'Greening the White House' redux

August 11, 2010

Ten years ago, on April 21, 1993, President Clinton picked Earth Day to announce that 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue would soon be transformed into "a model for [energy] efficiency and waste reduction." The Greening of the White House is now recognized as one of the signal events in the history of the sustainability movement. The current occupant of the Presidential mansion should use Earth Day 2004 to make an even more dramatic announcement.

Next April 22nd, it would behoove the President to tell the world that he will sponsor a White House Summit on Green Building before the election.

Sounds absurd, doesn't it? George W. Bush, second-generation oilman, transformed into George W. Bush, environmental advocate? It does sound bizarre, but allow me to show why this scheme could work, and why it would be the most effective way to raise the green building movement to new heights.

The lead organization for sustainable development, the U.S. Green Building Council, has reached a critical point as it begins its second decade. To its great credit, the USGBC has grown at an astonishing rate, but it is still supported largely by environmental groups, foundations, government agencies, and professional firms.

To reach the hard-core unconverted — the real estate brokers, the property insurers, the appraisers, the REITs, the speculative developers, the mainstream construction industry, the bulk of which have been reluctant to buy in to sustainable development — the USGBC needs to conceal its message of "market transformation" under the cloak of a conservative pro-business ethos. Who better to don that mantle than the President himself?

But, you protest, the President would never allow himself to be co-opted by the environmentalists. I disagree. In the sometimes upside-down world of American politics, a conservative president could easily see this as the perfect opportunity to dilute criticism of his environmental record, especially in an election year.

History has shown this to be the case. Was it not that arch-anti-Communist Richard Nixon who opened the door to Maoist China? Was it not the liberal Bill Clinton who instituted mandatory work rules for welfare recipients? Mr. Bush himself knows the game, having stolen the Medicare drugs issue from the Democrats.

Again, you protest: Would not the USGBC and its allies risk losing control of the White House Summit to corporate interests? Possibly. But the opportunity to engage the hard-core opponents of green building under the auspices of the White House would outweigh that risk. Moreover, the White House Summit would surely serve to attract those who thus far have shunned the green building movement.

Notice to our readers: Please join us 1-2 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 13, at Greenbuild 2003 for a discussion of the White Paper on Sustainability. To order extra copies, e-mail Elaine Dagons, edagons@reedbusiness.com.


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