Last week I had the opportunity to visit Capitol Hill as part of a congressional advocacy visit with my colleague Theresa Lehman. Theresa is our Director of Sustainable Services. She is a leader in the industry and is extremely well-versed in sustainability.
We went to D.C. to meet with the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), congressional and Senate leaders to advocate for, and promote, the benefits of high performance sustainable buildings. In preparation for the meeting I spent a lot of time thinking about the construction industry over the last few years and what the “Great Recession” has done to our industry.
It’s no surprise that commercial construction spending is down as people tighten their belts and focus on saving rather than spending. This trend has caused the construction industry to dip and jobs in the industry have suffered as a result. A natural reaction to this might be one of hopelessness. On the flip side, we see it as a great opportunity for change.
In 2009, Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. This Act was in direct response to the economic crisis and was developed to create new jobs, spur the economy through economic development and allow for transparency of government spending for consumers. This Act has had a direct effect on our business by providing our clients with the necessary financing mechanism to get their projects off the ground. The other key component to this is that spending has been used to build greener buildings and create new jobs in the sustainability sector.
Commercial buildings account for 38 percent of CO2 emissions in the United States (source: USGBC 2007). As a commercial contractor, we feel responsible to do our part to reduce these emissions through sustainable renovations and new construction. When most people think of green, they think of alternative energy solutions such as wind and solar. While these are great examples of ways to reduce your carbon footprint, there are numerous other ways that aren’t quite as prominent. For example, energy efficient windows, mechanical systems and lighting are great ways for companies to reduce energy consumption. There are also government incentives to help offset costs associated with these renovations.
Not only does reducing carbon emissions benefit the environment, but it positively impacts our health as well. By building greener buildings and focusing on the environment, we are helping to keep people healthy in the buildings in which they spend a significant amount of time. We have heard stories of teachers who are able to stop taking their allergy and asthma medications, and of students missing fewer days of school due to sickness as a result of healthier indoor environments.
Overall, the trip to D.C. was a success, but I think the real successes are illustrated in the stories of the people who directly benefit from environmentally-friendly buildings. The focus is to make our world a healthier place in which to live and work and when our government recognizes that goal and supports our efforts, everyone wins.