I came across this term in reading about reef maintenance policies in Tuvalu, and I like the term. The concept is that the environmental policies be chosen so that there are "no regrets" about following the policy even if it turns out that the underlying environmental assumptions are wrong. These are policies that make sense for other reasons as well.
The classic examples are fluorescent lighting for businesses and CFLs for homes. At present, the commercial sector is converting from T12 to T8 lighting. This has some significant environmental benefits:
- T8 bulbs in a T12 housing save 10-15% on lighting power (and a corresponding amount on cooling demands.)
- T8 bulbs in a T8 fixture save another 10-15%.
- T8 bulbs contain half the mercury. (T12 bulbs were already greatly reduced mercury content.)
Since the T8 bulb costs only a little bit more, this is an obvious money saver as well. The bulbs last longer, and they come in a variety of lighting temperatures for different kinds of office environment. So you can justify them using operational, comfort, financial, and environmental reasons. And when it is time to replace the fixtures, the upgrade to T8 fixtures is similarly easy to justfiy.
The CFL is a similar saver for the home market with environmental savings, labor savings, trash reduction, and cost savings. There are issues with lighting flexibility for things like spot lights but it is easy to find many places where CFLs make sense. As with T8, current CFLs have highly reduced mercury levels. Assuming current US mix of fuel sources, the mercury emissions reductions from the coal burning eliminated by CFL power savings exceed the mercury contained in the CFL (per US EPA).
They both fit the "no regrets" policy description.
The other nice thing about "no regrets" is that it forces the analysis to leave the neo-religious environmentalist mindset. You need to consider other factors, like finances, comfort, utility, etc. This makes it necessary to start thinking "system" instead of religion. I've found that when you start thinking "system" you find many cost effective ways to improve the world without imposing the eco-religion on the world.
No regrets is an excellent approach to much of the response to the potential of global warming.