By: ANTHONY AYALA
While many view the growing adoption of sustainability efforts by major corporations as a positive thing, Mark Mechtenberg believes that it has become a negative.
At a recent talk at IUSB, Mechtenberg pointed to three areas where sustainability has failed.
The first failure Mechtenberg focused on is communication and the marketing messaging surrounding sustainability. He asks, “When was the last time you went to Wal-Mart and became really passionate about something on the shelf?”
The argument Mechtenberg presented is that sustainability has taken on a different meaning since its introduction in the 1980s. Although it began as a grass roots movement primarily by environmentally conscious local business owners and homeowners, large corporations have capitalized on consumers’ interests in sustainability and improving the environment.
In recent years stainability has become a catch phrase, label or marketing tool. Mechtenberg believes that sustainability has become a product in and of itself, that it has lost the power it once had. A solution that Mechtenberg believes could work is to stop buying it.
“I believe you have to build from the ground up with sustainability. It starts with you and your neighbor and local businesses,” he said.
The second area where Mechtenberg believes sustainability has failed is economics. Mechtenberg believes sustainability efforts should move back to local communities and focus efforts specific to the location. This approach will have a bigger impact than the approach corporations have taken, he said.
Mechtenberg believes, “Corporations have picked the low hanging fruit when they start their projects,” he said.
He points out that corporations generally take on sustainability with cost in mind and make changes that requires little to no effort and minimal costs, while publicly, they promote their sustainability efforts to attract consumers.
In reality, corporations take advantage of technological advancements and simply buy a better version of a product.
Mechtenberg said this shift began in the 1980s. He feels “corporations have become less ambitious as the benchmark for sustainability.”
The final failure Mechtenberg points to is a political one.
“At the federal level, our government has not made strides to focus on sustainability,” he said.
This goes against what polling has shown voters want, but special interest groups have a great deal of influence in policy making, Mechtenberg said.
Fortunately, some localities are taking a leadership position in this field and making up for the federal government’s shortcomings.
Mark Mechtenberg has worked for a decade on the United States Green Building Council. His job involves the evaluation of building projects that want a Leadership in environmental and energy design (LEED) certification, created in the 90s as a way for corporations to show that their projects are sustainable.