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Your Brother's (and Sister's) Keeper: Taking Responsibility for Ourselves and Others

Your Brother's (and Sister's) Keeper: Taking Responsibility for Ourselves and Our Neighbors in a Resource Constrained Age

In case you have been living in an ashram for the past week, Barack Obama was elected as the next president of the United States. In his speech on election night, Obama implored us to "summon a new spirit of patriotism, of responsibility, where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves but each other." In a time of constrained resources, both natural and financial, we must find ways to do exactly that.

With that in mind, below are a series of steps we can take, individually, as members of larger institutions (like corporations, charities, educational institutions, etc.), as citizens and as society to be better stewards of the environment over the next four years.

1.      We must take individual actions to reduce our personal impact on the environment, and conserve financial resources by doing so. The Daily Green has $4,000 in savings you can capture this year by going green.

2.      Tilde Herrera reported this week on that business leaders "need to take on a leadership role in addressing societal problems by incorporating sustainability into their economic policies." This is not only good for the planet, it is good corporate governance. In a carbon constrained environment, a corporation's carbon footprint will become a liability on its balance sheets.

3.      Our charitable and educational institutions can serve as large scale models. For example, higher education has invested heavily in developing green buildings. We must gather data from these models and deploy it effectively to strengthen the economic and environmental case for building green and embracing sustainable practices.

4.      Our leaders must draft careful, strong green regulations. Two well meaning, but poorly drafted referendums for renewable energy were rejected by California voters. In AHRI v. City of Albuquerque, HVAC contractors sued the city of Albuquerque to enjoin their green building regulations from taking effect because the regulations were preempted by federal law. The judge concluded that the plaintiffs are likely to prevail on the merits of their claim that the Albuquerque green building code was preempted. But perhaps more significantly, the court also noted that "At the time the code was drafted the green building manager, by his own admission, was unaware of federal statutes governing the energy efficiency of HVAC products and water heaters and the city attorneys who reviewed the code did not raise the preemption issue. [emphasis added]" We cannot afford to have green regulations fail or get caught up in years of costly, time consuming litigation because of poor draftsmanship or research.

Turning off your electronic equipment. Taking up a neighborhood recycling program. Building a green office. Voting for leaders who are concerned about climate change. These are not novel ideas, but we must come to them anew in a spirit of bipartisan unity to save our country and the planet.

Shari Shapiro, J.D., LEED AP, is an associate with Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel LLP in Philadelphia. She heads the company's green building initiative and writes about green building and the law on her blog at

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