Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Bad Green and Good Green

Bad Green
It happened again. Saturday evening I wandered into our living room, flipped on the light switch - and stopped dead in my tracks. Instantly I knew what had happened. It wasn't just the quality of the light - which was (is) terrible and insufficient on first ignition to illuminate the room. The light was making a sound. And not a pleasant sound. A high-pitched keening, almost a squeal, was emanating from the lamp a few feet to my right. To be sure I flipped the switch to 'off.' The keening immediately stopped. 'On,' and there it was again. I did not really have to look beneath the lampshade, but I did. And there it was. The $#%#$ twisty-bulb.

"You put one of those twisty bulbs in the living room," I said to my wife accusingly.  

She smiled. "Yes."

"It makes a sound," I said.

"It doesn't bother me."

"You don't hear it, or you hear it and it doesn't bother you?"

"I hear it, but it doesn't bother me."

"Light bulbs are supposed to make light. They aren't supposed to make noise. And those g**damned things don't even make decent light."

"It doesn't bother me. Are you going to go on a rant?"

My wife knows me really well.

And of course I am going to go on a bit of a rant (again).  

Good Green
I have this very good buddy who works in the green industry. He's a professional environmentalist, in other words; which isn't to say he is not genuinely an environmentalist (he is), just that he's paid at least in part to proselytize so I am never 100 percent sure if I'm getting the company line from him or his honest opinion when we discuss this stuff. He insists - emphatically - that my adverse reactions to twisty bulbs are all in my head. The light is not inferior, there is no high-pitched keening, nothing to see here move along. He will be un-fazed by the fact that until the instant I threw the switch on Saturday I had no knowledge whatsoever that my wife had replaced that bulb, or that bare milliseconds after the so-called "light" came so-called "on" I knew without the slightest fraction of a doubt that one of those twisty bastards was newly resident in the lamp socket. This has happened several times over the past year or so, as my wife eases us into a twenty-first century illuminated by inferior light and I stubbornly cling to the superior incandescent that has served us so well and has yet to be adequately replaced. Each time I know before I know, at first sight of the flat, cold, utterly inferior light suddenly emanating from a previously serviceable light fixture.

My buddy thinks me a troglodyte, but as I've tried to explain ad nauseum I have no objection at all - none whatsoever - to the baseline notion of environmental responsibility. Who could? Green fetishism makes me loopy, but being "green"? I'm all for it - when it doesn't require unnecessary sacrifice in service to dubious goals or - worse - to political fashion.

Twisty bulbs are Bad Green. They require us to sacrifice decent light - something to which we and several generations before us have become entirely accustomed - simply because a relatively small group of ideologues who have amassed enough political power to impose their will on the rest of us refuse to wait just a bit longer for the steady and accelerating march of progress to bring us an equal or superior replacement for the incandescent bulb. That is nuts, and it drives me nuts.

Now let's consider an example of what I'd call Good Green. Today at lunch I popped into Boloco for a burrito (classic Mexican, white meat chicken, no cheese, add guac, add habanero sauce, thanks very much). On a seasonally-inappropriate whim I decided to add a smoothie. In the elevator on my way back to my office I drew a sip from the straw and noticed a label embossed on the plastic beverage cup lid: "GREENWARE." Investigating further, I read this legend on the side of the clear 'plastic' cup: "This cup grew up in Blair, Nebraska. It really did. It's made entirely of plants. It's 100% compostable."

That is cool. So far as I could tell from the look and feel of the thing, I was holding a plastic cup. It did exactly what a plastic cup is supposed to do, exactly the way a plastic cup would do it - it contained my drink. But, if the label is to be believed, I could toss it in the woods and some time not too much later it would dissolve into the earth, no harm done. It is, in other words, a perfectly serviceable - and superior - replacement for its plastic predecessor.

Bad Green [Examiner.com illustration]
No doubt there is a price premium on that "GREENWARE," one that shows up somewhere in the price of my occasional Boloco meal. But replacement of a disposable plastic cup with a biodegradable plant-based one - with no sacrifice in quality - is a good thing. More, it is a good thing that I'm willing to pay a little bit more to support. It is Good Green. [UPDATE: see the comment below from the aforementioned buddy. Seems my Greenware cup is only partly Good Green. I feel so used.]

Did you know there are companies out there right now that can break down waste plastic and turn it into  perfectly usable fuel - into gas, basically? There are. Good green. 

