It Seems to Be Greener on the

Vicne Bailey

December 2007

I confess: I have a hard time mustering any serious degree of concern when Al Gore warns us that the polar ice cap is melting at an alarming rate. I’ll start worrying when there’s no ice for my bourbon-and-seven on Friday evenings. And inane discussions on the Oprah show about how tissue-thrifty Sheryl Crow can be at one sitting leave me nauseous.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not what you might call anti-environment. I don’t think anybody really relishes the notion of poisoning his own surroundings. However, as a commercial drywall estimator, I am very suspicious of any kind of politically motivated scheme that skews the true value of my proposals. And when I was confronted on a recent prospective job with a questionnaire concerning how green my approach was, my BS indicator started to hum.

The questions at first seemed to me to range from silly to ridiculous. What was the recycled content of the products I proposed to use? (Who knows? Who cares?) How would my waste be disposed of? (Duh—in the Dumpster, of course!) Would any of the products have to be transported more than 150 miles? (No kidding; drywall doesn’t grow in your backyard!) But then it occurred to me that these issues had a certain significant value to the owner and designer—a value to which I was at a loss to assign a dollar cost.

It seems this green requirement was adding yet another layer of obscurity over the whole process of preparing a proposal. My dilemma was this: Should I abandon the products and suppliers I had marshaled in the past and take a less competitive tack in favor of scoring "greenie points?” Should I retain my competitive edge and offer green products as a value-added option? Should I withdraw from the process entirely and opt out of playing the game with a handful of leftist loonies?

And this is the heart of the matter: Estimators have a difficult time placing a value on green concerns because there is no substance to the issue. There are no widely accepted standards, no proven benefits, no long-term studies, no real hard science. When you get right down to it, the whole green building trend is intuitively based on the politics of alarmism. I personally find it distasteful to allocate precious time and effort to a number of line items to satisfy someone’s Chicken Little mentality.

In the particular instance of my recent proposal, no clear-cut guide was provided, and participation was more or less voluntary. I ignored the questionnaire, and I actually got the job (my competitors probably loaded up the bottom line to pander to the owner’s eccentricity). But reading the writing on the wallboard, my real concern is with the future: Will this near-hysterical mania over green building engender a new wave of government-mandated regulations that will stifle the free market element that is the lifeblood of our business? I find the threat that the specter of a green bureaucracy poses to our industry a much more alarming (and more realistic) proposition than the thought of balmy resort beaches on the Greenland coast.

I suppose only time will tell if this current obsession will pass like a balloon over-inflated with greenhouse gas. But in the meantime, I’ll keep a watchful eye on the environmental movement and its green building progeny. Not that I’m a cynic, mind you … only a healthy skeptic. V About the Author
Vince Bailey is an estimator/operations manager for San Juan Insulation and Drywall, Durango, Colo.