The trend of “Going Green” has been a roller-coaster ride for the better part of the last decade. It came into fashion with Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth, then quickly receded during the financial crisis when it became “unaffordable”. Slowly, it has been on the rise again as leaders (see Pope and Climate Change and Obama Climate Change) have returned their attention to issues of the environment and setting new policies.

For many, the challenge has been understanding what “Green” is and how these new environmental policies will impact current costs. This focus on the immediate impact to bottom line expenses has driven much of the conversation for owners, businesses, stakeholders, and community. What has been lost in translation is why redirecting efforts on environmental objectives is advantageous. The broader vision of going green has been missed.

Going green is a matter of recognition that our current infrastructure is not sustainable. We have maximized capacity and are now experiencing a deterioration in quality and quantity of returns on investment. We must change our direction, from chasing dollars, to chasing dreams. Re-investment in infrastructure must occur at a foundation level. We can not just change the light bulbs and say we are “Green”.

Growing populations, increasing demands for food, water and housing are foundation level problems. Too easily they are glossed over for the “low-hanging fruit” immediate concerns over prices of energy, costs of repairs, and share prices, which secure votes and contracts at a growing cost to the public as a whole. The low-hanging fruit may be easy to pick, but without a plan and tools to pick the whole tree, this is a misleading harvest – is not sustainable, and less and less profitable. Instead, if we address the foundation level problem of how to manage our growth and continued prosperity as a society, we will realize more profitable opportunities in mapping a new direction that builds a stronger foundation and more sustainable future.

“Nature teaches more than she preaches,” wrote John Burroughs, which is often a prophetic quote in aftermath of natural disasters. (See Hurricane Sandy) The popular choice has been to ignore much of what nature teaches us. Our stance on making improvements that are more environmentally sound is based solely on “what does it cost us individually today” rather than “how will we profit collectively tomorrow?”  This is the crossroad where Green development now rests.

The challenge of development with environmental and sustainable policies should not be lead by government. Chasing tax credits and incentives to meet investor rates of return means there is no foundation to the project, it is being built on economic prowess, not environmental power. Moreover, the performance of the project does not take into account the future, which is Nature’s favorite lesson – we never know what the future holds. Creating sustainable jobs, buildings, businesses, cities, governments and economies depends on the commitment to fully go Green. By half-stepping, we are all just talking loud and saying nothing.

The future of going Green will be based on how well we address the foundation issues of every society. This requires addressing our infrastructure from a point of what the future holds. Why we go Green can not just be a “feel good” experience and it has to be about more than pollution. We have to look at the direction of our future with a desire for our environment to be more profitable. This does not mean taking more profits from our environment, it means letting our environment generate more profits for us through better innovation, better practices and better actions. We can not continue to expect that our future will change for the better if we do not start making a concerted effort to be more involved with our environmental responsibility. However, if we rebuild our infrastructure with a stronger foundation to handle Nature, the future will hold far greater profits and we will no longer need to be chasing green.