at the moment?”
A short survey I admit but I would agree there is a lot of apathy, green fatigue and general malaise about environmentalism and green – particularly in the property industry.
The industry is certainly in a ‘been there done that’ phase at the moment. But whenever I talk to property owners or developers, which I do very regularly, the question I always get asked is “what’s next?”. So the apathy is there but the desire to achieve more (for whatever reason) is still there.
The Grist article gives some interesting insight into the why ‘environmentalism’ is at an all time low.
The article is written by a Millennial, Samantha Larson, she writes “look at what’s actually happening. Millennials are far less likely to own a car, or to even make that a priority. Instead, we tend to opt for public transit, biking, or car sharing. While millennials don’t identify as vegetarians, either, we actually trend towards eating less meat – and we value the eating experience, which means that, though we tend to make less for our work (or sometimes nothing at all), a lot of us are still willing to spend a little more to go organic and local. Heck, even the fact that so many of us still live at home, or choose to live in shared houses or dorms rather than getting a place of our own, translates to a more efficient use of household water, electricity, and gas.”
“Which isn’t to say that millennials are making these choices exactly for the purpose of being green. We do it because it makes sense: Green living is more affordable, more enjoyable, and thus perhaps makes us more able to deal with the messes we’ve been left with. But, as long as things are starting to change, does it really matter what the motivation is? And can’t there be more than one motivation? Millennials seem more likely to recognize that the environment doesn’t exist in a glass bubble, that it’s tied in with business, technology, and what’s on your plate. Protecting the environment is not something out there and far away, but something right here that needs to be intelligently incorporated into our day-to-day.”
There are two interesting commonalities between the article and what I am finding in the industry. The first is ‘We are doing and want to do more’ and it doesn’t matter what the motivation is – it maybe marketing, it maybe CSR, it maybe a point of difference, but whatever it is there is a driver to do more. And the second is a growing recognition that sustainability, or the environment, or ecology, is complex. Its not as simple as ticking a few boxes. There are unintended consequences of trying to make it too simple. The apathy in the industry seems to be a result of trying to over simplify things. We have grown up a lot as an industry in the last 10 years and we don’t want to be stuck on the ‘gum nut babies’ books we want to move on to Enid Blyton.
But I also think there is a growing concern or recognition that even if we did tick all the boxes and get 100 points it probably still isn’t enough.
Paraphrasing from Eric Lowitt’s recent book ‘if all buildings were green buildings, would we achieve a state of sustainable development?’ My answer would be no. So then the question is “what would enable the world to achieve a state of sustainable development?”.
Take home hopes.
Probably one of the key ones is a growing market trend in Impact Investing.
The google trend data below shows a slowing down in social and ethical investing and a growing trend in Impact Investing.
Impact investments require a benefit or return beyond purely financial, it requires an ecological and social return on investment. The great thing about impact is that it requires us to think beyond our buildings as being simplified boxes to tick to seeing our buildings as being part of a wider system, and more importantly as being able to create change in the system.
The second take home is we have a growing ability to be able to assess and analyse the complexities of our systems. The data being collected and being made available allows us to compare the ecological impact of energy efficient lightbulbs to recycled steel to mode shift transportation models. It allows us to calculate the social value of providing cycle spaces rather than just the emission reduction or the social value of local community facilities.
The third take home is that the challenges and opportunities we face in the world aren’t limited to ‘environmentalism’ so even if there is apathy or a reduction in environmentalism, there does seem to be a growing recognition and desire to see system change. As Samantha summed up nicely in her article “So go ahead, call us “environmentalists.” If we don’t answer, it’s because we’re too busy trying to make things better.” Better, now that rings a bell. And luckily we have some awesome nerds to be able to help make it better.