Sustainability: it’s a lot more than meets the eye

Stu’s News
with Trina’s Tips


It’s a lot more than meets the eye.

Do you remember the old I.Q. tests?

I was in a class on educational systems, in which all the students were doctoral candidates.  The professor read us 25 questions from an I.Q. test and invited us to answer them as a class, rather than as individuals.  As a class, we got 3 correct.  We were then told the questions were from an IQ test given to 10 year olds in rural Louisiana, and most would get 23 correct.  The point is, tests cannot be made culturally free.  Intelligence can’t be measured.  So when someone tells you that your kids are not living up to their potential, ask them how they actually measure potential.

Why is this topic an “issue”?

A teacher once was given her class list, and next to the names were numbers that ranged from 140 to 175.  She assumed she was given the high IQ students.  And the class outperformed anything she had ever done before.  At the end of the school year, the principal showered her with praise.  Then she said, “Anyone could have done what I did if they had that caliber of student.”  She told the principal she had seen their IQ scores on her class list.  He said, “Those were their locker numbers!”

If your son or daughter had locker number 87, think of how bad a year they’d have!

Moving right along, have you heard of Educational Testing Service, in Princeton, NJ?  It’s a non-profit that created the SATs – even though scholastic aptitude, like IQs, can’t really be measured, and there’s never been a proven correlation between SAT scores and how someone actually does in college.  But – once the university admissions people wanted applicants to submit their SAT scores, ETS had it made.  Fees for scoring tests.  Books and classes on how to do better on SAT tests.  Then – the PSAT tests and books and classes.  My oldest son even got catalogs from colleges before he got his own test scores back, meaning that ETS was selling mailing lists.

Why is this a problem?  Teachers are now obliged to teach to the SAT test, rather than teach what they believe is best for that subject.  Their reward system often hinges on how well their students do on those tests.  So – some supposed experts in some far-away location now influence what our kids are taught, based on nothing more than the insecurity of college admissions people.  And – some good kids might not get into college to see how they’d do, because they don’t do well on their SATs.

Now let’s move up to the “US Green Building Council.”  It is not a government agency;  it simply created a name that gains credibility by inferring that it is.  Actually, it’s a non-profit built on the same model as ETS, and begun by people with MBAs, not environmental professionals.  And once the insecurity of owners caused them to request LEED certification, they also had it made.

Thousands of architects and engineers and contractors read their books and take their courses, because owners request it.  Then there are fees for scoring designs, and for training instructors, and on and on.  It’s a great business model.

The problem?  People design for LEED scoring, and not for sustainability.  An article in the NY Times,, cited a federal office building in Youngstown, Ohio that was LEED certified and turned out to be an absolute energy hog.  “Sustainability” means “Net Zero” … what we create must live with the earth, 100%, and that can continue, indefinitely;  that’s sustainable.  And from my experience doing Garden Atriums, it’s not that difficult to do.

Our Earth is undergoing a dramatic change – a bigger shift than has happened in thousands of years.  Our weak economy, our interest in sustainability, and our diminishing confidence in the integrity of corporations or the efficacy of government are not separate issues.  Everything is connected to everything.

Every week, I add two or three new ideas to, my blog site, with ideas for addressing the shifts that are happening.  They’re free and they’ll prove to be quite helpful for addressing the changes that are happening.

Some firms are doing quite well – even in this “down economy.”  Some report that they’re concerned about “where their next meal may come from.”  That’s sad.  If we don’t change in this time of sweeping change, our firms are in trouble.  Most people are sensing that this “recession” isn’t just a recession.  Waiting it out until we can go back to “business as usual” is simply not a viable alternative.  Instead of hunkering down in a survival mode, start asking clients what their biggest problems are, and start developing systems for solving their problems.  For example …

Municipal infrastructure is aging, and maintenance costs exceed municipal budgets.  We hear horror stories from many clients about how fragile the systems are in even our biggest cities, and how political leaders only spend money when an actual rupture happens.  Then, I read about a system that uses a sequence of plants to treat wastewater – a system that cost a town a fourth of what a mechanical system costs and that just gets better every year, as the plants grow.

I wonder why more firms aren’t looking for ways to help municipal clients slash their maintenance costs.  It seems we too often wait for clients come up with some new strategies, find funding, and then send us an RFP.  That model is changing.  It’s time to work with our clients to develop new strategies for solving their problems.

It’s a true challenge for us, as problem solvers.  The systems upon which we’ve depended – for lifetimes – just aren’t working.  The shift we’re undergoing means we need to create systems that work totally with Earth’s natural resources, with our clients, and with the needs of people in our communities.  If we don’t do it, who will?