Dan Probst: Public/Private Cooperation for Sustainable Solutions

2011 stood out as a year when government and business organizations explored their shared goals on sustainability and realized that public-private partnerships and collaborative initiatives are frequently the most effective way to foster sustainable development. Many of these joint efforts will start to bear fruit in 2012.

One example: The launch of the Better Buildings Challenge in December. The public-private partnership component of President Obama’s Better Buildings Initiative, the Challenge is designed to spur private-sector investment in energy efficiency to reduce the cost of energy to business by $40 billion annually and create some 300,000 jobs. Sixty leading companies and non-government organizations have pledged to improve energy efficiency by 20 percent in buildings totaling 1.5 billion square feet, at a collective cost of $2 billion, matched by a $2 billion retrofit financing commitment by the federal government. Jones Lang LaSalle joined the Challenge with a commitment to work with owners on improvements at buildings totaling 98 million square feet over the next eight years.

The Challenge illustrates the alignment between business and government goals in seeking energy and carbon reduction. The White House describes its private-sector partners as organizations “committed to supporting innovative ideas with action, sharing their successes, and creating solutions for others to follow.”

Finding those solutions requires cooperation; for example, groups ranging from the World Economic Forum to Greenprint Foundation have called for changes to loan underwriting guidelines set by governmental bodies to facilitate financing of energy retrofits. More directly, U.S. states have found they can increase renewable energy installations at buildings by offering incentives that would make solar power cost-effective for owners within a relatively short period.

We serve government and business entities, and it’s clear that there is tremendous untapped synergy between the two groups in achieving energy and sustainability goals, particularly in the area of public-private partnerships. As just one of many examples, airports and other government entities often have surplus land that’s not suitable for development but could be leased to private companies for development as large solar energy installations.

Ultimately, government and business have a common cause in improving energy efficiency to reduce cost and carbon emissions while also spurring capital investment in properties and creating jobs. And, the two sides need help from each other to make progress on those goals.