Along with delivering the keynote speech at the recent GreenBuild conference, held Nov. 7-9 in Chicago, in the past year, former U.S President Bill Clinton has announced several new partnerships to improve the energy efficiency of hundreds of millions of square feet of public and private real estate throughout the United States.

The former president used the GreenBuild conference to announce that his foundation's Clinton Climate Initiative (CCI) will help Chicago retrofit the Sears Tower and the Merchandise Mart, as well as privately owned housing around the city. He also announced at GreenBuild that CCI will help GE Real Estate identify and implement building retrofit projects across its global real estate portfolio, and that it will create a Green Schools Program to retrofit schools and universities across America in partnership with the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment (ACUPCC).

President Clinton said in a press release, “The tools we need to dramatically reduce our carbon emissions exist today. When it comes to climate change, the hurdles we face aren't technological, they're organizational, which is why my foundation is partnering with cities, businesses, nonprofits and schools alike to design systems and programs that reduce energy consumption.”

The partnership with GE Real Estate could have huge implications because the company is one of the world's largest commercial real estate firms, with more than $72 billion in assets and more than 385 million square feet in 31 countries throughout North America, Europe, Asia and Australia/New Zealand.

“The Clinton Climate Initiative and GE Real Estate share the view that improving the environmental performance of existing properties is essential toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions, increasing property efficiencies, positively impacting the health of tenants and thereby improving the value of our properties,” says Ron Pressman, president & CEO, GE Real Estate. “As one of the world's largest owners of commercial properties with thousands of buildings in our portfolio and more added each year, we believe we can make a significant, positive impact on the environment while benefiting our business.”

The CCI initiative was launched in August 2006 by the Clinton Foundation to apply a business-oriented approach to the fight against climate change in practical, measurable and significant ways. As part of its first phase, CCI started working with cities around the world to accelerate efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia and Toronto are the North American cities now participating in the Energy Efficiency Building Retrofit Program, which was launched in May 2007. This program brings together eight of the world's largest energy-service companies (ESCOs), five of the world's largest banks, and 17 of the world's largest cities to reduce energy consumption in existing buildings. The program provides cities and their private building owners with access to funds to retrofit existing buildings with more energy-efficient products.

The four largest energy service companies in the world — Honeywell, Johnson Controls, Siemens and Trane — have agreed to scale up their capacity to perform building retrofits in participating cities. They also have agreed to provide performance contracts to financially guarantee the energy savings that will result from their retrofit projects. Five major global financial institutions — ABN AMRO, Citi, Deutsche Bank, JPMorgan Chase and UBS — have agreed to finance the first generation of retrofit projects. Backed by this financing, cities and private building owners will be able to do audits and retrofits of their buildings at no net cost, with paybacks for the bank loans plus interest coming from the energy savings that retrofit projects achieve over several years. These banks have each committed to arrange $1 billion for this effort for a total pool of $5 billion, which will more than double the total global market for energy-saving retrofits in buildings.

Also part of the CCI is a purchasing consortium involving 25 manufacturers of energy-efficient products, including indoor lighting, clean vehicles, traffic, highway and street lighting, a wide assortment of building products and waste management technologies. Participating electrical manufacturers include GE, Philips Lighting, Cooper Lighting, Osram Sylvania, Acuity Lighting, and LED manufacturers Dialight, Lemnis Lighting and Leotek.

Participating cities will have access to hundreds of individual products that reduce energy consumption in buildings, decrease fuel consumption and pollution by vehicles and capture and convert landfill methane into electricity. These and additional products will be offered to interested municipal governments at discounted prices ranging from 5 percent to 15 percent below current levels for commodity items and from 15 to 70 percent below current levels for non-commodity items.

A big player in the CCI is Wal-Mart. According to the Clinton Foundation, the company is one of the largest private sector purchasers of green technologies. CCI and Wal-Mart will use their combined purchasing resources to further drive down the prices of green technologies. Additionally, CCI and Wal-Mart will work together to identify and examine new energy-efficient products, such as LED parking lot lights and best-in-class HVAC systems, and new methods to procure and utilize clean energy, such as solar power.

“This shows what can be achieved when business, government and the non-profit sector work together on some of the biggest challenges facing the world today,” says Lee Scott, president and CEO of Wal-Mart. “By combining our resources, we can help drive innovation, create new technology markets and ultimately reduce this country's dependence on foreign oil.”

Greenbuild Attracts 22,000-Plus to Learn Energy-Efficient Design and Construction

Although many attendees fumed during the hour-long wait in the registration lines that snaked through the cavernous McCormick West Building at the U.S. Green Building Council's GreenBuild, held Nov. 7-9 in Chicago, when they finally got their registration badges they could feast on an enormous banquet of information to help them design and build energy-efficient buildings.

Dozens of seminars, more than 800 exhibits and a keynote address by former U.S. President Bill Clinton were the highlights of the three-day event in Chicago's 823,000-square-foot McCormick West Building, billed as one of the greenest new construction projects in the United States. Clinton's address to a standing-room-only crowd estimated at more than 8,000 drew loud cheers and applause that made the event seem more like a political campaign rally than a trade show and conference dedicated to energy-efficient building design and construction.

Clinton was always known as a supporter of environmental causes during his presidency, and his William J. Clinton Foundation has been keeping that issue front and center over the past year with the launch of several initiatives aimed at providing financial backing for businesses and local governments in their efforts to cut energy use and reduce carbon emissions.

His foundation's efforts are based on the premise that the green movement now makes good business sense in addition to being good for the environment. “This is the biggest economic opportunity that our country has had to mobilize and democratize economic opportunity since World War II,” he said.

Seats were reportedly tough to find at some of the GreenBuild seminars, and the aisles of the trade show were packed with attendees talking with vendors selling energy-efficient products, including recycled commercial carpeting, environmentally friendly paint and “green roof” products such as interlocking containers for growing rooftop gardens. On the electrical side, vendors included Acuity Brands, Advance Transformer, Cooper Industries, Osram Sylvania, Philips Lighting and WattStopper/Legrand.

The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building rating system was a hot topic of conversation in seminars and on the show floor. While some architects and designers criticize the cumbersome LEED standards, they seem to be quickly gaining acceptance in the design and construction communities for the development of many types of commercial buildings. One notable exception so far seems to be K-12 schools, and Rick Fedrizzi, USGBC's CEO, president, founder and biggest cheerleader, jokingly reported at the open session that there are more LEED-certified prisons right now than LEED-certified schools. The 2008 GreenBuild International Conference will be held Nov. 19-21 in Boston.