Perspectives on greener product development and manufacturing from Sustainable Minds, our partners, customers and contributors.

Red, blue and green all over: the politics of sustainability

By Jim Hall on September 4, 2009

I’m not one of those people who can say that I’ve always cared about sustainability. My turning point came about four years ago when I toured a landfill and personally saw the obscene amount of waste that society creates each and every day. Somehow I knew intuitively that what I witnessed wasn’t sustainable. I deduced that every paper cup, plastic container, broken glass, diaper and appliance that was being buried embodied natural resources – wasted resources – that were going right into the ground.

Now I find myself in a position in which I can make a difference. I’m fortunate enough to have been exposed to some of the leading minds in the field of sustainability. I’ve attended numerous conferences, seminars, classes, and educational events across the country in order to advance my knowledge and experience. I’ve made new friends and met new colleagues. And they’ve all made me feel like I’m part of the family.

But there’s one thing that continues to perplex me.

Why is it that whenever there is meaningful conversation or education around sustainability, someone always seems to work in a political jab against a Republican or shows blind reverence for a Democrat? Why is it always assumed that I’m liberal or politically left leaning because I’m interested in sustainability?

Well I’ve got news for you and I hope it doesn’t come as a shock, but my political views are conservative, I’m skeptical about climate change, and I’m not an Obama supporter. Whew! There I said it – it's out in the open. My political leaning will no longer be subject to “Don’t ask don’t tell”.

Now only one question remains, “Will I be black-balled and cast out from the ranks of those who care about the planet?” Will my new friends and colleagues treat me like a step-child? Whatever happens next, one thing is certain: I will continue to care about the planet and advance the cause of sustainability.

Creating a sustainable society is going to require participation by everyone. You know I haven’t met a Democrat yet that wasn’t for lowering carbon emissions, conserving energy, and other natural resources. On the other hand I haven’t met a Republican that wasn’t for creating efficiency and driving costs out of business. Aren’t both sides saying the same thing using different language? I think so. And I believe there’s plenty of common ground for both sides to work as one on a common agenda.

Sustainability should not require individuals to change their political views; it just requires both sides to understand each other’s language. When I hear the phrase “climate change,” I think “business risk.” When I hear “cap and trade,” I think “opportunity and innovation.” When I hear “reduce your carbon footprint,” I think “potential savings.”

If you remove the personal politics from the equation, I don’t believe that anyone can argue against the imperative to create a sustainable society. Let’s eliminate political bigotry from sustainability.