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Conservation as a Mindset

gutterman, sara, green mediaThe beginning of October held an interesting week of extremes, replete with the full spectrum of emotions and events that make this very small world go round. The week began with a distressing reminder of our precarious environmental reality, delivered in the form of a newly released United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on the latest climate science data that confirmed that global warming is “unequivocal” and that humans are without doubt responsible.

The report essentially substantiates what we already know—we have exceeded 400 parts per million (PPM) of carbon emissions in the atmosphere. This level of carbon dioxide, as well as other heat-trapping greenhouse gasses (like methane), is the direct cause of increased global temperatures (the report verifies that last three decades have been the hottest on record, ever, and that we’re expected to experience a further 2-7 degree Celsius rise this century), augmented atmospheric moisture (which has increased approximately 5%), greater weather instability (as evidenced by ever more frequent and severe weather events), and rising sea levels (for each degree that the temperature increases, sea levels are expected to rise 4 feet.)

A recent article in USA Today translates the IPCC’s findings into the language of economics, stating that “extreme weather events are on the rise, with 800-plus extreme events worldwide in 2012 resulting in more than $130 billion in damages, adjusting to a “new normal” of a more adverse and costly climate.”

With all this destruction and uncertainty, it’s no wonder that the Federal Government Accountability Office (GAO) added climate change to its “High Risk” list, identifying climate instability as one of the largest vulnerabilities of the federal government.

It’s a sad fact that cities are now spending more money on disaster recovery than on education. Fortunately, despite reduced overall funding, educational opportunities in the sustainability arena are still abundant. And, in fact, it’s in the world of education where I found the sweet antidote to the discouraging news contained within IPCC report.

Then I was in Irvine, CA, attending the Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon, a competition in which collegiate teams from across the globe showcase completely self-sufficient, solar powered homes that students have painstakingly designed and constructed over the past two years.

During the opening reception (generously sponsored by Bosch), I watched teams of young, ambitious students climb onto the stage to talk about their projects. As they reflected on their journeys, they didn’t talk about the enabling technologies, design aspects, or structural components used in their homes. Rather, they ruminated on the thrill of collaborating with their peers, the joy of bringing an idea to life, and the pleasure derived from sharing a common experience and creating memories that will last a lifetime.

The students’ enthusiasm was contagious, and, caught up in their exuberance, I experienced a renewed sense of encouragement and safekeeping for our future. It was abundantly clear that these students aren’t engaged in any debate about whether our climate is changing or if we need to alter our environmentally destructive ways. To them, climate change is not some vague “new normal”—it’s their entire reality. Sustainability is a way of life. Conservation is a mindset. Efficiency is cool.

The homes featured in the Solar Decathlon represent much more than just students employing sustainable design and construction practices. Each home provides a glimpse into the future—an innovative, green future that is co-created by a generation of thoughtful problem solvers. Each home embodies hope for a better tomorrow, in which the natural and built environments are not at odds. And each home offers assurance that there will continue to be stewards who will carefully preserve and protect our precious planet for decades to come.

Sara is the Co-Founder and CEO of Green Builder Media. An experienced entrepreneur, investor, and sustainability consultant, Sara specializes in developing companies that are simultaneously sustainable and profitable. Sara is a former venture capitalist and has participated in a portion of the life cycle (from funding to exit) of over 20 companies. Sara graduated Cum Laude from Dartmouth College and holds an MBA in entrepreneurship and finance from the University of Colorado. This article was reprinted with permission from Green Builder Media.

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