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If You Green It...

It’s difficult to think of a skyscraper--the ultimate inanimate object--as having much to do with environmentalism. But the concept of green building has arrived--if not front and center in Washington, at least in the minds of a diverse coalition of green activists. As part of TNR TV’s series on contemporary environmentalism, this episode explores how the concept of sustainable design has leapt from the pages of glossy magazines like Vanity Fair to the long-term planning of corporations, real estate developers large and small, and an increasing number of everyday Americans.

Most surprising about the rise of green building is its rare, Wall Street-to-Main Street synergy, which acknowledges that, as Doug Gatlin of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) put it, green building is “good for business and good for the environment.”

Capital costs for green building are still somewhat elevated, but innovative schemes to make green building accessible are growing. This includes public housing projects like Melrose Commons in the Bronx, featured in this video, but also initiatives like those of the New York State Energy Research and Development Association, designed to train thousands more in the nuances of green building. Similar initiatives in education, government, and the private sector will rapidly accelerate the pace of innovation and the ability of businesses and homes to choose green. Further, deploying an army of energy auditors to small businesses and mixed-use real estate developers across the region will provide well-paying, high skilled employment opportunities.

As Carlton Brown and numerous others told me, in a bad economy--particularly one where real estate prices are in freefall and new construction is flatlining--worries about sustaining the jobs and economic productivity in this sector (again, 20 percent of American economic activity) are paramount. As if on cue, the USGBC recently rolled out a new set of standards and practices based on LEED, this time for existing buildings. Green jobs advocates aim to reduce emissions while providing family-sustaining employment; the USGBC’s recommended retrofits (for example, plugging leaks via weatherization, top-line insulation, and window treatments) offer the chance to do just that, keeping the trades humming even as the U.S. economy creeps toward recession.

Click here to watch Olopade's video exploring the efforts of environmental activists in the South Bronx trying to changer the color of "green." Click here to see Olopade's conversations with environmental activist Kate Gordon and policy specialist Bracken Hendricks as they discuss whether "green jobs" can actually help solve the current economic crisis.