Radical Confidence in the Next Green Generation

Radical Confidence in the Next Green Generation

I'm in West Virginia spending a week with 100 super bright-green high school students at the Student Climate and Conservation Congress for my annual renewal of hope.

SC3 is held at the National Conservation Training Center of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and is organized by the Green Schools Alliance (disclosure: I am on the board of directors and the organization was founded by my wife, Margaret Watson). SC3 combines practical, hands-on learning across a range of environmental topics.

Yesterday, the students went through the LEED-certified training center conducting an energy and environmental audit. They identified a number of areas where improvements in design and operations could be made. SC3 will be a launching pad for a Student Climate Corps that will strive to make real the inspiration of the amazing speakers at this event.

For example, Wednesday morning, students listened to Dr. John Francis, a leading specialist on oil spills who spent 17 years walking in silence so he could avoid using excess oil and learn to listen deeply about ecology and the human condition. During this 17 years, he finished college, got a masters degree and then an environmental PhD, all in silence. Luckily for us, he started speaking again Earth Day 2000 and his words had a profound effect on this (slightly) jaded environmentalist, so I can only imagine what they meant to these young people.

Of course, amid the optimism and limitless possibility of youth, the SC3 students learn about the various realities they will confront in the world, not unlike the reality eventually faced by Google when it got schooled by the market and was forced to pull the plug on the PowerMeter, its home energy product. Given how diffuse and heterogeneous the homeowners' market is, people need to enter with the knowledge that no matter how great the software platform is, home energy can only be penetrated by "boots on the ground," preferably familiar boots. It's also important to keep in mind that patience is a virtue, and going in and pulling out too soon can have lasting repercussions in the market.

Google bloggers Bill Weihl, the company's green energy czar, and Charles Baron may not have been aware of the software tool's imminent demise when they wrote their optimistic article about technological promise to save energy. According to their research, Weihl and Baron found that GDP actually grows under sustainability scenarios and that implementation sooner rather than later makes a big positive difference economically, socially and environmentally. Finally, they echoed a point I've made many times: that regulations and market forces must work together to achieve this maximum potential.

And while the technical promise certainly is there, folks in Silicon Valley ought to pay close attention to the cautionary guidance from Christopher Mines of Forrester Research, who writes about the barriers to realizing energy efficiency and green in the information and communication technology sector. Mines makes three salient points: First, the digital divide needs to be bridged physically. Second, the speed of information flows is very different from physical flows. Finally, the early adopters are not always in very fast-moving sectors, which can lead to growth and profitability concerns.

According to a great grab bag of "First Take" short news items from GreenBiz.com Managing Editor Matt Wheeland, SC Johnson has achieved total GHG emissions reductions of more than 27 percent since 2000.

This week's Look-Grandpa-I-picked-up-the-$20-bill-you said-was-fake-but-it's-real! award goes to Kohl's for its commitment to greening facilities through the LEED Volume Build program. Presently, about 13 percent of the retailer's stores are LEED certified -- that's 144 certified stores so far. On average, these stores use 32 percent less energy and at least 30 percent less water. Over 40 percent of Kohl's LEED certified sites are existing buildings and the volume build program -- both for new and existing buildings -- reduces the required for certification reviews by about two-thirds. On top of this, in another "First Take" item from Wheeland, Kohl's also has the distinction, along with Intel, as the leading purchasers of renewable energy and United States.

Aerial photo of the National Conservation Training Center by Brian Jonkers via the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.