This may shock some of you, but I have to admit that the whole hoopla around “going green” is wearing a little thin for me. These days, you can’t turn around without someone else telling you how to be “green,” scolding you for not being “green” enough, or puffing their “green” chests up by telling you how “green” their company is.
It’s enough to make me want to go out and litter as a statement of protest. Seriously, though, I have nothing against keeping our environment clean and using less energy, even if I don’t buy the argument that man-made activity is altering the global climate. I love fresh air, a clean beach and a sparkling ocean or crystal clear stream just as much as the next guy or gal.
The real problem I have with all of this is that it has somehow become the measuring stick we use to evaluate the worth of an idea, a company, or even a person. Back in my psychology grad school days, we used to talk about the concept of “social desirability”—that is, the tendency for people to answer questions or present themselves as being in accord with socially desirable norms. People will spin, obfuscate or outright lie in order to keep themselves within these unseen lines of propriety.
Thus, if you ask anyone today whether or not their company is “green,” you’re likely to get an affirmative response—even if the person you ask has no idea of how his or her company has attained “green” status. Pressed on the issue, they will come up with something—perhaps that new recycled toilet paper in the restrooms or a fresh bed of flowering plants to beautify Mother Earth and produce more oxygen for her citizens.
As I see it, it is the concept of social desirability that drives enterprises, companies and others to do a massive PR job designed to create the impression that they are benevolent keepers of our fragile planet. This is not to say that certain “green” efforts, such as reducing power consumption in our data centers, don’t have benefits. If we’re truthful, however, most of us will have to admit that the “green” initiatives that are nearest and dearest to our hearts are the ones that save us some “green”—that is, lower bottom line expenses.
And there’s really nothing wrong with that. The salient point is that—especially in this rotten economy—“green” efforts, while nice to see, often cost money. If there is a price, then—like any other cost center—“green” activities must demonstrate realistic ROI. Without a business justification, all the talk about going “green” is effectively tantamount to socially desirable nonsense.
Ara C. Trembly (www.aratremblytechnology.com) is the founder of Ara Trembly, The Tech Consultant, and a longtime observer of technology in insurance and financial services.
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