Last week I had planned to write this editorial about young people and their burgeoning demand for green. I knew I would be attending the Youth Speaks! Green Mic event--a poetry slam competition in which teens and young adults voice their concerns for the environment using performance prose--and thought it would be a perfect segue to discuss how the younger generation will be asking for eco-friendly and energy-efficient homes when it's their time to buy. (If you don't believe me, check out this article about how Princeton Review is now rating colleges for green attributes.) But after attending this moving event (read our report on it here), I learned green is much more powerful than a marketing message.
I knew the Youth Speaks performances would be phenomenal. I'd seen the 2006 winner, George Watsky, bring down the house at Greenbuild last year, outshining keynoter and main attraction Bill Clinton. In fact, I was so moved by his poem, Carry the One, that it is taped to my office door. So I was eager to see what the kids would produce this year. I thought I would hear calls for solar power and hybrids and the like. I was wrong.
What I heard instead were passionate, emotionally charged cries for change that can only come from those living with or witnessing the least sustainable of conditions. Demands for change not rooted in the lofty tree-hugging goals that I am often accused of, and admit to, having.
"How can they expect us to save the trees," said one performer. "if we cannot even save ourselves?"
"The month-old meat on the grocery shelves is the only thing going green," said another.
"We've got a problem, and it's close to home," a young woman exclaimed while speaking from the perspective of a poor mother she'd met living near the border in Texas down the road from pollution-spewing factories. "My name is Rocky Duran. And God blessed you. I just thought I was America, too."
Vividly and creatively, many of the performers described what a poor environment--both atmospherically and socially--can mean for their present and futures. It painted a picture of how much sustainable living goes beyond expensive organic foods and wait-listed hybrid cars. How it all goes back to the roots of life and survival, family and community. How it's about enacting the changes--whether that be reducing smog or getting guns off the streets--that lead to better lives.
In my job, most days I look at green from a building perspective and on a grand scale--solar panels and waste recycling and high-performance HVAC systems. I do it all from a cozy office with stacks of beautiful case studies of modern custom homes. It wasn't until this event that I truly saw the heart--and the breadth--of this movement. That it's more than using canvas bags and trading in your gas-guzzler. It's about changing lifestyles so that all of us, in every neighborhood, can live longer and better.
Sustainable living shouldn't be a privilege for a lucky few. And it shouldn't be something we do only because it can build profits. I implore you to listen to the performances (click here) of these voices for change. It's a truly inspiring reminder of--or introduction to--what this all can really mean. And that it's not only about saving the planet, but about saving those who live on it, too.