Building Sector Will Drive Green Jobs and the Future of the Economy

"Progress is only reached by leadership. Leaders set new definitions and expectations. (They) raise the bar, and the market rises to meet it," noted Tim Cole, chair of the USGBC executive committee, at the 2010 Greenbuild International Conference & Expo closing plenary.

November 22, 2010
By Erika Schnitzer, Managing Editor, Multi-Housing News

CHICAGO – ”Progress is only reached by leadership. Leaders set new definitions and expectations. (They) raise the bar, and the market rises to meet it,” noted Tim Cole, chair of the USGBC executive committee, at the 2010 Greenbuild International Conference & Expo closing plenary.

With that in mind, the nation’s largest green building conference closed with the announcement of various leadership awards.

Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, who received the first Mayor Richard M. Daley Legacy Award for Global Leadership in Creating Sustainable Cities, noted that the best way to educate the public about green building is to lead by example. And with 400 green roof projects either completed or in the works throughout the city, Daley has done just that.

(Other winners included Skanska USA for organizational leadership in the private sector, the Recovery School District of New Orleans for organizational leadership in the public sector, Illinois State Representative Karen May for individual leadership in the public sector, the Syracuse Center for Excellence for organizational leadership in the NGO sector, and Richard Piacentini for Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens for individual leadership in the NGO sector.)

How do you attract people to your city? And how do you remain competitive in a global economy? Daley asked the audience. His answer: allow nature to coexist in the city by expediting permits for green homes, incentivizing rooftop rainwater collection and creating green jobs. But these were just a few of Mayor Daley’s initiatives; the ultimate goal, he said, is to convince more people to “become part of the solution—not part of the problem.”

But it’s not just local leaders who are leading by example. HUD (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) Secretary Shaun Donovan, remarked that energy, climate change and economics are extrinsically linked. “Green jobs are the future of the American economy, and the green building community will drive so much of that growth,” he pointed out.

The Recovery Act invested $90 billion investment in renewable energy, and more than 2 million smart meters have been installed in homes and businesses nationwide—with the goal of 18 million smart meters installed in total.

Nearly one-third of HUD’s $13.6 billion in Recovery Act funds is to be used for greening public and assisted housing, with 245,000 homes having already received energy-efficient improvements and 35,000 having received deep green retrofits.

A new initiative created for the Multifamily Green Retrofit Program, the Green Physical Condition Assessment tool analyzes the cost-effectiveness of green improvement and provides multifamily owners with a list of suggested improvements according to their budgets.

And the Green Refinance Plus program, a joint effort between FHA and Fannie Mae that is expected to launch next year, will allow owners of older affordable housing properties to be the first to go green in connection with refinancing their mortgages, allowing a typical development to be able to access a loan that is 5 percent larger.

While the Recovery Act has certainly helped to green some of the building sector, Donovan acknowledged that these funds alone are not enough. He called upon those in the private sector to assist in market transformation, which will start with better information.

The Recovery Act’s legacy, said Donovan, will be the lessons it has taught the public about how business needs to be done. Most importantly, sustainability should not be just about a one-time investment. HUD, for example, is raising the bar on energy standards in order to put affordable housing at the forefront of the residential sector.