Friday, March 20, 2009

Book Review: Getting Green Done

I'd like to take a momentary break from our whirlwind tour of the country to review Auden Schendler's first book, Getting Green Done: Hard Truths from the Front Lines of the Sustainability Revolution. Schendler works as the Aspen Skiing Company's (ASC) executive director of sustainability, a post many organizations have created but few know how they should function. He has turned ASC into a company that operates well beyond their stature on the sustainability front. Here's a quote from 2006 after they filed an amicus brief against the EPA for failure to regulate GHG emissions:
With Massachusetts and the Sierra Club in the lead, this crucial legal battle challenges the EPA on grounds that the Clean Air Act requires action against climate change in a case that has made its way through EPA channels and federal courts since 1999.
The Skico filed an amicus brief supporting the petitioners in the case, which include 12 states, numerous cities, the Sierra Club, National Resources Defense Council and other environmental groups.
Schendler is clearly an effective director, and his book is strongest as a how-to guide for the up and coming generation of climate crusaders.

Schendler begins with refreshingly truthful report of the current state of the green revolution. He argues (correctly) that individual action is insufficient and massive coordinated action is non-existent. While I think he comes across as a bit harsh on the bead-wearing, long haired climate-do-gooders, he makes a good point that those wearing suites tend to march in packs, an they have learned to avoid those that are poorly clad. If we're going to get serious about the climate thing, we need the suits on board.

For Schendler, the true meaning of "green" revolves around stopping climate change, and from his perspective, that makes sense. Living in a community that is totally dependent on cold air (snow really) makes stopping global warming the number #1 priority. To this end, much of the book is tailored towards increasing energy efficiency and it tends to cast aside other issues (water, food, air and health). While Schendler does seem to grasp the total insufficiency of programs like office paper recycling, he doesn't seem to accept the impossibility of halting global warming.

Schendler is convinced that if green leaders become more effective and if massive government programs are put in place, we'll avoid climactic disaster. Personally, I doubt that even if those things did happen we would be able to prevent very bad things (disease, famine, pestilence, war, plague, drought, exodus, death, destruction....) from happening within the next 50 years. His argument is that we still have time to avert the disaster, my argument is that we still have time to prepare for it. The book is still very much worth a read.

My only real issue with the book is a tangential chapter about the relevance of the Aspen, Colorado where ASC is located. ASC operates a five star resort that people fly--in their personal jets--to get to. While I think this chapter was illuminating of Mr. Schendler's character and his line of work (every discussion is a battle and you ought to come armed) I don't think his argument was especially effective or necessary. This book is supposed to be about how everyone can be an effective climate warrior (with or without the beads) so why throw in a chapter that proclaims Aspen, with its uber-wealthy community, the location with the most inherent impact? Why not Detroit, a place of great poverty that exports some of the least sustainable products across the globe? Or any other place for that matter...

On the upside though, he provides an enormous amount of insight on issues like Renewable Energy Credits, sustainability progress reports, capital impediments for efficiency upgrades, selling green to those who need to buy it, fighting back against the most effective arguments against greening programs and actualizing green building. He even provides a compelling defense of greenwashing. If you're interested in doing something "green" yourself, or learning more about "green"--and especially if you're going to try and convince others to work with you--this book is for you.

At 250 pages, it's a quick and pleasant read. I'll give it my inaugural rating of "Pretty Good Book" that I only hand out to books that do justice to their topics. You can pick it up at Amazon or your local bookstore for less than $20.

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