The Sustainability Puzzle

David Burns is a member of RMI’s National Solutions Council (NSC). RMI’s NSC provides opportunities for members to promote the work of Rocky Mountain Institute to others, helping broaden the base of financial support for our mission to drive the efficient and restorative use of resources. 

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of David Burns.

Energy Efficiency, Resource Productivity, Sustainable Homes, and Green Businesses – how does this all fit together?

It is an exciting time to be part of a revolution. The world is watching renewable’s expand as they reach parity with traditional forms of energy production, communities are embracing organics, our homes and business places are becoming more energy efficient, and the sleeping giant of behavioral change is beginning to awaken.

However, I still feel that there is a large missing piece to this sustainability puzzle. Our homes, businesses, communities and nations seem to make a few steps forward and then flounder around the sustainable zone. Even with some business focusing on lower energy & water intensity benchmarks, if these efforts don’t become more widespread and common, an increasing global population could mean more mass transfer of natural capital from the ground into landfill—what a waste!

There are many potential solutions. Through my own experience as a sustainability advisor and analyst, I think it would make sense for the initial pieces of the puzzle to include a global search mechanism to find green products and services, using green credentials and certification to rank search results. To date, green search engines are mainly driven by traditional advertising dollars promoting efficiency and renewables.

Another critical piece of the puzzle is to seek solutions addressing industrial waste. Currently, industrial ecology parks are ideas or merely recycling projects. Instead, by diverting end-of-life materials back into the manufacturing sector, industry can be far less resource intensive.

To bring all the sustainability puzzle pieces together, we need to make it easy to find green products and services, encourage business to use technology to be more efficient, socialize green to unlock behavioural change opportunities, and most importantly—build local industrial ecology parks to convert waste into higher value materials underwritten with national insurance protection schemes.

This sustainability puzzle solution may even prompt us to ask the next two big questions: How much stuff do we each need to be happy and fulfilled, and can the economy be sustained by quality rather than population growth?

I’ve got my views, what are yours?

About David Burns

David Burns is a sustainability leader focusing on people and behavior, providing answers that address climate changeconcerns in the home and workplace.