Sustainability — Buzzword or Business Model

I am put off a bit by the constant caterwauling about sustainability. I get it. We need to be good stewards of our planet.  But is this our only goal in the parking business? The government has been financially motivating out public sector friends by requiring a certain amount of sustainability built into new facilities. No solar panels, no money.In some places, if you don’t hang plants on your garage, you are closed down.

The private sector has been touched, too.  Put in charging stations so people know you are ‘green.’  Signs everywhere. Park here, we are ‘green.’ Does this work. Probably.  No one wants to club a baby seal or watch a polar bear slowly sink into the abyss.

I’m not worried about the cost, and trust me, the price is dear. I’m just wondering if when the smog is cleared away, are we spending an inordinate amount of time on this project, to the detriment of our primary mission, parking cars.

Are we being good stewards of a tremendous resource, the spaces, public and private, that surround our homes and businesses. Are we balancing the energy we put into sustainability with the energy we put into our mission.

I believe that the marketplace will aid tremendously in sustainable activity. If replacing your lighting with florescent or LED will cut your power bill in half, then go for it. If putting solar collectors on the roof will flush power into the grid, be my guest. If parking guidance will bring more people into your garage but at the same time reduce emissions in the garage, have at it.

However if replacing motors in your elevators with those that generate electricity when they are off (the elevator is going down) but they cost 10 times the price of standard motors, then I wonder. If the carbon generated in the construction phase of high speed rail in California will take 70 years to be cancelled out by cars and planes taken out of service, then maybe its time to rethink the project.

If I am so distracted by my sustainability program that I have lost my focus on customer service, or my enforcement team, or ‘forget’ to adjust my rates this year then I need to check my priorities.

Parking is in reality a lot of small businesses that may be pulled together into larger units. Each parking garage has its own business model. Each has its own customers, issues, problems, and the like. Often small business doesn’t have the resources to spend converting to using algae as United Airlines did to power one flight.

Those of us in the parking business need to keep in mind that we are here to provide parking services to our customers. We need to provide it cleanly, efficiently, at an appropriate price, and so our customers return and enjoy our service.

“Enjoy?”  Yes, but that’s for another blog.

Sustainability must be a part of our mission, not our entire mission. I note that major corporations become ‘green’ when its profitable, as it should be. I also noticed that often we jump on a bandwagon, only to find that its going in the wrong direction, or maybe its not ready for prime time. We embrace technology for technology’s sake.

We are the “Star Trek” generation. If you can imagine it, it must be true. If a scientist can make something in a lab today, it can be on sale at Wal-Mart tomorrow. Few of us, and I include politicians, realize that the lead time from an idea to a commercially viable product can be decades. If Gene Roddenberry can imagine a phaser with enough power to vaporize an Abrams tank, then why can’t we have a battery that will drive a car 400 miles?  I saw it on TV. It must be true.

Our bosses and our leaders are pushing us to solve problems that 1)may not be problems; 2)may not be solvable by us; 3)may be solvable, but not today. We need to become skeptical of every new feature and fad.

I suggest we put some tests to changes we plan to make.

A. Does it make our product better or more cost effective?

B. Does it REALLY do what it says its going to do, in the long term?

C. Does my innate common sense tell me that this simply doesn’t do what its proponents say it will? Remember one definition of PhD is “piled higher and deeper.”

There are others but you get the drift. It was never good business to foul the air and water. Short term gain for long term pain. If the hoops we jump through to appear ‘green’ are just that, hoops.  Then what is the value?  Did we really solve a problem, or did we just fund the last new invention?

We are told that sustainability is not only here but has been and will continue to be everything. I wonder.

JVH

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