The Proprietary Influence of Sustainable Infrastructures

After loosing the electoral vote during the 2000 Presidential election, former Vice President Al Gore took on a philanthropic cause, raising awareness on global warming and launched a worldwide tour. Ironically, he flew around the country on a private jet, owned “gas-guzzling” vehicles, and most interesting, it was reported that the home of former President George W. Bush in Texas was much more energy efficient than Gore’s home in Tennessee (Snopes article here).

At first glance, it could be assumed that former President Bush would have hired a university architect to design such a house because he cared so much about the environment. While that might be true, I suspect the number one reason the 43rd president wanted a sustainable house, and to a greater extent, the propriety influence of sustainable infrastructure in the U.S. is a fiscal one. It’s all about the money. As Milton Friedman said:

“There is one and only one social responsibility of business–to use it resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition without deception or fraud”

The primary motivation for any business to take any action is to increase profits. If there is any term that has been so over used by businesses in the past five years, it is sustainability. A close second is corporate social responsibility. Now, don’t read that wrong. Are there people who really do care about the environment? Absolutely. Are there executives who are passionate about improving their communities? You better believe it. But beyond the heart-warming filling to those employees, the business sees direct or indirect impact to their bottom line.

In the housing example above, another interesting factoid is that Al Gore’s home used 12 times more natural gas than the average home in America. His energy bill was more than $2,400 per month, higher than most people’s mortgage or rent (or even their gas bill for an entire year). So owning an energy efficient house is more practical so long as the initial investment and necessary maintenance and replacement costs don’t exceed traditional materials.

Companies like Google are working with architects and designers by providing resources so building managers can determine which angle to orient the edifice and how many windows should be installed to maximize solar and wind energy.

Until solar panels become more cost effective, adoption will remain relatively low. However, government incentives have made that process much faster. NPR featured a story on the impact of those tax credits here (also noting the industry might come to a halt should those incentives go away).

So from the new home builder to the next federal government initiative, the proprietary influence of sustainable infrastructures will be for the money.

*Note: the topic for this blog post came from Ross Parmly

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