Talking to Edward Norton, you can't deny his passion for the planet. The man knows his stuff -- and he should, since he serves as an ambassador for the United Nations' biodiversity program. He also co-founded Crowdrise, a social media-powered fundraising group for charities of all stripes.
You've done a lot to improve low-income housing. Is that an area where you can apply green initiatives and kill two birds with one stone?
Definitely. You can apply efficiency and sustainability standards to affordable housing, absolutely. And not only is it better for the environment, better for cities [and] better for the health of residents, but it actually proves to be very cost-efficient. Ultimately, the additional costs associated with doing things in a greener and sustainable way in affordable housing can usually get paid back by the savings from that efficiency within a couple of years.
Yet a lot of people still assume greener building practices are more expensive.
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Sometimes environmental values get associated with some sort of an elitist choice or a choice that's only available to people of a certain income level, and that's just absolutely not true.
What are some areas where people would assume it's more expensive to be more green?
Certain technologies cost more upfront, but as you start to project the operational cost of things not only do those costs get paid back, but over a long-term stretch there's actual savings and cost-efficiency in making more sustainable choices in the way that we do things. Smart businesses and smart governments are realizing this themselves and pursuing those efficiencies.
We recently talked to the founder of Pirate Bay, who suggested that younger people find green issues outdated and are more interested in problems of free speech.
I don't actually agree with that. I think we're continuing to see a broader and broader penetration of awareness and concern about ecological sustainability, lost biodiversity [and] climate change. I think it's one of the few things that is pervasive for all societies. Free speech issues, you can argue, are more important in some places than others. Environmental sustainability is equally important everywhere. So I don't see these issues on the fade at all.
In our Earth Day section, we write about a system designed to turn human waste into energy. Would you use it?
I think we're going to have to move decisively in that direction. We're going to have to look at solid waste energy as well as turning waste water and sewage waste to energy. And even beyond energy, I think water is going to be one of the pressing issues of the 21st and 22nd centuries.
If you look at a place like Singapore, they've already moved completely to where they're not only reusing their municipal sewage stream for irrigation and things like that, but it also contributes to the drinking water supply. So there's going to be a lot of jokes about it, but there's just no doubt that we're going to have to get better at closing the loop in all ways in terms of reusing our waste stream at every level.
What's this Crowdrise, anyway?
Crowdrise is Edward Norton's groundbreaking fundraising operation.
"It grew out of many years of having the experience of being involved in causes and realizing painfully that there were a lot of costs associated with fundraising," Norton says. "Sometimes you lose 40 percent of the money you had raised to the costs of producing the event or the dinner or whatever. The service we really want to bring first and foremost through Crowdrise was to give people a way, through these powerful online networking tools, to take ownership of these causes and have impact. But we also want to let the organizations achieve this kind of fundraising for costs that were fractional compared to traditional fundraising."