Saturday, April 2, 2011

Going Green: Is it just a Trend?

My dad turned 70 a few years ago. Yes, seventy years old. It was wonderful to be able to spend the week of his birthday with him! We had time to talk about things he has seen throughout those years, all the changes, improvements and, of course, some regressions. Amidst our conversation, the topic of recycling and “going green” came up. It was good to disagree again!
My dad does not recycle. He thinks that these days it is just trendy to say that you are green, everything is green – from your life-style to the company you work for, from the detergent you use to the sofa you sit on. “In my time there was no such a thing as recycling. Why is it a big deal now? Fashion?” he argued.
Well, in a way he is right.
Some people do tend to adopt whatever is “in vogue” just to be fashionable. They want the latest hairstyle, the same jacket worn by superstars in a magazine, the same pair of sandals they saw on T.V., the same car driven by the characters in a soap opera. And it is not different when talking about causes: without thinking twice, they will defend and support causes that superstars vow to support. They do not really care; they just follow the trend. If artists now say that we need to preserve the environment and save the planet, “go green!” these people will just repeat the mantra. “Green” will be their cause too. Is that bad? Well, if the cause is a good one, the more supporters there are, the better, no matter their reasons to join in.
The same is true about companies. Some companies do tend to adopt what is trendy, simply because that is what sells; it is what people look for. No concept of right or wrong; they do it because it increases sales or saves money. They do it because it will positively affect the image of the company and, as a result, it will increase sales or will save them money. This is the case of some hotels: they put a sign to let you know that towels will only be changed once a week; they save money on laundry, but the cost of the hotel room is still the same. As a result, the hotel poses as the “eco-friendly good guy” and keeps the money saved by not doing as much laundry. In his Newsweek article, Kosova points out that some companies have really embraced conservation and are committed to making all aspects of their business environmental friendly. They invest money in trying to reduce waste. In the meantime, “many corporations take a different approach: They don't do much of anything to change the way they do business, but make a big show of their dedication to Mother Earth” (1).
So we do have the ones who conveniently support the cause, and others who truly support the cause. But is the cause a real cause? Do we need to “go green” or is it only fashion and a money-saving scheme?
From my dad’s perspective, yes, it is purely fashion and there is no need to recycle. “We never needed to do that in the old days,” he continued, “why would I do it now?” That is when our conversation got more interesting.
“Dad, how many people were there in the world when you were a kid?” I asked. According to the U.S. Bureau of the Census, in 1950, when my dad was 11 years old, the world population was 2,555,982,611. That number almost tripled as the projection for 2009 jumps to 6,764,650,308. That is a huge increase in the number of people driving cars around, turning fans on, taking showers, doing laundry, doing dishes, throwing things away, and so on. All those people need to live somewhere, need to dress, eat, and entertain. What we need to use now to satisfy the needs of our population is nowhere near the same of what we needed to use then, in the 50’s. We have more people, we use more, we need more, we consume more, we throw away more.
“Dad, how much energy did the world need in order for all things to function when you were growing up?” I asked.  In 1960, when my dad was 21, the total electric power consumption in the world was 1,501,901,000,000 kWh according to World Bank. In 2004 (the most recent statistics posted by World Bank), the consumption increased to 15,738,603,001,000 kWh. That shows how much more dependent we are on electricity. With all the technology and equipment we use today, how can we live without it?
“Dad, how much waste in the world do you think was generated when you were growing up? “ I asked. In the year 2000, the total in Kilograms of waste generated per person per year was 6,240 kgs. If we consider that number a constant (which is not and has most probably increased in the past nine years) and just multiply it by the number of people in the world, we have much more waste these days than we had in my dad’s teen years.
My dad listened without saying a word. I was trying to show him that what was acceptable in the past, could no longer be. The world is different; the problems are different. We cannot carry on digging up more landfills. We need to find solutions to reduce waste, save natural resources, lessen pollution and protect the environment. We now know more than we knew before, so we can do more!
What are some of the things we can do to really “go green”?
We can recycle paper, glass, cans and some plastic. Most cities currently have a recycling program and provide a routine collection of recyclable items. If we recycle all those, we cut down the energy needed in producing them, and the pollution generated when making them. And best of all, we leave alone the natural resources that are used as raw material.
We can also reuse paper, glass, cans and some plastic. If we reuse them, we cut down our costs and help the environment at the same time. Sometimes things do not seem to be reusable, but you would be surprised what you can do when applying a little creativity, if not reused in the household, those materials can certainly make good supplies for craft projects.  A jar of mayonnaise becomes a snow globe; a few paper towel rolls turn into telescopes; egg cartons become centipedes or trucks, you name it!
We can, too, choose to use durable materials instead of disposable ones and use them many, many times without having to throw them away. To clean the house, for example, use a rag instead of paper towel! The key is to avoid generating waste and keep things out of the landfills.
We can very well participate in recycling groups and exchange items still good to use instead of throwing them away. Whatever you don’t want or need anymore maybe it is the exact thing somebody else is looking for. Groups like Freecycle (www. Freecycle.org)  get people to share and prevent more items to end up in the landfills.
After hearing all that, all those numbers, my dad had a different opinion about recycling and going green. Yes, there could be people out there being green to be trendy, but understanding what being green means and the need for it was what my dad needed to hear. “For each one of the ‘trendy greeners’, I bet there are a lot more of the ‘real greeners’ doing their share, and there is loads that needs to be done,” he realized. My dad finally agreed that saving energy and avoiding waste is a must nowadays. If you do not “go green” completely, you should at least recognize the need to save – and we have not gone into details about the consumption of our limited resources and increasing needs of a growing population! Maybe he will start doing his share and recycle from now on. That would be a good trend.
It was a great week the one I spent with my dad. We learned together; we disagreed; and we agreed. We may not agree about everything, we may not like that some jump in the “green trend” wagon for the wrong reasons, but when looking at the facts, I was able to convince him that the world has changed, our needs have changed and “going green” is a necessity now, not just pure fashion. 

Recycle Brevard!