Retrofitting 50 million buildings in the United States, about 40 percent of the building stock, by 2020 to make them energy efficient would create 625,000 permanent jobs, John Podesta, CEO of the Center for American Progress, told CNBC.

“There’s probably a $500 billion investment that’s needed, but the vast majority has to come from the private sector,” Podesta added. “The government has a role to play in orienting policy toward getting the financing right.”

Additional Green Retrofitting Resources:

The Dollars and Sense of Green Retrofits

It is a study based on a survey of organizations or companies whose existing buildings underwent a green retrofitting. Participants were asked what motivated them to consider the projects and what influenced their decisions. Findings concluded that while savings from energy efficiency was a top goal, as cited by 75 percent of respondents, corporate environmental commitment was the leading motive. Another 75 percent of respondents reported improvement in employee health. One hundred percent of respondents experienced an increase in goodwill/brand equity.

A Policy Framework for Investment in Energy Efficiency Retrofits
Investments in building efficiency retrofits can simultaneously address the challenges of economic recovery, energy insecurity, and global warming by laying the foundation for sustained economic growth, driving demand in the construction and manufacturing sectors, and creating hundreds of thousands of good jobs across the country. Retrofitting our homes and businesses will also slash consumer energy expenditures, increase real estate values, and provide low-cost, near-term reductions in global warming pollution.

Today, buildings account for 70 percent of all U.S. electricity consumption and 40 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Yet much of our housing and building stock is old, inefficient, and unnecessarily wasteful. While building codes and green building standards offer a tool for achieving deep improvements in energy use for new buildings, half of the buildings that will be standing in 30 years already dot our landscape. Any strategy to capture the benefits of energy efficiency in our “built environment” must include a program to retrofit our existing stock of residential, commercial and industrial structures.

Deep building retrofits can cut energy use by 20 to 40 percent with proven techniques and off-the-shelf technologies. Best of all, they can pay for themselves from the energy they save. “Rebuilding America,” a national program to cut energy waste in buildings, could reduce energy bills economy-wide by hundreds of billions of dollars annually. Energy efficiency retrofits also create good local construction jobs across the country at a time when well over a million construction workers sit idle in a sagging housing market. Demand for the manufactured products needed to retrofit buildings will also result in jobs by revitalizing the manufacturing sector and contributing to sustainable, long-term economic growth.  Read the whole document at Center for American Progress

Recommended Green Career Resources:

SIX STRATEGIES TO FIND YOUR GREEN CAREER – This free ebook by Carol McClelland PhD is a step-by-step process helping green career seekers use their passions, interests, experience, and training to plug into the green economy.

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© 2009, Tracey de Morsella. All rights reserved. Do not republish.

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Author: Tracey de Morsella (323 Articles)

Tracey de Morsella started her career working as an editor for US Technology Magazine. She used that experience to launch Delaware Valley Network, a publication for professionals in the Greater Philadelphia area. Years later, she used the contacts and resources she acquired to work in executive search specializing in technical and diversity recruitment. She has conducted recruitment training seminars for Wachovia Bank, the Department of Interior and the US Postal Service. During this time, she also created a diversity portal called The Multicultural Advantage and published the Diversity Recruitment Advertising Toolkit, a directory of recruiting resources for human resources professionals. Her career and recruitment articles have appeared in numerous publications and web portals including Woman Engineer Magazine,, Job Search Channel, Workplace Diversity Magazine, Society for Human Resource Management web site, NSBE Engineering Magazine,, and Human Resource Consultants Association Newsletter. Her work with technology professionals drew her to pursuing training and work in web development, which led to a stint at Merrill Lynch as an Intranet Manager. In March, she decided to combine her technical and career management expertise with her passion for the environment, and with her husband, launched The Green Economy Post, a blog providing green career information and covering the impact of the environment, sustainable building, cleantech and renewable energy on the US economy. Her sustainability articles have appeared on Industrial Maintenance & Plant Operation, Chem.Info,FastCompany and CleanTechies.

  • Tom Coalson

    Let’s do it! It sounds like a terrific idea to me, but before we get started, we need to take a little bit closer look at the figures. According to Mr. Podesta, it will cost an average of $10K to do a “deep retrofit” on these 50 million existing buildings for a total of a $500 billion (with a “B”) price tag. As one who has been in the sustainable building industry for almost 40 years, I think he may be a little light in his figuring, at the very least by a factor of 5.
    If we were to anticipate an average cost of $50K per retrofit (a number I think is extremely conservative considering permit fees, architectural and engineering fees, the continually increasing cost of labor and material, etc.), the price tag jumps to $2.5 trillion (with a “T”). While the state of our economy has us using the “T” word more often, it should be fully understood that this is still a staggering sum. The only reason our government can use it so freely is that they are able to borrow great sums of money and when that’s not enough, they can print more.
    Don’t get me wrong: nothing would please me more than to see 50 million old and outdated buildings get the ‘deep retrofit’ Mr. Podesta envisions. But the pragmatic side of me doesn’t see this happening, at least not in the 11-year timeframe Mr. Podesta suggests. Here’s why:
    First, financial institutions aren’t lending. To anyone. For any reason. While Mr. Podesta thinks that some sort of government intervention might do the trick, he’s missing the point. Lending institutions are now following new federal guidelines regarding the amount of money they need to have on hand compared to the amount of money they can lend. They are under greater federal scrutiny due to the recent loss of confidence we have with banking institutions and their most recent exhibition of common sense being overruled by an inordinate amount of greed. As a result, unless those banking rules change, lending will probably remain as it is for the foreseeable future. No money, no building. Ask any of the owners of the dozens of abandoned projects across the country.
    Second, even though it makes sound financial sense for a company to invest in retrofits to their buildings, one needs to remember that the majority of these 50 million buildings are owned by holding companies and REIT’s, not the companies that occupy them. No matter what their cash position, most of these holding companies do not have enough money to rehabilitate their portfolios without some sort of financing (see #1 above) or government aid. Tax credits and incentives, as they are now, won’t be enough motivation. Nor will ROI. It’s a simple matter of cashflow, and cash reserves in a down economy. It’s also a matter of keeping investors and stockholders happy.
    Finally, renovating 50 million buildings in 11 years requires a completion rate of about 4.5 million buildings a year. Considering that reasonably large occupied buildings generally take a minimum of 9 months to rehab, one can begin to appreciate how Herculean an undertaking like this would be, especially since skilled labor in the construction trades is at an all-time low. This endeavor would be exponentially more ambitious than John Kennedy’s commitment to put a man on the Moon before the end of the decade.
    If Mr. Podesta has an Ace up his sleeve, I’d love to see it. I would also give my eyeteeth to be a part of an undertaking as monumental as this, no matter how small a part I would play. Unfortunately, what we don’t see in this article are any practical measures whereby we could even begin to reasonably discuss the logistics of such a venture. It’s a wonderful and extremely necessary dream, but a dream nonetheless. I would much rather see the time and money spent on this research put into a realistic effort that has a chance to bear much needed fruit.
    Respectfully submitted,
    Tom Coalson

