Donald Trump

Election day 2016 in which Donald Trump was elected the 45th President of the United States and Republicans control both houses of Congress portends huge business opportunities for green building.

As the Executive and Legislative Branches look to arrest existing environmental and energy policies while driving up growth and lowering taxes, enabling voluntary green building is positioned to be part of the new agenda.

The newly elected President is not a 1960s Barry Goldwater environmentalist who favored “federal intervention with regards to the environment.” To the contrary, President elect Trump is a real estate developer who campaigned on dismantling much of the EPA and repealing executive orders on climate change (e.g., potentially including the Guiding Principles for Sustainable Federal Buildings) and rolling back regulations (e.g.,  power plant carbon emissions, non tidal wetlands, etc.).

That view is consistent with many elected conservatives and land owners who believe that a voluntary, non-mandatory approach to environmental protection is the best hope for stewardship of our planet. And that is the same belief that has led to the broad brand and wide market share acceptance of LEED. Many believe that burdening business and land owners with yet more government mandates is wrong and is not efficacious.

The broad failure of the International Green Construction Code to be enacted suggests a mandatory green building code that goes far beyond life safety is going too far. Further, the fact that ASHRAE 189.1 has only been implemented by the U.S. military is equally damning. Mandatory green codes and energy standards touted by the current Administration when Congress would not enact hyperbolic responses to climate change at the risk of changing our way of life, will not be popular with thought leaders in a Trump Administration.

Additionally, attempting to mandate that a private land owner must build a LEED or Green Globes certified structure misuses the voluntary rating systems. David Gottfried, the U.S. Green Building Council co-founder who unabashedly believes “all building should be green” said in a 2014 interview, “LEED was designed as a voluntary standard” acknowledging that “some governments have grabbed onto it.” And Jerry Yudelson, the former President of GBI (the Green Globes folks), makes clear he does not advocate mandatory green building laws for private building and he sees “a benefit of allowing the freedom of the marketplace to control this rapidly changing field, where performance counts.”

As the transition team for the newly elected President looks for environmental and energy policies that will be no cost to government and not burden business, the environmental industrial complex needs to advocate for government policies that allow and incentivize sustainability and green building (including the resultant reduced electricity use, savings in potable water, less solid waste, eliminating toxics, and more). It is time to stop the intolerant ridiculing of people, who are now in control of Congress and the White House, as climate change deniers (making it a moral issue equating them with Holocaust deniers). And it is time to reconsider the abject failure of the green building community to articulate the advantages of building sustainably that has resulted in green building no longer being the cool kid.

In its post Fedrizzi era, the USGBC might best advantage green building in the United States by being less partisan, including walking back Fedrezzi’s widely criticized Clinton Global Initiative commitment to construct a LEED Platinum orphanage in Haiti to be named the William Jefferson Clinton Children’s Center. And the USGBC might rethink its relationship with United Technologies when on the same day in April the two announced an overseas joint lecture series, Donald Trump was criticizing the company’s Carrier subsidiary for moving jobs overseas. The USGBC gave us the words and terms to describe green building and it is within its control to be great again and at the center of this awesome expansion of green building across the U.S.

But make no mistake, the green building industrial complex has its work cut out for it. In a now widely rewatched 2012 Squawk Box interview, Donald Trump did not have positive things to say about a friend’s green office building, including, “You won’t have enough light in the winter and you’re going to be extremely cold. In the summer you’re going to be sweating at your desk.”

But not only is green building a solution for many of the environmental impacts arising from human activity, from an economic perspective it is clear that green building is profitable. There is nothing wrong with making a profit while saving the planet, whether it needs to be saved or not. George Carlin famously quipped in one of his oft repeated comedy routines, “The planet is fine. People are fucked.”

Apparently the prospect of people moving to Canada drew so much online interest last Tuesday night as election returns favoring Donald Trump were announced, it knocked out the country’s immigration website. And while much of that was no doubt tongue in cheek, it was happening at that same time the President elect was delivering his election night speech, including describing as one of his initiatives for the first 100 days the $1 trillion reconstructing of America’s built environment from airports to roads. This election has presented an opportunity for the green building industry to thrive and be great again.

Green building policies that promote innovation and create an environment rich for investment in real estate can save both mankind and our current way of life; and we all can get wealthy from building green.