Sustainable is always cheaper

Writing at Green Options, Philip Profrock explains why sustainability can’t be a fad, whatever the critics say:

Green buildings save money. An energy efficient building may cost a little more to construct, but over time, the cost of operation (and the total cost of ownership) will be lower. Building owners, developers, architects and engineers will continue to use green products because they make for better buildings.

It is difficult to sustain the same high level of energy for a movement after it has won. When I was young, I remember protests and concerns about the use of DDT and the effect it was having, particularly on eagles and falcons. There isn’t that much public attention given to pesticides these days. In large part that is because pesticide regulation has been adopted into laws and regulations…

In the same way, people who advocate for green building today may be like people who clamored for sanitary practices in food handling a century ago. We no longer have a social movement dedicated to cleanliness in meat packing because it has moved from being revolutionary to being policy.

I’m often deliberately reminded about the green push of the late 1980s and early 1990s, and how that seemed to pass without having made much of a difference. But back then, we found the policy guts to stop dumping chlorofluorocarbons into the ozone layer, to chop our acid-rain-causing emissions of nitrogen and sulfur oxides, and to start recycling in a big way. Those were great big changes, and only 10 or 15 years later we argue about the details, not about whether or not they’re good ideas.

As Proefrock points out, some the work to promote energy efficiency is already done: energy costs money, and in more and more jurisdictions, it’s costing to consume pretty much what it costs to produce. Cheap energy is no longer seen as a public good to which individuals are entitled, mostly because governments realized they couldn’t afford to treat it that way. So more people are making sure their houses are better insulated and their furnaces are turned down.

That’s better all around, including for the fight against climate change, even if that wasn’t the point.

Now, we have to make more difficult changes to put more of the economy on a sustainable footing, the biggest — the only non-negotiable, non-delayable — being finding a way to put a price on carbon emissions. Once paying that price, and finding ways to not emit so that we don’t have to pay it (such as by unplugging electrical devices we’re not using, or buying ones that don’t suck power when they’re on standby), becomes a routine part of our economic calculations, we’ll not only be living on a healthier planet, well be richer, too.

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