I knew a guy once who smoked cigars in self-satisfaction for years, but felt he had to give it up when stogies became became the latest fad — it was anathema to him to be seen as going along with a fad. I thought of that again yesterday, when a pal suggested he might not want a Prius because it has become a Yuppie status symbol.
But as I've noted before, the Prius works, strictly at the level of utility, even if it also has become a Yuppie symbol. I know I'm burning less fossil fuel by getting 45 mph, even if some people might think I'm a status seeker.
I raise this in the wake of the AIA show, where you could barely walk by two booths before seeing another sign pitching green. The Vinyl Institute touted "sustainable solutions," while another booth advertised "GREEN polished concrete," and Liquid Plastics wanted to tell people about green roofs.
In general, my default setting is jaundiced skepticism, but I did find that when I went beyond that to ask the exhibitors to explain themselves, many of them, like the Big Ass Fans guy, had a creditable reply. Revere Copper Products, whose sign crowed that "copper is the new green," pointed to that 95 percent of its raw material is recycled, which means no smelting. Fair enough, though I was a little less impressed when the fellow said copper has no VOCs. Neither does my dog, but you don't hear her boasting about it.
I met with reps from Georgia Pacific to learn about its paperless drywall. BFD, right? But it is the paper, and its glue, that feeds mold growth, giving the product a major health advantage. GP's Warren Barber, a persuasive fellow, also said that because it can withstand moisture, builders don't have to wait until the enclosure is complete before starting to drywall, saving weeks of construction time in large projects. This attribute is less green-related, but interesting nevertheless. Such savings, he said, could offset the product's 50 percent price premium, compared to regular drywall, allowing buyers to have the health advantage for the life of the building.
The booth for iLevel, the residential-wood-products division of Weyerhauser, was awash in green, but that owed to the corporation's decision to adopt green as its signature color long before green was cool. Its rep showed off a new, low-VOC, water-based adhesive, and several engineered-wood products that use wood chips and strands, reducing the need to fell forests.
Are these companies just in it for the fad? Who's to say? But the products, as long as they're offered, do offer green benefits regardless.
Is the faddishness going to go away, as fads do? (Had a cigar lately?) I don't think so, because the underlying fundamentals are very strong — unlike, say, in the tulip mania of 17th century Holland, when people offered outrageous sums for a single bulb, forgetting that it would produce but a single flower.
My opining is emboldened by what John Doerr, the venture capitalist icon who has made billions by betting correctly on where markets were headed, said in Cambridge last month: "Is this a green tech bubble? No, this is a green tech boom. … I can assure you there is underinvestment now."
He was just talking tech, but it's bigger than that, even if it is also a fad right now.