The Fun Theory

Governing.com points out that while the website Thefuntheory.com is a public relations initiative of Volkswagen, it has a lot of applicability for government and other agencies trying to change people’s behavior in order to, for instance, reduce energy usage or encourage recycling. 

The site is “dedicated to the thought that something as simple as fun is the easiest way to change people’s behaviour for the better.”  To provide evidence for the theory, The Fun Theory Award will recognize the best ideas for changing people’s behavior for the better through fun ideas and inventions.

piano-stairs-main

Many governments, businesses and organizations already use contests and other creative ploys in order to find smarter ways to do business or to solve nagging problems.  Can we come up with some creative, fun ways to encourage more Green behavior in Central New York?

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Green Consumerism

Earthsense LLC, a Syracuse market research company, recently announced a new monthly survey of consumer attitudes about green products and companies called the Green Confidence Index, The index, which will also track consumers’ purchasing decisions, will provide subscribers with strategic marketing information on who buys Green and why, and how a company can position itself and its products to appeal to its customers, using Green to increase its competitiveness and the bottom line.   earthsense-logo

ecorateAs a consumer, how can you determine whether you are being Green, or “Greenwashed”?  Another company, Eco-Rate, helps consumers choose products and technologies that are Green, based on a rating system that measures efficiency, environmental impact, human health and financial feasibility. This Seattle startup researches thousands of products, and provides comparative rankings on a free online buying guide. The rankings take into account: efficiency of water and energy use; toxicity; lifecycle cost; and location of manufacture.  The website also helps architects and builders choose eco-friendly products and processes, and can be used by companies and government agencies interested in greener purchasing policies.

Sustainable Streetscape

Balancing the needs of pedestrians, cyclists and neighborhoods with those of cars, trucks and thru-traffic is a big part of sustainability. St. Louis is experiencing good results with its ‘Great Streets’ Initiative.  Its goal is to trigger economic and social benefits by centering communities around lively, attractive thoroughfares that serve all modes of transportation.

Great StreetTo begin, citizens and local leaders were asked to look beyond the curb when considering their transportation systems, and to think about how better street design can create better connections, sustainable economic activity and an appealing sense of place.  The South Grand Street pilot project, which includes eliminating a traffic lane, curb ‘bulb-outs’ to improve pedestrian crossing, and increased lighting and landscaping, has been a total success, with public feedback ten to one in favor.  The road better serves the neighborhood and businesses, while still getting cars through safely.

Complete Streets can improve safety, encourage walking and biking, and create stronger communities and more viable neighborhoods and business districts.  Local transportation and street design policies that facilitate walking, biking and transit for short trips can substantially reduce the carbon emissions that negatively affect health and that contribute to global warming.

Is It Easy To Be Green?

If you’d read New York Times columnist Paul Krugman in the past week, you might find conflicting answers to the question, “Is it easy to be green”? Economist Krugman, who received the Nobel Prize in Economics last year, maintained in his September 24th column that It’s Easy Being Green. His argument is that saving the planet would not kill the economy, as many opponents of climate change legislation maintain. Instead, he says, studies suggest that by eliminating practices that waste huge amounts of fossil fuels but don’t add to our standard of living, consumers could actually save money. Secondly, he reports, analysis shows that restrictions imposed by the House’s cap-and-trade climate bill, the Waxman-Markey act, on greenhouse gases would cost the average family only about $160 a year in 2020.

A few days later, however, Krugman was feeling despair over the fate of the climate. One scientific report after another predicts imminent environmental catastrophes linked to global warming and the effects of man-made greenhouse gas emissions. “In a rational world, then”, he postulates, “the looming climate disaster would be our dominant political and policy concern. But it manifestly isn’t. Why not?” Because as Al Gore said, the truth is too inconvenient. Climate change warnings are inconvenient for all of us with our all too human lifespan short-sightedness and particularly for the megaindustries with armies of lobbyists in place to protect the status quo.

While the climate threat is worse than we care to admit, the economic cost of addressing the issue is lower than we fear.  “So the time for action is now. O.K., strictly speaking it’s long past. But better late than never.”

Health Care and Sustainability

Once again Michael Pollan has succinctly hit the nail on the head regarding America’s food policy, linking the health care debate and agribusiness  in his September 9, 2009 Op-Ed piece in the NYT, “Big Food v. Big Insurance”.   He makes the point that in order to control health care costs, we must improve health, reducing the growing rates of preventable chronic dieseases, many of which are linked to diet.  Changing what America eats  means changing the way we allocate resources – including land – for growing food. 

resid farm 3Pollan references the findings of a team of designers from M.I.T. and Columbia who were asked by UnitedHealthcare’s foundation to come up with the best way to tackle childhood obesity in America. “Their conclusion surprised the designers as much as their sponsor: they determined that promoting the concept of a ‘foodshed’ — a diversified, regional food economy — could be the key to improving the American diet.”

Coping with Climate Change

Four decades ago, the environment emerged as a public and political cause in response to growing awareness of the threats posed by air and water pollution and unabated population growth. In recent years, it has stormed back into the public consciousness—this time fueled largely by worldwide scientific consensus on the potentially catastrophic effects of climate change; concern over the depletion of natural resources and nonrenewable energy sources; and growing recognition that the choices we make today will determine the quality of life for those generations yet to come.

Brian Helmuth photo

Brian Helmuth photo

Yet, as biologist Brian Helmuth writes in Miller-McCune magazine, for some people, “the idea of global climate change seems like a far-away concept, an idea dreamt up by scientists in their laboratories. That some still talk about ‘belief’ — a matter of faith more so than facts — in findings that have long been accepted by the scientific community speaks volumes about the general public’s understanding and acceptance of global climate change”.

Helmuth goes on to explain how studying changes in the animals and plants around us can help scientists predict the effects of climate change, and makes the point that only by working collaboratively, with policymakers, scientists, the business community,  can we plan for a future we can all live with.

What is an Ecosystem and Why is It Important?

urban footprint
When we talk about “being green” in Central New York what we really mean is living in better partnership with our ecosystem.  So what is an ecosystem and why is it important?

Simply speaking, an ecosystem consists of all the living organisms – plants, animals, microorganisms – functioning together with all the physical elements in a particular environment. Seemingly simple, yet exceedingly complex, especially when human settlements enter the environment.

To put a framework around much of our future discussion of sustainability including green building, alternative energy, green products, and more, we’ll begin our exploration of “What Does It Mean to be Green?” with a discussion of Ecosystems and Sustainable Human Settlements with Professors Emanuel Carter and Richard Smardon of the SUNY College of Environmental Science & Forestry. The study session, which is free and open to all, is on Tuesday, September 15 from 5:00 – 6:30 PM in 409 Marshall Hall on the SUNY ESF campus For more information, contact OCL at ocl@syr.edu or 315.443.4846.