  • hintonhumancapital

    I want this initiative to happen as possible but I see a few issues that need to be discussed and resolved before this program can really get underway.

    1. The actions of Unions need to be held in check. Their actions in California are driving up costs for Solar projects.
    2. There is a severe shortage of architecture and engineering professionals. Companies have used H1B in the past to get staff but immigration is a political hot potato. Don’t forget the security risks.

    My hope is that we can put as many people to work as possible
    .-= hintonhumancapital´s last blog ..4 Must Attend Conferences For Green Job Seekers =-.

  • Gary Dymski

    @Tom Coalson – Hey, Tom … without writing a dissertation, figure it this way: A California company did some research for the NAHB in January and came away with the same conclusion. Retrofitting pre-1970s homes could save tons of greenhouse emissions and create a new industry. By just upgrading INSULATION, replacing outdated HVAC and ELECTRICAL systems, and improving WINDOWS and DOORS, homeowners can save quite a bit on energy … works for commercial buildings, too. INSULATE, UPDATE and IMPROVE … I don’t know if there necessarily is a need for an architect, engineer, permits, etc. on every commercial job; I doubt it, in fact … The savings — and tax incentives — on small but efficient remodels can have a tremendous effect on the economy.
    In any event, all is good stuff …

  • John Turner

    Gary has a good simple reply which I support. Weatherization is helpful, especially where conditioned space is much different than outdoors in both temperature and humidity.

    I do tend to take the engineering approach, and would encourage duct testing, infrared, and more insulation for the first steps – improve the building envelope.
    Windows, shades and sunscreens should happen next.

    A study of energy usage for the type of building and comparison against base loads would be helpful. Getting plug loads off when not in use is great, and the use of efficient lights should be encouraged. Go Energy Star appliances, and plant a tree.

  • David Pendergraft

    Under normal construction industry conditions, I might agree that the scope of the challenge is mind boggling, but given the availablity of resources that might otherwise be dedicated to new construction and development that will sit idle over the next several quarters, it seems the time might be ideal to make a real dent in these opportunities in our urban centers. I believe the opportunities to leverage cash flow from reallocation of existing operating budgets on these properties as well as the existing available incentives, rebates and tax credits may not be as well understood and appreciated as might be. It would seem prudent to forecast hard cost cash flows, optimize available cash flow to fund acomprehensive program and implement everything that can be afforded for every existing property now while buying conditions are most favorable leaving the property well positioned for final upgrade implementation once additional capital and/or financing becomes available. The “low hanging fruit” that often offers the greatest benefit in energy savings (e.g. lighting upgrades) are generally among the most affordable of the various measures.

  • Dori Ellen Eden

    How many of you know that when retro-fitting a building, there are Federal tax benfits? Essentially, the Federal government is going to pay for this renovation! The benefit is up to $1.80 per square foot for energy efficient lighting, HVAC and building envelope. The great news? If you are an architect and you design public type buildings, the tax benenfit goes to you! You are allowed to amend tax returns too to take advantage of your projects as far back as 2006! Commercial property owners get the tax benefit for properties they own. This is hot stimulus that everyone needs to know about! Feel free to contact me with questions. 727 942-9292 Dori Ellen Eden

  • Tom Coalson

    David makes an excellent point. There is a prime opportunity right now to “make a real dent” in sustainable upgrades for existing buildings. What’s the method, however, of getting building owners to make the commitment? Podesta’s goals are laudable, but the scope is unrealistic. David’s approach is right on, but it requires buy-in from building owners. In the Denver area, the tax incentives are all well-known, the owners have been educated on the “low hanging fruit,” but there is still very little movement. I sit on the Denver NAIOP Green Education Committee and I can tell you that the 40 or so people that show up for our monthly series on how to turn a building green are contractors, architects, property managers, brokers, service providers and the like. Not a building owner in the lot. David’s right. There is a huge opportunity. But it’s still impossible to force owners to take advantage of it.

  • David Pendergraft

    You have to be able to show them how they can leverage cash flows from all sources to best effect to implement at the maximum pace based on that cash flow. It’s been done effectively on some huge programs to date and I intend to imulate those existing models using cash flows to either dictate the pace of implementation or calculate the capital funding requirement to support expedited implementation based on availability of capital. Hard to argue with cold logic and they will get it if you can convey it in that way.