I had been avoiding the movie Food Inc for a while. I’ve seen lots of animal rights movies: they are depressing. They make me angry because of the barbarity and frustrated because I feel helpless.

But one evening I was feeling especially brave. It turns out the movie is UPLIFTING!

Sure it jumps all over the place and only touches the surface, sort of like a Michael Moore movie, but unlike his movies Food Inc does not play on your emotions as much. It offers a more even keel and talks to you like a mature adult instead of just trying to get your heart strings and as such made a bigger impression on me.

Of course I looked at it from the perspective of a Brooklyn green builder because it doesn’t matter if you are an organic farmer, a human/animal rights activist, or a green builder. All of us are striving for the same thing: to regain the balance between nature and people.

And here is what I got.

One green farmer said that big corporations and the US culture in general is obsessed with the HOW and not the WHY.

HOW do we make fatter, cheaper, faster meat? That is what the meat industry wants to know. But a holistic farmer isn’t only interested in how, but WHY. Why do we grow what we grow. It is subtle.

Let me explain it in the context of what I know since this is something I come across again and again in our green renovations of Brooklyn brownstones.

A normal builder wants to know how fast it will take to build, how much it will cost and how much they can profit. How do we streamline the process to speed it up, reduce costs and increase profits? How is the question.

But a green builder asks WHY, as do the organic farmer and human rights activist.

This is the person who stood up and asked, “Wait a minute! Why are we fighting in Vietnam?”
Why can’t blacks eat in that restaurant.
And for me, why do normal builders build the way they build.

It is the voice of logic that stands back a moment and looks at the big picture.

So while food corporations are seeing how they can stuff more corn into cows to make them fatter and more profitable, organic farmers are asking why cows are being fed corn in the first place since it is not a natural food for them.

Likewise as a Brooklyn green contractor my first question to a client is, yes you guessed it, “Why?”

Why do you want to green renovate your brownstone? Not how. What is the driving force behind the desire? This is not a question you want to ask if your sole motive if profit because you might talk them out of renovating!

But a green builder is not only driven by profit. They, from my perspective, are driven by a holistic view or People, Planet, Profit. And you can’t satisfy those three criteria unless you know the driving force behind the renovation. The why.

If the why is not for the right reasons then you will not be able to satisfy People, Planet, Profit and the green renovation should not happen or needs to change its scope.

HOW is easy. Robots can do the HOW for you. Just make the assembly line more efficient. How to renovate a green brownstone is simple. Soon enough they will publish the Idiots Guide to Doing a Green Brownstone Renovation. That answers the how but not the why. And yes, idiots will buy it.

But WHY, that is a whole different story. You can’t have humanity without WHY. HOW can easily exist without humanity.

Look at it this way. Ask a large corporation like Monsanto WHY they do what they do and they will answer, “To make more money.” Fair enough, that’s capitalism.

Ask them WHY they want to make more money and they will give some answer about meeting shareholder needs. Ask why they must meet shareholder needs and the answer is something about the shareholders owning the company…..the questions go on and on in a self fabricated world.

It is like the circular argument of the bible. Why is the bible holy? Because it is the voice of god.  And who says the that? Uh, the people who wrote the bible….Hmm….OK…..

If you don’t buy into it the whole logic comes tumbling down.

Ultimately the people at Monsanto don’t want to cause harm. But the way the system is set up they do. And in fact they keep having to invent solutions to the previous solutions that became problems. They are so locked in that there is no longer room for asking why.

A more subtle variation of this is also something we come across a lot as Brooklyn green contractors. Our job site might look like any job site (sometimes) but the WHY is totally different. We might be doing something on the job site because we’ve decided it is the best way to satisfy our People, Planet, Profit criteria. WHY we are doing is very different than a normal simple for profit company.

The movie Food Inc asks why. Why do we farm the way we do? The answers make us look pretty stupid. Why would we create such environmental pollution, animal cruelty, sickness and poverty? Certainly not because anyone wants that.

The answer is in the system. If you set up a machine to make donuts, odds are it will make donuts. We’ve set up a system to make money. It does that very well.

As Brooklyn green contractors we have set up a company to turn Brooklyn green along the People, Planet, Profit guidelines. Odds are we will do that, whether we like it or not actually. Write it into the system and it will lock you in.

That is why the WHY is so damn important. Why do we want to turn Brooklyn green? If we don’t have a good answer we are going to be very unhappy once we get what we want.

I think capitalism needs to ask why more often. Why do we even have capitalism? Was it to have more leisure time? A better income? More things? Maybe. Or maybe that was just the carrot we all wanted to believe in. Maybe we have capitalism because it was founded on immature greed. Maybe if we had been more honest we would see that capitalism is the manifestation of us being spoiled little brats.

Would a mature and grounded person wake up one day and say, “I want capitalism”?

Food Inc, in my eyes would say no.