Green Goes to the Drag Races

By Carl Molesworth | September 28, 2010

I suppose it's only natural, considering the little corner of the world where I live, that I've been noticing a distinctly green hue permeating life lately. And it seems to me the color is growing deeper and more vivid as time goes along.

In discussions of just about everything relating to the current culture, people are talking about ways to tread lighter on our planet. Last weekend I watched a panel discussion involving two restaurateurs who were talking about the lengths they go through to use locally grown natural food in their eateries.

On a more industrial level, I read a report on the latest meeting of the Northwest Energy Efficiency Taskforce, where energy and policy leaders were grappling with the question, "Is there a way to do things more efficiently than what we're doing today to accomplish more conservation for the Northwest?" Judging from the discussion at the meeting, the answer seems to be "yes."

Then last night I was watching a show on the Speed channel, the last place you might expect to see a green message. But there it was. The show took place at a drag strip, and three contestants were trying to guess the elapsed times it would take various cars to cover the quarter mile from a standing start. Whoever guessed closest to a car's time would win a couple of hundred bucks.

The first few cars were predictable drag machines — a big-block Chevelle, hemi Cuda, blown Mustang. Then a guy pulled up to the line in a car that was so unremarkable looking that I don't even recall what make it was. Each contestant got a chance to ask the driver a question about his car, and it soon was apparent that none of them had a clue what this car could do.

Why? Because the car was fitted with an electric motor. From the outside it looked like a standard drag machine: raked stance, big slicks, wheelie bars on the back. But there was nothing under the hood. Instead, the electric mill was mounted inside the car's cabin, hooked directly to the differential with no transmission. When one contestant asked the car's owner how much horsepower it had, he just shrugged his shoulders.

Then it was time to run the car. With just a mild hum from the engine, the car's slicks erupted in smoke for the burnout. The contestants looked at each other in amazement. Taking the green light, the car whizzed down the strip for a run in the low 12-second range. One of the contestants had guessed a time fairly close to the run, but she freely admitted it was just by luck.

Green Building

What does all this have to do with construction? Well, I'd say it shows how the rest of society is playing catch-up to an industry that has been in the forefront of the green revolution. While not many construction workers and company executives may view themselves as hard-core environmentalists, they contribute plenty to the greening of the planet as pioneers in the field of recycling and innovators in construction practices and sustainability.

Two organizations play a big role in promoting green practices in construction.

The U.S. Green Building Council is a nonprofit membership organization whose vision is a sustainable built environment within a generation. Since USGBC's founding in 1993, it has grown to more than 17,200 member companies and organizations and established a family of LEED green building certification systems; an expansive educational offering, the industry's Greenbuild International Conference and Expo; and a network of 79 local chapters, affiliates and organizing groups. For more information, visit

The mission of the Green Building Initiative, meanwhile, is to accelerate the adoption of building practices that result in energy-efficient, healthier and environmentally sustainable buildings by promoting credible and practical green building approaches. A not-for-profit education initiative, the GBI is supported by a broad cross section of organizations and individuals with an interest in residential and commercial construction. For more information, visit

I read a story in the newspaper recently that speculated the nation's recent economic problems could slow government efforts to deal with climate change and other environmental issues. That may be true, but I don't see that problem spreading to the construction field. Here, green practices such as recycling have taken hold because they pencil out. As long as green remains the color of money, it should have a place in the construction industry.