Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Honest Broker Issue

More and more people seem to be finally paying attention to environmental issues but of course, there are so many voices and agendas, that things get confusing. A lot of companies have jumped on the green-product bandwagon, something that started to become obvious about a year ago. A trip down the cleaning-products aisle of the local supermarkets made it clear that green was in.

The question, of course, is whether all these products are what they say they are. I'm reluctant to criticize any of them because if they're even slightly better than, say, ammonia-based cleaners, then hooray, let's buy green. (Although I come down much more on the side of natural products such as vinegar, lemon and borax, every once in a while, I confess, scented laundry detergent catches my attention.)

This brings me to one of the concerns I've heard expressed at a couple of workshops I've attended: are there any honest brokers--is everyone leading the seminars upfront about their corporate connections? Are the only experts on, say, how to winterize your house, construction people or architects who would seem to benefit?

That is not to say they are just looking to make a buck. You can want both--make a living and improve the environment. That's okay. It's just that many of the experts we see also seem to have a financial stake in persuading people to take certain actions.

That said, and even though a couple of thse guys fit that last description, a workshop on winterizing the house that I went to recently was extremely valuable.

Even if they were trying to sell something--and if they were, it wasn't obvious--these panelists made an excellent point, one that would seem obvious but isn't. A lot of people, including me, are running around trying to figure out how to heat their homes more cheaply this winter. But these panelists made the point that it made more sense, financially and environmentally, to figure out a way to reduce the loss of heat and the waste of energy than to add extra sources of heat. Before running out to buy a woodstove, with all of the related costs, cleaning, etc., why not add insulation? It's an excellent point. Thinking rather than panicking and doing the first thing that pops into our heads is always good advice.

A few weeks ago, I bought a web domain that I hope to turn into a starting point for green issues on Long Island. I've been dilly-dallying with it and so it's not ready yet. But when it is, I'll be looking for people who want to contribute, suggest ideas and so on.

So my advice, in the meantime, is take in all the workshops and guidance you can but also do your own homework. Home Depot is running a series of winterizing workshops and there are others around. I also think that if you're thinking about trying to go green, start with something relatively simple. Don't go for the composting toilet, going off the grid and raising your own livestock. :)

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