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Better Buildings: A Shared Mission

Rick Fedrizzi, President of the U.S. Green Building Council, illustrates our Nation's shift toward Better Buildings.

Editor's Note: This blog introduces readers to Rick Fedrizzi, President, CEO and Founding Chair of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC).

Things have changed in the building industry since 2008. Three years ago, the word "retrofit" was more likely to bring to mind Jack LaLanne than better homes and workplaces. Today, more and more people know that retrofits mean better buildings and better places to live and work. Soon, everyone will know.

What is causing this change? What is moving retrofits and better buildings from water cooler conversations amongst engineers to something worthy of nods of approval across the spectrum of Americans?

Certainly no single event, person, or organization has caused this groundswell of understanding, but examples of leadership abound. We've had President Clinton preach rolling up our sleeves and getting to work on retrofits. We've had the Empire State Building go green to save green and show everyone that it can be done anywhere, in any building. We've seen cities as different as New York City and Charlotte, N.C. take it upon themselves to go further in existing buildings in unique and creative ways. And most recently President Obama has demonstrated his commitment to the Green Building industry when he issued in October 2009 Executive Order 13514, which requires Federal agencies to move to green building practices. Since then we have seen agency after agency stand-up greener buildings. Also as part of the American Job Act, President Obama is making investments in Green schools by proposing a $25 billion investment in school infrastructure that will modernize at least 35,000 public schools. 

Here at the U.S. Green Building Council, we've seen an explosion in the number of existing buildings attaining LEED. We certified almost 20 times more existing buildings in 2010 than we did in 2007.

But potentially most impactful in the building industry has been the attention from the White House and President Obama. If you had asked me or anyone else in 2007 how many times the next President and Vice President would say "retrofit" in front of the entire nation, even the most optimistic of us would not have come close. People have lots to say about what goes on in Washington, D.C., but in this case our leaders got it right.

One agency in particular has been tasked with focusing all that attention: the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). CEQ has the thankless but crucially important job of coordinating the Departments of Energy, Agriculture, Labor, Education, Housing and Urban Development and the Environmental Protection Agency. No small task.

In homes, CEQ spearheaded the Recovery Through Retrofit initiative at the request of the Vice President's Middle Class Task Force, and is progressing in implementing the multi-pronged strategy to improve homes across the country. A home energy label, better trained workers, and access to financing are the deliverables in this ambitious plan.

In commercial buildings, CEQ is the lead on implementing the President's Better Buildings Initiative through a variety of programs at the Department of Energy and the Small Business Administration that look to cut energy bills by $40 billion (with a B) per year.

Nancy Sutley and her staff are doing yeoman's work behind the scenes to raise the profile of energy efficiency, retrofits, and green buildings broadly, and we are thrilled to award them our 2011 Leadership Award for Organizational Leadership in the Public Sector. While we know their efforts have had impact today in defining retrofits for the country, I'd venture to guess that we’ll value those impacts tenfold a decade from now. 

CEQ and the White House have managed to make retrofits real in the minds of so many Americans, and for that they are worthy recipients of the 2011 Leadership Award, given today at this year's Greenbuild International Conference & Expo in Toronto. But even beyond that, I'd like to personally thank them for so elegantly capturing the mission of the U.S. Green Building Council, our members and our community: Better Buildings. Enough said.

Rick Fedrizzi is President, CEO and Founding Chair of USGBC