This article was written for the ERA EHS Blog by John Bradburn. John is an ERA expert partner, developing and advising on ERA sustainability solutions. He is the former Global Waste Reduction Manger for General Motors and was dubbed GM’s MacGyver for his uncanny knack to devise unconventional uses for everyday waste. His expertise as a sustainability champion is recognized at the international level.
Today, many discussions are taking place about the term “green”. Certainly, confusion exists within the political arena around the New Green Deal, but if discussions turn to what green means, would we all agree? As a naturalist and environmental professional working in industry for over 40 years, the following are a few thoughts to consider.
Green has no political boundaries.
When we look deeper into the meaning of green, we will understand it extends well beyond the foundational aspects of recycling and environmental protection. Green means to continually improve upon the manner that resources are utilized that results in reduced impacts to human health and the environment and is done without sacrificing the current and future needs of our world. No legislative or political structure has domain over green. However, government has a place in this movement. Foundational environmental laws, based on sound science are important to create performance baselines, but legislation must keep pace with new technologies and not restrict innovation that is holistically better for our world. This is the foundation of pollution prevention, welcoming innovative solutions to our challenges and is accomplished using green chemistry and design for the environment disciplines. Doing so will reduce overbearing and restrictive legislation, especially when a total ecosystem approach or life cycle analysis concepts to problem solving are utilized.
The new green is red white and blue.
Our environment extends beyond clean air, soil and water. Green is a lifestyle of caring for Country, its natural resources, and all who share it. As my friend, Chad Pregracke has stated, “The new green is red, white and blue”. Americans should look upon green in a patriotic way, with a strong commitment to economic prosperity and a mindset that we are a nation of stewards, charged with taking care of all we have been given by God. This responsibility includes caring for one another and our commitment to show others the way.
Green is about family.
The cornerstone of our society and what makes our country great. Families are the most important factor to any green mindset. When families garden together to grow food, they experience the connection between our soil, the food they eat and how important a healthy earth is to all. Their green thumbs should be extended to respect the air that circulates within us and water that sustains all life as well. Family and earthly resilience are synonymous and will only happen when our communities are healthy. We need to recognize that respecting our earth and all life forms is the foundation of any safe community and that love for all is the most important element of green.
Material consumption should be done with our past in mind.
If we consider the tremendous effort our greatest generation placed on recycling metals into military apparatus during WWII that should become our example of how important it is to be efficient in resource utilization. Victory gardens were also common and green during that era as well, and those important lessons learned should serve as examples to live by today. When we recycle at home, it can also accomplish great things in building family values of sharing material resources with others as they are offered for a second and third use, which helps grow the economy, by way of job development. The term "made in America" can become synonymous with recycled in America if we follow this mind set. Energy conservation activities can help the family budget and teach children how they can contribute to saving energy costs and be green at the same time.
Green is about community stewardship.
Participating in charitable activities teaches us that families interacting is what defines community. Helping others who are less fortunate is a basic human trait that strengthens us and our community. Individuals who are particularly vulnerable to economic and other social challenges need green programs to help them get through difficult times. Examples of green generosity abound in our society. Charitable donations of excess clothes, food and volunteerism are what make our society strong. We truly are an amazing giving society and giving is green.
Green thinking is done with efficiency in mind.
As we use resources such as energy, water, and materials, we strive to use only what is actually needed to complete the task and do so to save costs. This drive towards continual improvement of how we use resources is a mindset that will save resources for the future. That is one reason why green makes sense.
Green is about economic sustainability.
As our world develops, economics plays a significant role. Jobs emerge that develop from past practices and include new technologies to continually improve upon our efficiencies. Green economics includes a mindset that a diverse portfolio of solutions is needed to address the challenges we are facing now and in the future.
Green is for entrepreneurial enterprise.
We should consider how the millions of tons of material are landfilled daily and how these discarded materials can inspire entrepreneurial minds to reutilize these resources to develop new business ventures. When we reuse, repurpose, recycle and develop technologies to process discarded material, the endless opportunities for entrepreneurs are only limited by our imaginations.
Those with financial affluence can be green too.
Through economic stimulus, they help drive our economy, an imperative part of what it means to be green. It is through their charitable actions, jobs development and remembering those in need, that makes them green. Financial affluence enables the opportunity to help others rise to become affluent community members so they can continue that important cycle as well.
Corporations and businesses play an important role in green.
When companies develop zero manufacturing waste to landfill goals, they increase their manufacturing process efficiencies, make by-products available for their host communities to utilize locally and are operating as a caring neighbor. Corporations must lead the way with sustainability initiatives, demonstrating to others that it makes good business sense to create products and run their facilities in the most sustainable way. This should be done in conjunction with incorporating a continual improvement mindset in areas such as local material processing and transportation system infrastructure enhancements. New technology plays a significant role in green and must be deployed using sound environmental principles. Collaboration among multi-sector stakeholders is a key element in understanding how to make good companies great. Additionally, encouraging employees to applying sustainable lessons learned from the job to their homes, families and neighbors will help scale sustainability impacts.
Green is about loving and caring for all that share our world.
Recognizing that people are the stewards to all of the amazing life forms who share our world, it’s important for us to embrace sustainable development to meet today’s demands, while keeping future generational needs in mind as well. Green means we acknowledge that we play the most important role in ecosystem health and it is maintained through symbiotic relationships between all populations. A simple but important example is how families can enjoy wildlife and also help manage those populations as a food source.
Academia has a responsibility in green.
We must teach our young minds that green is imperative. If they approach their lessons with a mindset of due care for everyone and that all opinions matter, they will be inspiring our students into a sustainable future. Do not lecture without incorporating hands on experiences. Work to strengthen their connections to our earth and people from all walks of life. Experiencing our natural world and various other ecosystem interactions will be received with a fondness toward our world and how important each individual person is to help keep it as such.
Green is about God.
If we believe that God created the heavens and the earth and that the earth has a finite amount of natural resources, why would we use them once and throw them away in a landfill? Shouldn’t we utilize resources that have been provided to us by God and keep them in their use phase for others to receive those same gifts as well? This concept is a foundational element to being green and having faith.
My Green Philosophy
My hope is that one day, green will not have any confusion around its meaning. It will be holistically understood as a philosophical journey, concentrating on due care and respect towards life. It will belong to all and become a natural state of mind, one that people immediately consider throughout their daily actions. One day, it will help us meet the basic elements of human need and this mindset will extend to all who share our wonderful world.
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