To save gas, money and GHG emissions, a number of us from the Backboro area shared a ride to AASHE 2008. Specific jobs differed, but everyone was concerned in some way with campus sustainability. That's why it struck me as odd when, while we were driving through a particularly commercially dense portion of Virginia (I-95, a bit south of Washington DC), someone in the car remarked on how much they'd love to live in an area like that. You know, with any store you wanted, so you could just go out and buy what you needed.
Now, Backboro isn't northern Virginia, but it's hardly a commercial desert. Anything you need, you can get. And the prices are generally moderate -- there are enough stores to create some competition in most lines of product. So the real-world advantages of having 27 different places to buy the same item (as opposed to only 4 or 5) are pretty minimal. I guess even sustainability folk aren't immune to the blandishments of high-dollar advertising.
More to the point, my traveling companion seemed not to realize that the sort of commercial density she was seeing is but the visible tip of the entire automobile-dependent emissions-maximizing suburban-sprawling lifestyle that got us (at least in part) into this mess. We had a number of hours yet to go in a vehicle most graciously described as "cozy", so I restrained myself. (Mrs. Rendell would have been proud.)
Anyways, we get to Raleigh and check into the hotel. It's one of the major chains, and on checking in they hand you a paper describing how the hotel is trying to be sustainable: turning lights off, moderating temperatures, changing sheets only every three days, that sort of thing. (They may have known that there was a sustainability convention in town.) I was fairly happy until I went to make a cup of coffee in my room and found that the coffee packet was sealed in a filter bag, in a plastic bag along with a disposable (non-recyclable) plastic tray -- the tray holds the filter bag into the coffee maker, so every time you replace the coffee you also replace a piece of the machine. Just struck me as a step in the wrong direction.
Even more jarring was one bit of the convention center. AASHE did a pretty good job of greening the convention -- pre-announcing that they wouldn't be handing out (yet another) conference bag, and asking that folks reuse old bags and bring their own drink containers. All well and good, until the convention center food folk brought out the meal and lots (I mean LOTS) of individual, disposable water bottles. I mean, really, how hard is it to put out some glasses and fill a few pitchers of water?
So that's today's news from the front. Lots of people doing lots of the right things, but we're all still screwing up some of the simple stuff. Looks like the low-hanging fruit will be available for a bit longer, yet.