You may know Jay through his blog, Verde Vista, which we've linked to since the start of Re-nest, and you may remember the retaining wall and bench built of recycled materials in the backyard of his Rummer near Portland, Oregon. We asked him a few questions about translating green values into action.
How or where have you worked your green values into your home? My partner and I just finished renovating a mid-century modern house and were faced with a seemingly unending set of practical, environmental, and aesthetic decisions. Most gratifying for us was when these considerations converged...a retaining wall built with the remains of a concrete patio...the usable portions of an old redwood deck reconfigured into a low bench and facade for the retaining wall... ...a bathroom cabinet constructed from recycled shelving. We also found that keeping choices simple aligned well with green and other values. For example, instead of installing new flooring, we polished the concrete floors in much of the house. For the more private areas we covered the concrete slab with basic cork tile.
How have you been able to bring your green values to work? My work focuses often on sustainability and human behavior, so I'd say that my green values are always present there. Recently, I've been developing research strategies that can inspire designs that encourage people who aren't necessarily 'green' to behave more sustainably. The idea is to find behaviors that are already similar or parallel to environmentally positive actions, and design ways to make environmentally-sound choices that are both obvious and clearly beneficial in people's everyday lives.
What is a challenge for people interested in going green? I think the biggest challenge to 'going green' is that people in the Western world often conflate environmentalism with counterculture values. If we want sustainable behaviors to go 'mainstream,' we'll need to move beyond 'green' community-building efforts and in to understanding how culturally-situated behaviors and values can be engaged in ways that enable sustainability. I think social networking shows a lot of promise in this area in ways that facilitate diverse affiliations, motivations, and inspiration.
If you could make or change one law in the interest of green, what would it be? I support Philip Gordon's (Brookings Institution) proposal for a floor price for oil where the state claims revenue (and applies it toward alternative energy initiatives) when the price of oil falls below a pre-set level (say $60/barrel). As he puts it in a recent Financial Times commentary: "If consumers and industry knew that the price of a barrel of oil would never again fall below $60 per barrel – the level around which US-produced corn-based ethanol fuel becomes economically viable – they could make long-term investment and consumption decisions in a way that makes little economic sense so long as price stability is not guaranteed." That said, financial incentives are only one part of the picture. We need a plethora of new choices that make sustainability obvious, easy, and compatible with people's values and interests.