Green, green, it’s green they say…every day. How green can we get? I’m greener than you are. How green are we? “Global warming! Green for your lives!!”
Unfortunately, the green sustainability bandwagon keeps getting bigger and more costly to ride every day.
The green sustainability umbrella is large and not well defined as it applies to solid waste. Our industry has several ongoing and long-term programs and practices that can fit under this umbrella. When your community wants to wave the green banner, an agency can proudly mention the statistics and costs for your current array of programs (recycling, materials recovery, reduce, reuse, alternative fuel, landfill gas recovery, litter collection, household hazardous waste collection, etc.). But more will be required. What’s your next step? Decide first, before it’s thrust upon you.
The next generation of cleaner and greener programs will cost significantly more, and the benefits are often indirect and difficult to quantify, even with full life cycle analysis. Even with a full life cycle analysis, opponents of your new sustainability program plan will always do their own analyses, which can contradict yours. Cost data will be useful but should only be used, really, to define the increment and order of magnitude of the cost increases necessary to reach the greener alternative.
The community shouts green, the agencies go green, and the manufacturers cry, “Not me!” Retailers claim pass-through. Ratepayers and taxpayers cry, “Why me?” Out of this backdrop, agencies are directed to get leaner and greener—but is that realistically possible? Options and mechanisms to raise the additional funds are typically limited and always seem under attack. Parcel taxes, direct billing, and landfill tip fees and charges are your vehicles for change, but they need more fuel. Who’s going to pay, and how much? Political will, policy, and community support will define who and how much, and then you can determine how far the extra revenues will take you.
The San Francisco Bay Area Climate Collaborative has declared that the most wide-ranging and profound environmental challenge facing humanity is climate change. Changing humanity is our biggest challenge. Humanity causes the problems, and we need to change our attitude and lifestyle or improvement won’t happen. We all recognize the profound need for cross-sector, regional collaboration to promote best practices at the regional, state, and federal levels is necessary to make change.
What does “economically feasible” really mean? It is the point at which an agency can balance input and pressure from constituents, taxpayers, businesses, manufacturers, contractors, lobbyists, and environmentalists, considering the costs involved and still moving forward with a program. It has nothing—and everything—to do with money.
How do we move forward our green sustainable projects that cost more in times of an economic downturn? We need a project champion (preferably an agency or policymaker), project supporters, and perceived public need for the green project.
In addition, economics and facts can be persuasive and developed to help paint the project in the most positive light. Great new projects that cost more are bought and sold from the top down.
As a solid waste administrator, what can you do in the fight for the greening of America? You need to understand the issue, provide the facts and costs, suggest a funding mechanism, and be supportive. Sustainable greening is becoming the current policy issue of choice with a more expensive price tag. Don’t fight the “green goblin;” offer your input and suggestions, and let the project champions and policy makers do their job.