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Smart Green Policy
Low-Hanging Green Fruit Ripe For the Picking

Balancing green goals against the imperative for growth can be tricky (just look at Europe), but one solution can advance both pursuits: increasing efficiency. The Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) has some smart suggestions for next steps on increasing building efficiencies for a variety of clients, from universities to government agencies, corporate giants and car dealerships:

Working with Ford Motor Company and a big energy services company (ESCO), we selected three dealership facilities and executed our standard deep energy retrofit diagnosis and whole-system design effort. The resulting build-outs saved 60–80 percent of the energy with good economics. Despite three different geographies, RMI identified a common package of energy-saving measures focused on indoor and outdoor lighting, mechanical controls, commissioning, weatherization (plugging leaks), and when-it-fails HVAC equipment upgrades. This package saved the vast majority of the energy and could be scaled up—a lot.

Plenty of new buildings are designed with energy savings in mind, using insulation, natural light, motion lighting, and a variety of “smart” systems to minimize costs (and environmental impacts). But there are plenty of other opportunities to “green” our country’s buildings by retrofitting facilities built before these technologies were available. In this foray, RMI is the epitome of the smart green organization.

Maybe the greatest of the environmental movement’s many faults is its inability to create and support realistic green policies. Organic farms can’t feed 7 billion people; wind and the sun alone can’t power civilization; we can’t all drive electric cars; and no amount of cajoling will convince the world’s omnivores to ditch meat for kale. This starry-eyed idealism comes drives green proposals for combatting climate change: economic growth is demonized, humanity’s appetite for “things” bemoaned, and one is led to believe that, if they had their way, environmentalists would have us living off the land to reduce our emissions.

But when it comes to policymaking, shooting for the moon is more likely to give you a launch failure than a landing amongst the stars, which explains why the green movement—tasked with such an important agenda—has become so toothless. All of this is to say that tempered expectations would do environmental policymakers a load of good. If green policy options grew on trees, we’d be best served by going for the low-hanging fruit. Efficiency measures are one of the best green options we’ve got.

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