Obama Administration Gets Behind Green Buildings

At the U.S. Green Building Council’s government summit, CEO Rick Fedrizzi said more than 450 local governments, 35 state governments, 14 federal departments and agencies and “innumerable school districts” have financed 1.2 billion square feet in LEED space, a “five fold increase over three years ago.” The federal government can now be seen as “a co-founder of the green building movement.” Recently, this effort was given a major boost by President Obama, who announced his Better Buildings Initiative in his recent state of the union address. The Whitehouse says the President’s new buildings plan, which aims to improve energy efficiency, could result in $40 billion in energy savings.

The Obama administration seems serious on building energy efficiency, which it may view as a low-hanging fruit. Nancy Sutley, the President’s lead advisor on the environment and head of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), said buildings, homes, and factories account for 70 percent of energy use. “Just making buildings 20 percent more energy efficient could save $20 billion per year.” She said improved energy efficiency would also reduce air pollution and create new jobs and markets. Next steps on the Better Buildings Initiative include working with Congress to “create the incentives” and making “data about the costs and benefits of green buildings investments clear and accessible.” 

Within the federal government, Sutley said Executive Order 13514, the Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance is having an impact and federal agencies are now being measured in a “transparent way” on their performance in cutting greenhouse gas emissions. The order calls for federal building energy use to be reduced by 25 percent by 2020 and all federal buildings to be net-zero by 2030. Buildings must also improve water efficiency by 26 percent and reduce CO2 emissions by 28 percent by 2020.

Sutley also used the event to announce the upcoming launch of a new “Green Ribbon Schools” initiative. She said this was a key component of the President’s plan to “out-innovate, out-educate, and out-invest the rest of the world.” The green schools program will also serve as an investment in “creativity” given schools will be involved in their own sustainable redesigns.

Over in the military, sustainability also seems high on the agenda. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said by 2020 the navy will get at least 50 percent of its energy from non-fossil fuel sources. In addition, half of all bases will be net-zero. The U.S. is focused on climate and energy because its deeply connected with national security. “We rely too much on fossil fuels and it degrades out security and impacts our environment. Oil comes from volatile places.”

There has already been some innovation within the navy. One navy jet made a successful flight and another big navy ship runs well using biofuels. Soldiers are now bringing “roll-up solar blankets” with them on missions that can be unfurled to power up iPods and other electronics. “These save soldiers from carrying heavy batteries.” Lastly, many bases already have solar, wind, or geothermal power installations in place.

Image credit: High Tech Chula Vista High, Studio E Architects / Jim Brady Architectural Photography

One thought on “Obama Administration Gets Behind Green Buildings

  1. SK 05/18/2011 / 9:52 pm

    I am all for energy efficiency and green buildings, in fact a majority of my job it promoting such work. However, the author should consider the fact that LEED green building rating system does not necessarily mean a project is energy efficient. Yes, the project must meet a minimum of 14% greater efficiency that the local building code, but that is it. LEED promotes designs which consider many topics such as indoor air quality, material conservation, site adjacencies, etc, with energy as part of the equation. Other programs such as EPA’s EnergyStar or Passive Haus are more heavily focused on energy use and therefore are a better measure for this type of metrics.

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