My basic principle is that you don’t make decisions because they are easy; you don’t make them because they are cheap; you don’t make them because they’re popular; you make them because they’re right.”
– Theodore Hesburgh
On Monday evening as part of the Hesburgh talk series, Laura Carlson spoke to students, faculty and community members on the psychological aspects of “Deciding to be Green”. While she certainly noted the need for environmental change, she was happy to admit her own not-so-green behaviors. The lack of a “holier than thou” attitude that so frequently accompanies environmental pitches was welcome and refreshing. She gave suggestions on how to be “True-Blue Green” but she seemed to be more interested in why we make these choices.
Quoting Theodore Hesburgh (for whom the Hesburgh talks are named), Carlson gave a simple formula to show how we make conscious decisions. When making these decisions, we ask ourselves four things: Is it easy? Is it cheap? Is it popular? And is it right? Based on how easy, cheap, popular and right we feel something is (or isn’t), we give each area a score of negative one to one. If the sum of all four components is positive, we will likely decide to complete the action, but if the sum is negative, we likely will not. So, in order to make greener decisions we must begin to change any possible negative values into positive values. How can we make it easier, cheaper, more popular, and more right to be green?
Most Goucher students would concur that the school makes a conscious effort to be green. The Princeton Review would certainly agree, as it ranked Goucher amongst 21 Colleges in its 2013 “Green Honor Role”. So how likely are students to make green decisions at Goucher? Let’s take a stereotypical example: recycling. At Goucher, recycling is certainly cheap, right, and popular. Some might argue about how easy it is to be green (the can labeling in Pearlstone could use a little work), but overall, Goucher students are fairly likely to make this “green decision.”
But, as some have pointed out, Goucher is a bit of a bubble. Sure, green decisions are pretty common at Goucher, but what about outside of Goucher? Do we live in a society that promotes these decisions or prevents them? Outside of Goucher, how easy are green decisions to make? Because in reality the decision is not to simply recycle or not to recycle; it’s whether or not to buy a more expensive hybrid, to take the time to replace all of your light bulbs, or to buy brands with a less than stellar environmental rating.
It takes effort to be “green;” it’s typically not easy. It requires doing research and making changes. Often times, it also takes money – smart cars cost more than gas-guzzlers, compact fluorescent light bulbs are pricier than incandescent ones. However, on a more positive note, green behavior is becoming more popular. While certain cashiers will roll their eyes when you belatedly mention that you have reusable bags, green actions are increasingly common in our society. Most importantly to Hesburgh, one point that cannot be argued is the fact that being green is right. Particular strategies can be argued for or against, but few people are able to deny that some effort needs to be made.
So what will it take to live in a green society? Ultimately there are two possibilities. One: society will have to change to make green decisions cheaper, easier, and more popular. Or two: the fact that it is right will have to violate Carlson’s equation and have a value greater than one to outweigh the other three.