Copenhagen and Eco-Tinis: Faux Green and the Real Thing

I stayed at the URBN Hotel in Shanghai recently, a carbon-neutral place that is very green. The recycled, reused woods are beautiful and they plant trees in Mongolia to offset the use of energy. Very sustainable. Very chic. Perhaps too chic. They serve Eco-Tinis at the GreenRoom bar at the URBN. It’s a “fresh-fruit” martini and you get one free if you buy one from 6PM to 8PM.

I’m not into fresh fruit martinis, only ones with olives, so it didn’t appeal. Nor did the smoking section in the lounge of the URBN. So in Asia, as in the US and Europe, we’re into an era of hype and compromise when it comes to sustainability. Green marketing is sometimes bigger than green values.

This was often the case in the winners of the many contests I observed in my swing through Singapore, China and Korea and in projects throughout the region. There is a very good and loud conversation about global warming and sustainability taking place in Asia. But the execution of truly sustainable projects and products is still spotty. Putting trees into vast new urban developments often qualified in contests as sustainable. OK. Building new eco-cities on old marshland qualified as sustainable. Hmmmm…. Making electric scooters and cars is defined as sustainable. I agree, but what about generating all that extra electricity from coal fired plants for those electric cars and scooters? Not so good.

At least the discussion in Asia about the tradeoffs between sacrificing for sustainability and living a decent life are perhaps more open and honest than the one taking place in the streets of Copenhagen and in the West in general. Opposition to wind farms off the coast of Nantucket because they may spoil the view appears to be sillier than debates in China over the tradeoffs between pollution and ending poverty.

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