What does green look like?

by Jim Merriam, Director of Efficiency Vermont

If your holiday travel plans this year take you through the Burlington airport, you may notice something a bit different.

Yes, the question, “What does green look like?” posed in large-scale throughout the airport may seem a bit unexpected – and its answer obvious – but I encourage you to join me in digging a bit deeper.

It’s not easy being green 

Compared to solar panels or a wind turbine, energy efficiency – literally the energy we are NOT using – is pretty much invisible. To most people a high efficiency boiler or dishwasher looks pretty much like any other boiler or dishwasher. A house that is insulated and air-sealed looks the same as the one across the street that bleeds heat all winter. The light produced by an LED bulb seems much the same as light from any other kind of bulb. 

That’s why, when people think about going “green,” they often go straight for renewable energy sources such as solar panels. While this is a great step, it is easy to forget that it takes a lot less energy to power and heat an efficient building, regardless of where that energy is coming from. Going one step further allows us to explore the big advantages of taking a blended approach to renewable energy and energy efficiency. For one thing, it is possible to power a home or business with fewer solar panels if you reduce electric usage by installing efficient appliances, lighting, and equipment – ensuring that your energy usage is clean, green, and smart all at the same time. 

In other words, when we focus on the obvious we may not always see what is important. In fact, where energy is concerned, we are surrounded with it every day and we still don’t usually notice it. And that’s why I find the signage at the airport - calling attention to a major energy efficiency success story – to be so exciting. 

Perception = priority 

As you can imagine, at Efficiency Vermont the “invisibility” of our work is a challenge that we encounter frequently. But I’ve given this some thought, and I think that it is actually a great opportunity. 

It first takes acknowledging that our lives, and our society as a whole, consume a massive amount of energy. So much that we usually take for granted what the flick of a light switch, a cozy room on a cold winter night, and a commute to work really mean in terms of energy. Ultimately, if we want to make an immediate and lasting difference, we need to build solutions in to our system that make it work better and help us minimize our impact on the planet every single minute of the day. Solutions that work without us even thinking about or noticing them. Solutions that are often invisible. 

Making an impact

So, while energy efficiency might not be at the top of your mind while you rush through the airport this year, I hope you’ll take a moment to think about the impact – and magnitude – of our energy use, and the energy necessary to power our lives every day. And realize that even when you can’t always see it, the solution might be staring you right in the face.

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