Social change work is hard and frustrating and wonderful and terrible; it is also, at times, funny, quirky and just plain fascinating. With this blog we hope to capture all that goes into what we do at Capital Good Fund, and we invite you to join the conversation!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

It's Not So Easy Being Green

I have an MA in Environmental Studies. I wrote my masters thesis on how to use financial services to empower people out of poverty and, as they do so, take action on environmental issues.  For 7 seven years my bicycle was my only means of transportation; I have solar panels on the roof of my condo and even a rain barrel...In short, you'd think I'd be the least likely of people to struggle with making a choice between the 'green' and 'gray' options.  Alas, it's not so simple.
Tomorrow we move into our new, more spacious office at 56 Pine St. (3rd Floor) in downtown Providence.  Because the office had been vacant for a while, we needed to replace the ugly, worn out carpet, and our new landlord offered us $500 to apply towards its removal and replacement.  After some deliberation, we decided to rip up the carpet and install hardwood flooring.  Sensing my opportunity, I decided that we should go with the more eco-friendly option, bamboo (bamboo grows quickly and does not require pesticides which, among other reasons, accounts for its green credentials).  Unfortunately, whereas the standard hardwood option costs $.71/square foot, bamboo costs $2.99.  The difference between these two options, aside from their environmental sustainability, is that the laminate falls within our budget and the bamboo does not.

 So what are we left to do?  Remember, like most non-profits, we aren't exactly swimming in cash.  The cost of moving to a new office is already a strain.  Well, I decided to personally fund the difference (~$500) because, just as with the installation of solar panels on my roof or starting CGF, I often make decisions that are in-line with my heart if not with the dictates of economics.  But as much as I want to feel sanctimonious about my course of action, the sad fact is that it doesn't really make sense.  What's worse, this isn't even the kind of decision, like purchasing a more expensive and energy-efficient boiler, that leads to savings; a floor is a floor is a floor, no matter the provenance of the material used in its making.

And that brings us to the fundamental question: how are we to be green when the responsible choice is more costly?  Why do we reward rapacious practices and penalize those that are restorative?  Imagine the myriad instances where individuals, companies and governments make purchasing decisions, and think about how often those choices are made based purely on cost.  Realizing this conundrum, it should come as no surprise that rain forests are disappearing, the climate is changing, etc.  Either we make a heroic, uneconomic choice, pressure companies and legislators to tax unethical products, or both.  But we are all so busy, how are we to find the time to focus on such weighty themes?  Which cuts to the heart of the matter--when what we know is right is too expensive and too time consuming to follow through on, it is hard to feel hopeful about the possibility of justice prevailing.  I end by saying that the only answer I can proffer is to say that, though, as Martin Luther King used to say, "the arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice,' the arc does not bend itself.  So let us be the ones who bend history towards a place that is verdant, equitable and full of abundance, hope and possibility for all.