Green With Envy: Luxury that Suits the ENVIronment
by Edtior AZGM~ photos courtesy of The Edwards Design Group~
“Deepak Chopra once said, “Inertia is comforting, and Americans will be extremely reluctant to make any change that might affect their high standard of living.”Luxury
Ifinertia is comforting, perhaps it is because we are creatures of habit. Or, is it more likely that becoming fully aware of our habits may require an admission of guilt followed by a sacrifice of life’s pleasures? As for the reluctance to make any changes that might affect our high standard of living, perhaps the operative word is might. If so, what, really, are we afraid might happen? Is fear of the unknown, rather than inertia, imprisoning us in our comfort zone?
Comfort zone is a relative term. What was comfortable 30 years ago might be considered arcane today. Who knew that we’d become so reliant on cell phones, packaged foods, computers or disposable diapers? Modern conveniences have become so much a part of our lives that the thought of living without them seems unfathomable – unless such a convenience were to be replaced by a newer, bigger, better or more expensive version. We might happily step out of our comfort zone to keep up with the Joneses when we have the means.
It’s human nature to be fascinated by what seems like a remotely attainable aspiration, regardless of where we come from, how rich we are, or not, evidenced by the success of television shows and tabloids exploiting the lifestyles of the rich and famous. Let’s face it, those who have it all are envied. They set standards, styles and trends that are covered by media and emulated by admirers. They have the power to influence thoughts, actions and politics. They set an example for anyone who would like to be just like them.
The point is, anyone living in a big beautiful home at the top of a hill is influencing the masses, like it or not. What they do with their homes may have a greater impact than they think, whether or not they are aware of the incredible power they have to influence the world around them, both socially and environmentally. If they haven’t assessed their carbon footprint to forge a greener path for those who would like to follow in their footsteps, then is what they have really worthy of the envy they inspire?
Not so long ago I was awaiting the arrival of a lunch guest at a swanky golf resort clubhouse when I overheard two relaxed golfers conversing about their homes. One was in the middle of a remodel, obviously excited about his new solar panels and a host of other green improvements. He was clearly on the brink of making significantly positive lifestyle changes, and proud of it. The other listened intently until asked if he planned to upgrade his home, to which he replied, “Why should I? I can afford my $800 electric bills.” The conversation digressed into a chuckling banter with phrases like “tree-hugger” and “global warming crap.” I noticed that the more eco-minded of the two, obviously influenced by his friend’s contempt for all things green, began to downplay his green project. I was struck by the power of one to significantly dampen the enthusiasm of the other. Unfortunately, I missed the conclusion of their conversation because my lunch partner arrived.
I often wish I could have piped in with a few questions for the less-than-green golfer: Even if you can afford your electric bills, how can you afford not to go green? Isn’t the cost far greater in the long run than the “green” that comes out of our wallets? Shouldn’t everyone find a way to conserve our earth’s precious resources, if not for altruism, for self-preservation? Moreover, I truly wonder if he realizes the power he has to influence others. Wouldn’t it be more gratifying to use that influence to forge a more sustainable path for everyone’s benefit?
It is hard to ignore the groundswell of awareness festering beneath the surface of life-as-usual. Devastating ecological disasters, from unprecedented weather extremes to the recent catastrophic oil spill soiling the delicate eco-systems of the Gulf of Mexico are permeating national news. Policy makers and scientists are abuzz about climate change, deforestation, groundwater contamination, volatile organic compounds, health effects of pollution and overdependence on foreign oil, and yet, a majority of us seems to lack a sense of urgency. With everything we’re learning about potential consequences of our lifestyle choices, why is there still so much resistance toward changing the way we live? Are we waiting for an invitation?
Strangely, it occurred to me that the answer could be yes. Influence of those we admire is often the invitation we need. Not ironically, I’ve heard friends say they’d get solar panels if they could afford to, not always because they considered themselves green, or because they’d save money on electric bills each month. Rather, often it was a result of seeing their neighbors put up solar systems. Could it be that gleaming solar panels now rival a shiny new Ferrari as the ultimate neighborhood status symbol?
