Going Green: Does it Makes Sense in Today’s Economy?

Ara Trembly
Insurance Experts' Forum, May 10, 2010

This may shock some of you, but I have to admit that the whole hoopla around “going green” is wearing a little thin for me. These days, you can’t turn around without someone else telling you how to be “green,” scolding you for not being “green” enough, or puffing their “green” chests up by telling you how “green” their company is.

It’s enough to make me want to go out and litter as a statement of protest. Seriously, though, I have nothing against keeping our environment clean and using less energy, even if I don’t buy the argument that man-made activity is altering the global climate. I love fresh air, a clean beach and a sparkling ocean or crystal clear stream just as much as the next guy or gal.

The real problem I have with all of this is that it has somehow become the measuring stick we use to evaluate the worth of an idea, a company, or even a person. Back in my psychology grad school days, we used to talk about the concept of “social desirability”—that is, the tendency for people to answer questions or present themselves as being in accord with socially desirable norms. People will spin, obfuscate or outright lie in order to keep themselves within these unseen lines of propriety.

Thus, if you ask anyone today whether or not their company is “green,” you’re likely to get an affirmative response—even if the person you ask has no idea of how his or her company has attained “green” status. Pressed on the issue, they will come up with something—perhaps that new recycled toilet paper in the restrooms or a fresh bed of flowering plants to beautify Mother Earth and produce more oxygen for her citizens.

As I see it, it is the concept of social desirability that drives enterprises, companies and others to do a massive PR job designed to create the impression that they are benevolent keepers of our fragile planet. This is not to say that certain “green” efforts, such as reducing power consumption in our data centers, don’t have benefits. If we’re truthful, however, most of us will have to admit that the “green” initiatives that are nearest and dearest to our hearts are the ones that save us some “green”—that is, lower bottom line expenses.

And there’s really nothing wrong with that. The salient point is that—especially in this rotten economy—“green” efforts, while nice to see, often cost money. If there is a price, then—like any other cost center—“green” activities must demonstrate realistic ROI.  Without a business justification, all the talk about going “green” is effectively tantamount to socially desirable nonsense.

Ara C. Trembly ( is the founder of Ara Trembly, The Tech Consultant, and a longtime observer of technology in insurance and financial services.

Readers are encouraged to respond to Ara using the “Add Your Comments” box below. He can also be reached at

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Comments (6)

Sorry Yoshiko, I don't understand moving forward with something that may or may not be the right thing to do. The only reason you think mankind is a problem is because you have been told to think that. Mankind is not a problem, more often than not we are the solution.... think forest fires.

Posted by: Brian S | May 17, 2010 2:56 PM

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I think it is nothing to do with the power of guilt. Also, we need to control ourselves as one of the living creatures in this precious earth. it seems obvious that we, as human-beings, are the ones created the problems. I believe we need to move forward for the "green business" approach even though there may or might have been some questions, doubts or failures.


Posted by: Yoshiko B | May 17, 2010 2:21 PM

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Also David, if Green Energy had that kind of potential... and maybe it will someday... don't you think we would see it in the marketplace? Green cars don't sell very well, we want our SUV's - green light bulbs suck, I want the light to come on when I flick the switch, I don't want to wait - green toilet paper is rough - green coffee cups leak - green plastic bottles break if you drop them.... What I'm saying is, green, as a general rule, is substandard and until it's not, it won't create the revolution you are hoping for. Good luck David and I hope you can get past your partisan political agenda long enough to enjoy the rest of your day. :-)

Posted by: Brian S | May 17, 2010 10:13 AM

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David, you should perhaps look into taking a class in basic economics. People need to WANT to invest, they can't be forced into it. That may work for a while, but eventually they are going to want something back out of it. If "going green" doesn't produce larger profits it is going to stop happening. China is a country filled with people enslaved to the government... I don't want to model ourselves after them. I also don't want to be more like Germany. Think about what you are saying.

Also, what are you so angry about? Relax... enjoy your life.

Posted by: Brian S | May 17, 2010 9:36 AM

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It's exactly this sort of tripe that helps explain why the U.S. is in danger of falling behind in the 21st century.
China isn't investing billions upon billions in clean-energy technology to be politically correct. Neither is Germany. It's about economic development. In terms of wealth creation, green-energy technology has the potential to make the IT revolution look like a warmup.
Try setting aside your partisan political agenda for five minutes and look beyond U.S. shores. If this country is going to remain an economic superpower, it will need to compete green energy development.

Posted by: David H | May 17, 2010 9:29 AM

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The green movement wouldn't be bad if the focus were actually on creating a cleaner environment. The problem is that it's not. The focus is on controlling people through the power of guilt.

Posted by: Brian S | May 17, 2010 8:44 AM

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