I’d never thought of Netflix as a green company until I heard Alex Steffen speak but, of course, it is. Netflix not only eliminates two trips to the video store (most likely car trips) to pick up and drop off a movie, but it also eliminates the store itself, with its attendant real estate, heating, cooling and lighting costs. So, of course, do movies on demand from your cable or phone company. “It’s an example of getting what we want (the experience of the movie) with a dramatically smaller footprint,” says Steffen, who is the editor of a new book called WorldChanging: A User’s Guide for the 21st Century (Abrams $37.50) and a website of the same name.
The book (at 596 pages) and the website are packed with so many ideas that I’ve barely scratched the surface, but Steffen’s message, which he delivered forcefully the other day at the World Resources Institute in Washington, is simple and worth hearing: It is that the world is in crisis, and that we need to rapidly and radically change the way we do business, politics and consumption to “imagine and design new models that can work for every person on earth.” The Worldchanging group focuses on solutions, not problems, some of which (like Netflix) are right before our eyes.
So is Flexcar, the fast-growing program that enables lots of people to share one vehicle. You tend to use your car very efficiently when you rent it by the hour. “Sharing things is one of the most effective ways to reduce our ecological footprint,” Steffen says. Did you know that the typical power drill in a suburban home home is used for only about 20 minutes in its lifetime? That’s a waste of manufacturing capacity, materials, energy to make the drill and, of course, money. “What we want is the hole, not the drill,” says Steffen. An entrepreneur with a truck could start tool-sharing business, or we could rent them out at public libraries or just get to know our neighbors better.
Another relevant fact: 12,000 people went to a green building conference this month. As my friend Joel Makower, who is a contributor to WorldChanging, writes: “The green building industry is coming of age. And with that maturity comes growth, profitability–and big, well-heeled players seeking to stake their claim.” There’s an interesting section in the WorldChanging book about Bedzed, an eco-friendly housing complex that turned a former sewage plant into a hip South London address were about 100 families live. There’s parking preference for shared cars, electric cars and bike baths; household energy use is said to be 90% below average.
Maybe the most encouraging thing about Steffen’s presentation was the audience–perhaps 50 people, with an average age of about 30. They’ll be the ones who turn these ideas into reality.