Peer pressure can be a very powerful force, so much so that respected social psychologists and behaviorists have devoted research to the topic. Dr. Robert Cialdini, a distinguished graduate research professor of social psychology at Arizona State University and author of bestselling book Influence: Psychology of Persuasion, co-authored studies examining the effects of social influence regarding decisions to conserve energy. One study titled “The Constructive, Deconstructive and Reconstructive Power of Social Norms” examined behavioral changes among utility customers who were given feedback about their utility use compared to that of their neighbors. Another, “A Room with a Viewpoint: Using Social Norms to Motivate Environmental Conservation in Hotels,” compared reactions of hotel guests asked to help conserve energy by reusing towels. Both studies concluded that, when given feedback indicating how one’s behavior measured up to that of others, people were more likely to respond to the energy conservation requests if their peers did. Luxury
Peer influence is gaining credibility in corporate boardrooms as well. Green Nurture, an Arizona-based consultancy firm offering corporate employers a software system designed to generate enthusiasm among employees about sustainable office practices, has seen a significant turn-around in offices striving for carbon neutrality. The basic premise includes setting up reward and recognition for employees that comply with company sustainability initiatives, which motivates change by offering some friendly competition and peer pressure.
Findings these studies and consultancies have in common are that effective leadership comes by way of example. Therefore, it is logical to ascertain that as people begin to really see the advantages of living sustainably by watching those they’d like to emulate, perhaps the greening trend will gain more traction.
I was curious about whether that phenomenon is at play in the business of green luxury homebuilding so I asked award-winning green architectural designer and builder, Doug Edwards of Edwards Design Group in Scottsdale, Arizona, whose first net-zero luxury home built in 1974 is still net-zero and contributing to the grid in Cave Creek, Arizona – and remains occupied by a very gratified homeowner. During the recent subprime market crash, when new homebuilding came to a screeching halt, Edwards’ green luxury homebuilding business remained more stable than their conventional counterparts. The economic downturn was also accompanied by an onslaught of media coverage about energy efficiency, followed by an unprecedented demand for green housing nationwide.According to Edwards, referrals have increased.
“New clients often call us after touring homes of their friends and learning that living sustainably doesn’t mean giving up luxury or diminishing their quality of life,” said Edwards, noting that he has recently received numerous calls from people requesting green renovations and additions. “Even subtle adjustments that can vastly reduce our environmental impact require no real sacrifice in lifestyle. In fact, the health benefits of a sustainable home can potentially improve the quality and duration of our lives.”
Edwards’ sustainable homes dot some of the most prestigious addresses in Beverly Hills, Malibu, Scottsdale and Sedona, and remain home to some of the country’s most admired personalities. His clients, for whom cost isn’t an issue, offer living proof that ultra-green homes can be as or more luxuriously satisfying than any palatial residence out there. So why isn’t every new home built sustainably?
“One reason more luxury homes aren’t built sustainably may have more to do with the builders than it does the homeowners,” noted Edwards, who explained that, until recently, building a sustainable, energy efficient home from the ground up required extra planning due to limited availability of materials, as well as additional work and increased expense that many builders have been reluctant to absorb. In recent years, the availability and cost of sustainable building materials and energy efficient elements has become more competitive, more closely aligned with their conventional counterparts.
“I believe that, given the choice with a solid set of facts to evaluate, most people would opt for a green home, even if it meant a slightly higher price,” said Edwards, acknowledging that the slightly higher price is actually a drop in the bucket for most of his clients, and with cost offsets such as lower utility bills and federal tax incentives, practically negligible. He explained that making clients aware of the tangible benefits of a carbon neutral lifestyle was key to guiding their decision to live in a sustainably built home. “When I speak with clients, they get excited by the notion that they can be part of the environmental solution. I think most people would willingly step out of their comfort zone if it meant they could set a positive example and feel as though they’re giving back.”
Achieving a sustainable lifestyle requires little more than a shift in consciousness – becoming aware of how our habits affect our families and neighbors with whom we share a planet, as well as a willingness to apply that awareness to our habitual way of living. We have a moral obligation to reset our standards to suit the environment, as opposed to upsetting nature to suit our standards. Of course, as more of us adopt sustainability, others are likely follow suit.
“I think people are beginning to realize that living sustainably is a matter of doing the right thing, not just for the environment but for the health and future well-being of our families,” said Edwards. “I’m convinced that the good feeling that comes from setting a positive example of environmental stewardship is a very powerful motivator.”
I’m convinced that watching others set a positive example is also a powerful motivator. We admire people doing the right thing. Invariably their actions have a ripple effect. As the demand for sustainable luxury increases, builders may be more apt to adhere to greener standards as well. Perhaps, as we see more high-end homes being built with sustainability in mind, other homeowners may become green with envy — the environmental kind — and inspired to follow in their neighbors’ carbon neutral footsteps. SB