Did you know that GM has quietly effectuated a total recall of the Chevy Volt? Oh, they aren't calling it a "recall." They are calling it a "customer service campaign." Under this "campaign," Volt owners - all approximately 6,000 of them - are being asked to return their Volts for "modifications." Said "modifications" are intended to address a little problem identified by the National Transportation Safety Administration back in November. Said "problem" is that Volts kind of, um, might burst into flame several weeks after an accident. Surely you've heard all about this in the press, right? No? Weird.

Anyhoo, heavily government subsidized electric cars that might burst into flame? Bad Green.

"Energy Star" appliances that do the same job with less energy? Good Green.

"Low flow toilets" that do pretty much nothing at all, using less water (not counting the second, third and sometimes fourth necessary flush)? Bad Green.

Notice a pattern?

"Green" products and initiatives that emanate from the private sector, developed in response to consumer demand or to meet a market need tend to be Good Green.

"Green" forced down our throats by government mandates, or propped up ad infinitum by government subsidies? Nearly always Bad Green (and usually a waste of another kind of good green). 

The problem with the modern environmental movement and its enablers in government is that they refuse to distinguish between Good Green and Bad Green. Or more precisely, to them the latter category does not exist. It is enough to say something is "Green." And all "Green" is good.

Good Green Monster
Bad Green Monster


  1. As the professional green guy referecned in the above piece I guess I have a responsibility to respond. Doubly so, when we use many of the products (with the exception of the Chevy Volt) in my place of business, the Aspen Skiing Company where I am the Sustainability Director. Interesting Dan has actually flipped the bad and good green.

    Here is the reality, that Greenware cup, is made from corn using a product called PLA. The PLA is made from corn, and produced by Natureworks - a Cargill owned company. Natureworks produces the PLA resin which is made into a cup by Fabri-Kal. I work with representatives of both companies and coudl go into pricing but that would be unprofessional. We use these Greenware cups throughout Aspen Skiing Company - any cold drink you buy frm a fountain comes in this cup. For this cup to breakdown requires commercial composting where food waste and materials like this are first ground into small pieces then mixed with bio-solids (poo) and then the whole mixture must be tended to ensure its stays at about 150 degrees. After 90-120 days you have compost suitable for your tomatos. Sad reality is very few places have commerical composting and even fewer restaurants are willing to make the effort to seperate the trash and compost. We are doing it in our first facility this year - Bumps at Buttermilk.

    The cup is not good green - its adequate green with a bit of greenwash depending on how its labeled and waht actually happens to the cup. Nice intent for the product, but not quite there. Instead the cup Dan drank out of will likely be very usable in his capped landfill when his daughter desires a smoothy in 20 years or so.

    CFLs, not sure I'd say they are good green, but with the proper education my buddy Dan could actually have the light of his dreams or at least clost to it. The problem is Dan's wife probably bought any old CFL - and that just won't do. The Sylvania Living Spaces CFLs provide the best light quality, are instant on and come close to the incandescent. They are good enough for our 5-star, 5-diamond Little Nell, so I think they might work in Dan's home in MA. A step up would be some of the newer LEDs on the market from Sylvania and Phillips. Good green - these lamps work, they save energy and last longer.

    On to the crappers Dan refers to. Not sure what he is using, but try the ones from Caroma or Toto great low flow crappers with a #1 and #2 button. We use the both throughout our facilities and they work great. Ask Dan about what happens after a night of Otter Creek consumption. The things handle the aftermath and do it well. If you really want to impress your friends try the Sloan waterless urinal, every wife will want a urinal in the bathroom I am sure - but these things are money.

    And BTW - I've offered Dan the opportunity to go meet with my colleagues at Sylvania (up the road in Danvers), but so far he has refused. Guess he'd rather be ill informed as it allows him to write stories like this.

  2. Didn't I tell you? My boy can preach it. You have got to hand it to anyone sufficiently committed to the cause to step up and defend even low-flow toilets.

  3. So sarcasm aside, this morning I checked and confirmed that in fact the screeching abomination in my lamp was manufactured by Matt's "colleagues at Sylvania." I don't understand why they are putting such crap out there. But, ever eager to please, I went and got me some Sylvania Super Saver soft white halogens, and they are pretty much as advertised - good light, no screech. The problem is they cost roughly seven times the price of a comparable incandescent bulb. That means (to me) that they still are not a workable replacement, and ought not to be foisted on us by our government. It also means that bulb manufacturers are closer than ever to a cost-effective, viable replacement for the incandescent. I will be pleased as anyone when they get there. Government should wait with the rest of us.


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