“Green washing,” politics and changing regulations are hot button issues for the green industry, experts said during a Daily Transcript executive roundtable.
With many companies claiming to offer “green” products and no central source of regulated information, consumers are often left with little information.
The California Center for Sustainable Energy (CCSE) recently hosted a consumer roundtable to help homeowners interested in remodeling and energy-efficiency retrofits, said Siobhan Foley, director of education and research for CCSE.
“The resounding refrain was they don’t know who to trust when people are trying to sell them something,” Foley said. “It’s very complicated for them to distill what’s right. I think it’s really tough to be a consumer in this marketplace.”
In coming years, new regulations will require millions of products to be labeled, said Robert Christie, president and CEO of 3E Co. Such labels, including information about a product’s waste, transportation and carbon footprint are already required in Europe.
Such regulations are often the driver for green innovation, said Bernie Rosenthal, CEO of Reaction Design.
“It’s quite clear to me that without regulation and without the threat of regulation coming down the pike, the status quo lives,” Rosenthal said.
Though no broad reaching system currently exists for rating green products, the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system has become the hallmark measure for sustainable buildings, said Zachary Pannier of DPR Construction and president of the U.S. Green Building Council San Diego Chapter.
While the LEED rating system is a good guide for construction of green buildings, occupants must be educated about operating the facility in a sustainable way, said Ann Benge, a principal with Unisource.
“It’s really confusing; you can be in a LEED building and buy the most toxic stuff and put it in it and still have a LEED rating,” Benge said.
A “green lease” can ensure both the owner and tenant operate, maintain and clean the building in a way that maintains its health and energy efficiency benefits, she said.
“A green building is nothing without a green lease,” Pannier said. “If you don’t have anything binding you to how you’re supposed to live in it, then Joe Consumer is going to move into a building and they may not be sustainable, they may not be green, they may not know how to operate it.”
The need to educate the public about sustainability is far reaching. Organizations need to educate voters about initiatives such as cap-and-trade legislation, said Glen Mosier, senior vice president of investments for UBS Financial Services Inc.
“We throw around words like ‘carbon’ as if people actually know what we’re talking about,” Mosier said.
Some industry members believe the science behind such legislation should be avoided entirely, and politicians should instead focus on the moral reasons for such action.
“I think the carbon debate is not constructive for the movement of moving to create sustainable energy,” said Eric Rohner, a tax partner with Moss Adams LLP. “It creates division and it’s not supportable; you can’t prove it. But if you ask anybody whether they believe in global warming or not -- you ask them if they believe in being good custodians of this earth, almost universally they say yes. And I think that is what people are willing to pay premiums for.”
Unfortunately, the sustainability movement has become a polarizing, politically charged issue, Pannier said.
“Whether you agree or disagree with global warming has a profound effect on what your worldview is,” Pannier said. “We tend to polarize based on what our worldview is and, unfortunately, to a certain extent, what our politics are.”
However, feelings on the subject are irrelevant. Green has gained so much momentum, it is unlikely to fade anytime soon, Foley said.
“We don’t have a choice; sustainability is here to stay,” Foley said. “To me, every job will be a green job. In 10 years, that won’t be a question. It will have permeated every industry to the point that we will be working in this new paradigm.”
Companies interested in adopting sustainability policies must get their employees on board, said Lynn Hall, director of environmental health and safety for Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM).
Buildings can be effective educational tools in implementing such initiatives, Pannier said. Employers can install a “building dashboard” that will show employees how many pounds of carbon they’re using and illustrate the impact of simple actions, such as switching on a light.
The recession has had a similar effect of forcing people to think more carefully about the consequences of their actions on both their bottom lines and the environment, said Elaine Rosenberger, president of the San Diego Regional Sustainability Partnership.
“When we’re forced to do so, we come up with ways of doing it better,” Rosenberger said.
While today’s youth seem to be more conscious of sustainability issues, full implementation will require a widespread philosophical shift.
“It’s also a new way of thinking about the world,” Foley said. “Our entire economy was built on using the natural world as resources and resources only. We’d go out camping and enjoy it on the weekends, but by and large the timber was there to be cut and the oil was there to be drilled. This is a new paradigm, it’s a new world.”
Anne Benge, Principal
Robert Christie, President & CEO
Siobhan Foley, Director of Education & Research
California Center for Sustainable Energy
Lyn Hall, Director, Environmental Health & Safety
Dave Hartman, Owner
Glenn Mosier, Senior VP, Investments
UBS Financial Services Inc.
Zachary Pannier, 2010 President
U.S. Green Building Council San Diego Chapter
Eric Rohner, Tax Partner
Elaine Rosenberger, Chairwoman
San Diego Regional Sustainability Partnership
Bernie Rosenthal, CEO