contributed by Julie Weber [designer / explorer / cubicle expert]
EDITOR’S NOTE: We would advise that you read Parts 1, 2 & 3 of the Big [Green] Dreams series before you dig into this fourth and final installment, or you are going to be as confused as a cow on AstroTurf.
I stood in front of an icon to all environmentalists: a recycling station. This set-up was unlike anything I had seen before in my Midwestern community. From left to right there were two huge compost bins the size of city garbage containers: one large bin for glass and plastic, one bin for aluminum, one bin for paper waste and, finally, one tiny round can for “trash.” This center was fully equipped, mind you, with a volunteer to help you figure out which bin was the right one for your waste. I stared. I was in awe.
Jenny stood beside me, and I think she started ranting about our “no worm farm” orders that came from the president of our company. But I was too shocked to hear her. This display proved to me that no matter what our leadership team may say, this type of recycling is coming to Wisconsin, because if it exists in the United States, it will eventually find its way to Milwaukee.
“This is amazing,” I said to her, and a goofy expression spread across my face.
I was in heaven. More specifically, I was in the Boston Convention Center at Greenbuild, an international conference and expo about green building. This year (2008) it was held in Boston, one of the top six greenest cities in our country, and approximately 30,000 people attended.
The University of Wisconsin-Madison undergraduate enrollment in the fall semester of 2008 was 29,153. The French Palace of Versailles was built for 20,000 people in 1669. (Louis XIV was an extravagant aristocrat.) My point” There were a lot of extra people in Boston for this event; a lot of extra people who cared about the environment and who saw the economic benefits of going green.
Jenny and I finally left the gravitational pull of the recycling center and we headed towards the registration desk. Again we stopped in awe. One floor below us was a sea of display booths. The exhibitor floor was immense; perhaps even the size of several football fields, and there were companies of all kinds down there.
Our dealership’s main furniture manufacturer – Steelcase – stood out big and bright in the middle of all the others. I smiled and was proud to be affiliated with them. They were one of the platinum sponsors for the event, meaning that they donated over $75,000 to the conference. But also represented were all of the other major furniture players like Herman Miller, Haworth and Knoll.
It was incredible the amount of and variation in manufacturers on that floor. As we made our way down the stairs to that lower level we saw carpet manufactures, wood craftsman, green product search engine developers, water purification companies, and several of our own clients.
We didn’t spend as much time at the booths as we would have liked to due to our educational sessions, but the time Jenny and I did spend there was worthwhile. Not only did we see a clear sustainability message coming from many of the companies, but we also saw that it was becoming more and more important to be competitive. If you weren’t green enough then you weren’t good enough. With this new capitalist mentality in the green industry there is a new hope that arises within me, because, quite frankly—money talks. If companies have to compete to get business by becoming more environmentally responsible, then progress will be made whether or not that is their intention.
In one of our educational sessions we learned that Boston has regulations on all new construction. In that city every new building has to be LEED certifiable, preferably at the silver level. In this market my clients wouldn’t be able to back out of LEED certification because of budget issues because they would be required by law to comply with LEED criteria.
The three days that Jenny and I spent in Boston were refreshing. We were exposed to a new way of thinking, living and working. We drank out of paper cups and never saw an ounce of Styrofoam. As we walked the streets doing some sightseeing, we saw compost collection services driving around town, just like garbage pick up. We went on a tour of green roofs in the area and learned that people were willing to spend the money to literally green up the city by planting trees on top of parking garages.
Though I struggle on a day-to-day basis to find some balance between my profession and my passion, in Boston I saw that there is hope for those two aspects of my life to come together. Perhaps Milwaukee has a bit of catching up to do, but maybe I can help speed up the process”
Maybe no one has all of the answers yet. Am I doing any good with my little efforts” Are we – as a community, nation and world – covering all of our bases” When PVC is eliminated, could something worse take its place” After seeing how many people are involved in the green building movement, I have hope that the answer is “no” and that my little efforts will eventually make a difference.
My industry is at the root of the crisis that now faces our world, and so it is our responsibility to right what has gone wrong. Someday PVC will be eliminated, Styrofoam will not line the shelves of my place of employment, and every roof in the city will be covered with plants so that from the sky all you will see it a sea of green instead of asphalt. Maybe I am dreaming big green dreams again, but I saw in Boston that dreamers can accomplish anything as long as they don’t stop dreaming.