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LEED & Sustainability: Connecting the Environment, Economy and Ethics

November 14, 2015 | By Ian Charlebois

The concept of “going green” has gained momentum in recent years, and the trend becomes more mainstream year after year. This green or sustainable design initiative is two-fold: it represents a conscious decision by humans to improve the world, and businesses’ and governments’ endless pursuit of economic gain. These two focal points question whether sustainability initiatives, such as the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification program, will have a positive long-term impact on the environment. It also demands that one look critically at the economy of “green” products and services, and whether such products truly are beneficial to the environment. Considering that the green movement is only beginning to take flight, it is interesting to note that awareness and profits for the sustainable design sector have increased dramatically in recent years, and continues to rise at astronomical rates compared with other industries. In the following paragraphs this post discusses the concept of going green and sustainable design in the context of the ethics and the environment.

Environment & Ethics

Waste, in the form of garbage or natural resources used in excess of what is needed, is everywhere and it continues to negatively impact societies around the globe. For centuries humans have treated the earth as a stomping ground through littering, overgrown landfills, disposing of electronics improperly, and the list goes on and on. Bottled water is a perfect example that highlights the disparity between business profit-driven product development, consumer convenience, and sustainability in the global market place. The National Resource Defense Council estimates that at least one in four bottles of water contains just tap water (Robin, 2014). This means that 25% of the time, bottled water is more a profit-driven marketing gimmick, than a value-added product. The profits for bottled water, a product that is readily available and free to North Americans, are enormous. Water is essential for survival and makes up as much of 75% of the human body. Unfortunately, the measures taken around the world have failed to address the ever growing concerns of the environmental impact of humans. It appears at the state level there are limitations on sustainability, such as the high cost of implementation, and the ethical concerns of balancing sustainability measures versus focusing on profits.

Economy

If there is money to be made in a product or idea, someone will bring it to market. LEED and sustainability are “hot topics” today. Consequently, investors flock to the drawing tables to determine how they can offer green products and services. Consumer awareness of sustainability is increasing to where they pursue business with companies who protect the environment or seek to implement sustainable practices into their business model. With that said, it is still evident that consumers may not want to pay a premium or are only willing to if the product or services are not diminished in any way. One example is residential solar panels and the increased adoption of the product worldwide. Among consumers who believe solar power is more expensive, 39% believe solar will compete with traditional energy sources on price within a decade (“Welcome,” 2014). The average home of 1,400 sq ft can cost a homeowner upwards of $20,000 to install. The big question here is: how much of a premium are consumers willing to pay in order to save in the long run? In this day and age, it appears only those who either have the money or truly believe in being green are taking advantage of the long-term benefits to solar panels and their positive impact on the environment.

Ending Thoughts

Because going green is increasing in popularity, and is viewed as progressive thinking for the businesses of tomorrow, people and companies have taken measures to address end consumers’ demands for green and sustainable products and services. It appears that businesses of the future will be assessed by consumers based upon the “greenness” of their products and services, not limiting other technological advances that can help with ease-of-use. Also, the shift toward sustainability has created a sense of urgency among those whose intent to leave the world in a better place after they pass along. Previous generations likely did not take the subject as seriously due to the lack of knowledge on the subject. The concept of going green is here to stay, and only time will tell if it is based on purely on the economic and environmental impact it is estimated to have. Either way, the future looks promising for green and sustainable products and services, as they are in high demand.

References
Robin, S. (2014). Disadvantages of bottled water. Livestrong.

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