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Consider the various “green triumph” projects that are the subject of much analysis here at the Unbroken Window. Suppose folks accede to the simple findings that these projects rarely, if ever, pay for themselves on direct environmental or economic grounds.

But suppose you did a research paper that found that for certain institutions, investing in green elephants actually did provide an advertising benefit. It made potential students more aware of your school. Fine. No problem there.

But what happens when¬†everyone¬†invests in green elephants. Are all potential students made more aware of all potential schools? And when it comes to college admissions and quality, it is relative awareness and propensities to enroll that matter, particularly when schools are bumped up against capacity constraints (if not, then overall awareness increases will lead to overall higher enrollments, which are a “good” thing only if the marginal student is profitable to enroll and/or the societal benefits to that enrollment are large).

In other words, if you wish to argue that investing in a LEED building “pays for itself” in advertising, then you must also admit that arms races are socially and economically harmless. I don’t think that’s what green advocates mean when they make such claims.

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4 Responses to “When 1+1+1+1+ … = 0”

  1. warren meyer says:

    My son and I did the college tour last year. One day we were about to hear another information presentation, when my son said “this is where we here how they are unique in all the same ways as the other schools.”

  2. Harry says:

    Since when do “elite” colleges need advertising? Every high school, public or private, pays some guidance counselor to research US News, etc., and parents do their own research.

    • Harry says:

      Sorry for that curt comment. I did not mean to diminish WC’s much larger question, which invites all readers of this esteemed blog for their ideas.

  3. aarmlovi says:

    Wintercow is right; it’s much better that status races for individuals and brand-building/advertising for firms focus on symbols with positive consequences in order to minimize zero-sum outcomes and wasted opportunities for Pareto-improvements. E.g. chasing individual citation rankings by improving science, or advertising for Pepsi by funding cancer R&D, youth sports, community centers and so forth.

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