The Green Road: Treading uncharted waters

The next time you go for your iced latte at Starbucks, observe the ice melting away in the glass. As you sit sipping away at your drink, two oxygen molecules befriend a carbon molecule, forming a potent gas that threatens to liquefy all of the ice not only in your glass but all over the world. Our love-hate relationship with water will come to an end if we don’t lower the earth’s thermostat sooner rather than later.

China and India are on such a fast track to high rates of natural capital and resource consumption that it would take 2-4 earths (depending on where you get your data) to sustain and fulfill those teeming desires. Natural capital that the earth blesses us with every year is more than $35 trillion. We have not only eaten into the interest, but also fast eating into the principal amount – and it’s diminishing with each passing year. The model of consumerism has begun to backfire. Forty percent of humanity now wants to live like those in the developed world, and it’s just not possible.

I recently listened to Chandran Nair speak. He is the author of his latest book ‘Constraining Consumption’. He refers to the car ownership rate in different parts of the world – in OECD countries, it is 700 per 1000 people, in China it is 150 per 1000 and in India, it is 30 per 1000 people. He thinks that Indians haven’t even started driving and India is pegged to be the largest car market in the coming years!

So what do we do about it? The solution in part lies in the ‘green road,’ or giving people a model of sustainability to follow. But it is a tough one. Industries like clean tech and renewable energy are showing us the path to that road. Sustainability issues have certainly seeped into the consciousness of the business community, but lack of standards, both at the product level and the business level, makes the issue very complex. It also creates a problem of ‘green washing,’ which is when companies try to green-up their image by falsely representing their practices. This leads to another issue of ‘green fatigue,’ which refers to consumers getting tired of the fake green claims. So the question remains: what does it take for a nation or a company to be truly green?

What it will take is to truly understand our impacts of our actions. And that translates into putting breaks on our consumptive lifetstyles. It also means state intervention and legislative controls.

Al Gore painted a picture of the world gone all wrong with his film An Inconvenient Truth, but no one’s yet imagined a world gone right. Reducing waste, polluting less and improving efficiency not only makes green sense, it also makes good business sense. Abundance is one thing, prudence is another.

Everyone wants a comfortable and convenient lifestyle, and the green road doesn’t have to be one of scrimping and martyrdom.

Granted, there is confusion when treading uncharted waters, such as what is green and what is not, and whether to use a paper bag or a plastic one. But one thing is a given: the green road is the only road that is left to be taken to truly remain sustainable as a humanity.

(Image: Somewhere floating in cyberspace without a mention to its source. Full credit to its creator)

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