Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Am I a green hypocrite?

Am I a green hypocrite? I might be... This is something that I struggle with quite regularly.  I consider my self an environmentally responsible individual and sustainability is a core tenant of the business that I founded.  With just about every decision that I make, or at least the major ones, I try to consider the environmental consequences of that decision and action.  However, I'd be lying if I said that I always made the environmental choice.  Most of the time there is probably a good reason for that, but sometimes its really just a matter of preference.  Does that make me a green hypocrite?  I hope not, but I will leave that for someone else to decide.  Here are some of my green and not so green decisions - am I a green hypocrite?

  1. Morning coffee - This is a basic decision that most of us make every day.  Its a small thing but it can have environmental implications nonetheless.  I rarely get coffee to go in disposal cups which are very resource and waste intensive so this decision is - green!  But at my office I have a one cup at a time coffee maker that I use, which may save water but also has more packaging and waste - not green.
  2. Cars - Neither my wife or I drive a hybrid or an electric.  But our lifestyle doesn't require us to drive a great deal and we don't drive gas guzzlers. My guess is that we have a smaller transportation carbon footprint than most Americans, but probably more than most Europeans.  not green.
  3. House - I live in a spec house that was built in 2004, so it isn't the most energy efficient home around.  I have replaced all of my incandescent bulbs with CFLs - I think that I have tried every brand and variation of CFL available! I have also installed low flow fixtures in the bathrooms and kitchen, painted with zero voc paint and use green cleaners, but it is still far from what I would consider a green house.  We plan to build in the future, at which point I intend it to be very green, but we aren't there yet - not green.
  4. Business - Sustainability is a core tenant of my business model.  I try to operate my business both internally and externally as sustainably as I can.  I have a green procurement policy - I purchase 100% recycled office products whenever they are available, I limit my printing, I buy energy star electronics etc.  I also try to design as sustainably as I can within the projects constraints and goals. As a civil engineer some of my projects contribute to the environmental damage resulting from development, but I do my best to reduce that impact.  All in all I think that I can reasonably call my business - Green!
  5. Personal habits - This is one area that we have the most control over in terms of sustainability, and the little things that you do (or don't do) can have an impact.  I do my best to recycle everything that I can, turn off the lights when I leave the room, buy environmentally preferable products, unplug electronics, etc. But I do have some less than green habits though - I prefer soda from a can, I eat meat with most meals and I drink a lot of sports drinks from small plastic bottles.  All in all though, I would consider my personal habits - Green!
  6. Children -  I have three children so some people would automatically say that's not sustainable because it's more than the replacement birth rate (birth rate to replace yourself), but I think that might be a little extreme.  I try to teach my children to be environmentally responsible in their actions and decisions and I am amazed how much my 6yr old already does it (my other two are younger so the jury's still out). On the other hand, they have a lot of "things" which I realize is wasteful and resource intensive.  Hopefully, they will learn to be responsible stewards of our planet, but only time will tell - draw.
So by my analysis my house and cars are not green, my coffee and kids are a draw and my business and personal habits are green.  Does that make me a green hypocrite - I would love to hear your comments with opinions about whether you and/or I are green hypocrites! I may or may not agree with you, but after agonizing over this for some time here is what I have come to find.  You can't do everything! That may sound like a self justification or a cop out, but I believe it.  I think that we do sustainability and the environment a disservice when we discount the little things that people do because some of the other things they do aren't green.  We should be encouraging people to do what they can and not discourage them because they're not green enough.  Many people each doing a little can be much more effective than a few doing a lot.  Personally I plan to keep on trying to do more so that I can start calling all of the above GREEN!


  1. I love this post! The short answer is NO you are not a green hypocrite. You are making your way along the green path, leading by example, teaching your kids and the next generation. I say GREAT JOB and keep up the good work! I would love to post your blog on my site with your permission. let me know.

  2. If you are a green hypocrite than almost everyone else living in North America is also, including me (and I fish containers out of the trash to recycle - ). We have a long ways to go to reverse the habits of generations of thinking as far as using the earth's resources as if they were neverending, and every bit counts, even if it is two steps forward and one step back.

  3. You are not a green hypocrite but an environmentally conscious professional with a long term vision of making people realize that it's the little things that we need to do for us to save this planet.I was inspired by this your article and i think i will also start monitoring the way i lead my everyday life so as to enhance my environmental awareness levels.

  4. Your comments indicate that you are not a hypocrite --and perhaps that judgment is in defense of my own behaviors.

    Questions that arise: is coffee-drinking "green" in the first place (I am drinking coffee, too)? does the type of car (e-, hybrid, conventional) really matter that much or are other considerations more important (what kind of car, replacement frequency, etc)? similarly for the house: is it greener to stay in one's house and improve its performance rather than spending new resources on building a new, if "greener", house, and leaving the old house behind, either for continued, unimproved use by others, or as "waste"? And about your three children (I have two): if we believe in some sort of generational contract where we provide good education etc to the next generations so they provide decent "retirement" conditions to us later while letting us preserve our dignity, then you are barely making up for those "social slackers" (tongue-in-cheek) with no or only one kid... So, I guess, all realistic reasons and derived excuses aside, we might be able to avoid the "hypocrite" label by asking the next questions and continuing to act upon them. "Green" thus remains a continuous challenge rather than an absolute, achievable goal, and sometimes we are better in pursuing it and sometimes we slack off because other pursuits push themselves into the foreground.

    This does not answer the ultimate question, whether what we are doing is enough to prevent further environmental deterioration reaching a level at which your three and my two kids will not be able to lead their own lives with dignity.

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