The Value of Going Green

A question I am often asked when talking about the benefits of "green” technologies is, "What is the pay-back period?” By this they mean, "How long will the energy savings take to pay off the initial cost of installation?” I can appreciate the value of saving money. The good news is that, unlike almost anything else one might purchase, green technologies almost always pay for themselves. Unlike buying something on sale, green technologies continue to save us money month after month and year after year!

What is fascinating is that the "pay-back period” of almost any product is never, and so we don’t ask that question when it comes to buying a car, a carpet, clothes, electricity, etc. Amazingly, the only products that actually pay for themselves are subject to a question that would rarely be asked of anything else.

The inevitable result of asking this question only of green technologies is that if the pay-back period is longer than just a few years, it is inevitably rejected as "taking too long” to pay for itself. If we asked the same question when it came to non-green items that are not crucial for life, such as a heated home, food, etc., then capitalism as we know it would be dead. Consider further the values that inform our purchases: I notice that we almost never ask what the cost of buying something is for the planet, our home. So accustomed are we to thinking only about our own pocketbooks that we fail to think collectively enough to consider what the repercussions could be for the planet.

Ironically, because money is only an invented system while the planet is our life-support system, our value system is based on virtual reality. Reality, the planet, is paying the price for our imagined construct of reality. Soon, with the price of stored (fossil) energies headed toward the stratosphere, and the planetary "pay-back” of the last century of ruining the planet beginning to negatively impact human economies, we will be wishing that we hadn’t lived for so long in our fantasy world. Of course I am not totally naive. I know that most of us don’t have as much money as we would wish. We would be foolish to spend more on saving the planet than we individually have. However, I also know that it does not cost a lot of money to install an efficient showerhead, to wear a sweater rather than adjust the heat, to change some light-bulbs, to walk or ride a bike to the store. And with interest rates being so low, the cost of borrowing to pay for installing energy efficient devices can often be covered by those devices’ "pay-back.” When I consider what our foolishness and skewed value system will mean for our children and especially grandchildren, I weep. So with the arrival of spring, I can only hope we will emerge from our collective cocoon and live in a way that shows that we value our home, our earth.

Ian Gartshore chairs the non-profit Energy Solutions for Vancouver Island (