Thursday, October 22, 2009

Green Is Brown

I owe the title of this post to Mike Rowe, host of the Discovery Channel show "Dirty Jobs." In his travels around the country looking for "the honest men and women who make civilized life possible for the rest of us," Rowe often meets sustainability entrepreneurs working hard at both large and small scale operations. Rowe's point with "green is brown" is that often the jobs he attempts with these entrepreneurs is a million miles from green and clean high tech or earth crunchy environmentalism. Many of the jobs in the "new green economy" are dirty, smelly, and hard--more like the trench work that was the foundation of the industrial revolution. Green is brown.

The show that premiered on Oct. 20, 2009 had a perfect example. Rowe re-visited a remarkable San Francisco recycling operation that has provided him material on two other occasions, when he showed how this firm is at the cutting edge of composting and of complete household recycling. In the Oct. 20 episode he helped the firm deconstruct porcelain toilets from a disused factory. The bowls and urinals were sent to a crusher that eventually broke them into three-inch chunks. Recycled porcelain can be used to make new porcelain items or added to macadam for roads.

But beyond the "green is brown" stinkiness of the job and Rowe's inevitable toilet jokes was an almost-hidden moment that shows how the new economy is working. The massive, complex, wholly impressive, and absolutely necessary three-inch crushing machine can eat porcelain, stone, and metal. Rowe casually mentioned that one of the engineers he was working with designed and built it--and there you have it: green is brown is problem solving is innovative engineering is the new industrial revolution.

—Martin Walls, Syracuse Center of Excellence

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