A friend of mine recently had an extremely unpleasant experience, one which I would wish on no one else. Due to an unfortunate series of events, police entered his house and stumbled upon a certain illegal substance, determined that he was a hardened criminal, and hauled him off to jail, handcuffed, in the back of a patrol car. This being a Saturday night, he spent all day Sunday in jail, posted bond at 7AM Monday morning, and was finally released Monday evening after a twelve hour wait, a victim of a slow bureaucratic criminal justice system. The inefficiencies and frustration of dealing with an opaque system (the county jail), and being confined with a wide range of unfortunates and criminals provided him some perspective and led to some important revelations and decisions in his life.
His short stay in jail exposed him to people in dire circumstances, many of whom were unable or unwilling to accept their own part in their problems. He shared that almost to a man, everyone insisted that they were falsely accused, not guilty, or otherwise not responsible for their personal plight. Realizing that he needed to accept responsibility for his actions, he ended his confinement taking full responsibility for his actions, vowing to change his behavior so as to not every again jeopardize his freedom. This acceptance of responsibility and eagerness to make necessary changes is admirable behavior, one that should be used as a model for most of society. I’m not saying that we are all involved in illegal activity, but we are doing things that are detrimental to our lives, our country, and the planet that we can and should change for the better.
Many of us in the green building industry are focused on making better buildings, which is a good and important thing. I am concerned, however, that, as a society, we are not taking full responsibility for the effects of our actions, and until we do, we continue to cause and exacerbate environmental, social, and economic problems that we are in a position to solve. What if we all decided at once to stop building oversized houses with huge garages? How about only building homes meeting the highest level in one of the available green building programs? I know that this won’t happen quickly or universally. If you refuse to give a a customer what they want they will just go to someone else. We all need to make a living and can’t run off customers, particularly given the current state of the economy. But we should take the time to discuss efficient and sustainable options with our clients and push them as far as we can to make the right decisions for their homes. Let’s start taking responsibility for our actions and changing our behavior for the better. We may not end up in jail, but some of the long term consequences may be just as bad.