New York City officials no doubt had the best of intentions last month when they rolled out an ambitious plan to create “the first environmentally sustainable 21st-Century city.” The proposal includes 127 projects and regulations to green up the city and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The proposals include huge capital projects, a surcharge on electricity to generate funds for retrofitting buildings with energy-efficient materials, a program to plant 1 million trees, and incentives for green roofs.
The city’s plan dwarfs the green efforts planned for and under way in many institutional and commercial organizations nationwide. But the individual steps are familiar to any manager who has been paying attention for the last five years. What also might be familiar to managers is the general response to the proposals, as well as one highly embarrassing revelation that left city officials red-faced — or in this case, green-faced.
The response the city’s green proposals depended on the commenter’s affiliation, but everyone seemed to have an opinion. These days, environmental friendliness is among the hottest topics going, so there is no shortage of suggestions.
Then the New York Daily News weighed in. But instead of an editorial relatively few probably would read, the paper ran a front-page article on the results of an investigation of the city government’s performance in terms of its energy use. The paper sent a team of reporters throughout the city’s five burroughs to do the easiest of investigations — check to see if the city is operating its office buildings energy efficiently. The article’s headline revealed the findings:
“Here’s a Bright Idea: Turn Out the Lights!”
Armed with data on energy costs per building, reporters told readers about how much the city could save by turning off more lights at night.
It’s not that easy to turn out lights, as managers know, and potential savings can be tricky to realize. The point here is that the public, by and large, only understands what it sees. But as awareness of environment problems grow, so will the awareness of customers, the public, and whoever else has a stake in the issue.
Organizations seen as too slow to protect the environment are likely to face the hardest questions. But managers in organizations that publicize their efforts to make their facilities and operations more environmentally might want to review what they’ve done — and haven’t done.
It looks as through the public is getting smarter by the day about these issues and starting to demand results, not just programs and promises.