Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton delivered a keynote speech right in tune with the audience of green building professionals at the U.S. Green Building Council’s Greenbuild conference in Philadelphia November 21. Wearing green (intentionally, she said, for the green audience) Clinton gave a talk that was tailored for those focused on sustainability, energy conservation, and generally thinking globally and acting locally.
Early in the talk, she noted that she and Bill Clinton had highly considered sustainability when they lived in the White House, undertaking a “greening of the White House” project in the mid-1990s that involved replacing windows and other building retrofits to save energy and water. Under her watch as Secretary of State, the U.S. State Department requiring LEED certification for all of its new embassies and consulates. “I decided we would call that Greening Diplomacy as part of an initiative we started at the State Department both to conserve resources, and to send a message to the world about America’s priorities and values,” she said.
She cited the recent Empire State Building green retrofit as a good example of what can be accomplished with existing infrastructure. “The [Empire State building] retrofit reduced its annual energy consumption by 38 percent, worth roughly $4.4 million a year. Afterwards, the owner of the building said, greater energy efficiency means higher profits, greater competitiveness, and a better result and a better bottom line for everyone involved,” she said.
Clinton was hopeful that USGBC’s goal of putting a green building in every community within a generation could happen quickly. “By 2015, the non-residential market for green construction is estimated to grow between $120 and 145 billion. The Council is committed to bringing green buildings to every community,” she said. “I’d like that even speeded up—maybe half a generation.”
Clinton noted three systemic needs to help stem climate change:
- Sustainability, energy efficiency, job creation, and climate issues all need to go hand-in-hand.
- Need to build coalitions to link the economy for economic opportunity
- Developing nations need to take responsibility
While her speech connected green policies and economic growth, it was largely not political. However, one could not listen to the talk without hearing cues of what a 2016 presidential campaign speech might be like. In her closing sentences, she made a point to emphasize the need to build strong domestically, and getting the U.S. on the right path, and those comments struck me as potential kernels for a 2016 campaign position in which she will need to gingerly distance herself from President Obama as well as Republicans she would potentially face. She closed her speech by saying: “Sustainability has to be a key goal for building strong at home again. Green builders are an integral part of getting the county on the right path to what Americans deserve.”
After Clinton’s prepared speech, she was seated with Rick Fedrizzi, President, CEO, and Founding Chair of U.S. Green Building Council, in a question-and-answer conversation. While USGBC is nonpartisan, it is safe to say that the majority of those in the audience were likely Clinton-friendly. Fedrizzi gushed to Clinton, “You can articulate our agenda better than anyone I have met.”
Clinton was far more candid in the conversation with Fedrizzi. Here is an excerpt, which was published on Real Clear Politics, of a portion of that chat in which Clinton brought up an anecdote about recent perceptions of the U.S. in the world: “We were in another one of these dramas in Washington—would we or would we not default on our debt? And all the business leaders wanted to talk to me about was, ‘was the United States going to default on its debt?’ And I kept saying, ‘Oh, of course not. We would never do that.’ And just hoping and praying that I was right. What I saw, in that incident, was bewilderment. Like, how could the United States do that to itself? Especially countries that believe in our model, really cherish our values, want to be moving more toward our example. Fast forward, this last time—as I talked to people around the world—there was a sense like, ‘if you guys can’t get your act together, we need to de-Americanize the world.’ Which was a phrase used by a high-ranking Chinese official. That is not good news for us. That is a very unfortunate conclusion. So we have to pull ourselves together. We have to stand up, solve our problems. Everybody is not going to get everything they want. We have to get back to good old fashioned compromise and we have to make those decisions that reassure America’s leadership at home and abroad.”
[all photos by John Czarnecki, Contract Editor in Chief]