Sunday, August 30, 2009

Green Grants

Ok, there’s probably no grants specifically labeled ‘green.’ And admittedly, there’s not anything particularly new or fresh about the field of grant writing worth noting: It still involves long hours of research, tedious and meticulous fact checking, and (at least from the grant writer’s side) it’s a crap shoot.

What’s different now is that a window of opportunity for cleaning up pollution, promoting conservation, getting funds for new energy efficient devices, and getting monies to provide jobs helping our environment has opened wide at the same time lending by banks has tightened up. Recessions shake things up. This latest market crash, with the proliferation of stimulus monies in the form of grants, offers a chance for governments, institutions, and businesses that may not have had a previous environment focus to off-set some of their unsavory practices and policies by encouraging environmentally positive practices (clean-ups, studies, innovative designs that conserve energy, or retrofitting an existing facility to be more efficient) that make our environment and our economy more sustainable.

Another sea-change in the world of grants is that healthy attitudes towards our environmental, once mostly the bailiwick of non-profit groups, are now being supplanted by businesses. It’s not that the major environmental groups, dedicated for decades to compel governments and industries towards better environmental practices, have lost their clout to the almighty dollar. It’s that on the whole these groups have been successful alerting and demonstrating the urgency of the present environment crisis: the planet is warming up, pollution proliferates, and bad development is trashing what’s left of our verdant world. Most of those in government (now) and in business get it. Of course, advocating and rallying for the planet to clean up its act is probably not going to fall under the purview of the business sector any time soon. But, much of the implementation for a sustainable world will be accomplished by the market.

This doesn’t mean there’s a free-for-all out there: Grants, especially federal and state grants, have strings attached. Because they are usually reviewed by experts, often engineers, your request has got to make sense all the way down, from the moment of conception to the moment of implementation. You have to follow all the laws—local laws, conservation laws, laws of physics, economic laws, and the laws of common sense. And, you usually have to report on your progress all along the way. Someone’s not only holding your hand when you get a grant, they usually have a very firm grip.

But grants, because they can be shaped by what we’ve learned about our environment, instead of the reckless ‘invisible hand’ of the free market, offers an excellent alternative to influence peddling and bad practices. Monies provided though governments or foundations set up by businesses can reset the direction of those businesses hitherto only focused on profits for the shareholders. Grants, the way they are designed and implemented, offer an excellent way to infuse into our economy one of the crucial ingredients long since missing from it—the wise use of our resources.

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