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Remarks of Secretary Julián Castro
Greenbuild International Conference and Expo
Wednesday, November 18, 2015
Washington, D.C.

As prepared for delivery

Good morning, Greenbuild! Thank you very much for that welcome, and for the chance to join you today. 

It takes a special group of folks to build a more sustainable tomorrow. It takes a very special group to do this work at 8 o'clock in the morning with so much enthusiasm. 

And only Greenbuild would dream of putting a HUD Secretary on the same agenda as the director of Titanic and the Terminator. This is clearly a gathering of out-of-the-box thinkers, and I'm honored to be with you this morning. 

My thanks to Rick Fedrizzi for his great leadership over the years. I know that Rick announced that he's stepping down as CEO of the U.S. Green Building Council at the end of the year. Although his business card will change, I know his commitment to this work never will. Thank you, Rick, for everything you've done for businesses and communities

I'd also like to thank the entire U.S. Green Building Council - President Roger Platt, the Board, the leadership and the members. And let me also commend everyone here for the work you're doing as architects, advocates, builders, and businesses.   

Not only do you innovate, you innovate with a purpose. And our entire nation is better off because of your efforts. Thank you very much.

Green Building: Blueprint for the Future

Two days ago, I was in New York City on HUD business. It was a hectic day with events and meetings all across town. But whenever I visit, I always take a moment to appreciate the uniqueness of New York and its architecture. 

As I walked through midtown, I took a second to look up and around, and there it was: that distinct New York skyline. Buildings large and small that represented commerce and culture, the past and the present - with each structure symbolizing a different time and serving a different purpose. 

It was a reminder that communities are what we make them. From big cities to small towns, buildings are more than just bricks and beams. They're products of ideas, imagination, and design. They're the result of planning that comes to life. 

And this planning always begins with a series of questions. How do we make this a home where families can build a life? How do we make this a commercial space that will support businesses? 

How do we ensure that this development is an asset to the surrounding neighborhood?

Thanks to the work you do, it's now clear that the answer to these questions is inclusive community development that values green building. Our world is changing faster than ever before. 

We're facing new economic and environmental challenges in this 21stcentury. And we've got to ensure that our communities meet these challenges head on. 

That's why your work is so important. Green building is reducing energy waste and water use. 

It's creating jobs and sparking economic growth. It's protecting the health of our children.  

Green building is not a slogan - it's a solution. It's an opportunity. And you have partners in HUD, and the entire Obama Administration, that are ready to expand opportunity with you.  

HUD: A History of Opportunity

Opportunity is what HUD's been about during our 50 years of existence. Back in 1965, Lyndon Johnson said he established HUD to help create "places where the good life is possible." That's a take on an Aristotle quote, although the President didn't cite him.

Lyndon Johnson didn't like quoting philosophers. He was a politician from Texas, something I used to be in my former life, and he liked using plain language. Once, when reviewing a speech his aide gave him, the President saw a quote from Aristotle, quickly crossed out his name, and then wrote in the words: "as my dear old daddy used to say."

That aside, the philosophy that guides HUD today is clear: housing is the center of a family's life, and we want to give every American the chance to secure a quality, affordable place to call home. And we want to ensure that opportunity doesn't stop at the front door - that means connecting folks with the jobs, schools, transit options, green spaces and other assets they need to thrive. 

HUD is more than just housing. We address basic needs like education, transportation and economic development. And we're also tackling emerging threats like climate change. 14 of the 15 warmest years on record have occurred in this century.

Our nation can't afford to waste time with silly debates about whether it's real or not - we need urgent action. That's why I formed HUD's first-ever Climate Council to create what we call "A Climate of Opportunity" that centers on three goals.

One, giving families the opportunity to live in a healthy environment. Two, ensuring folks have the opportunity to live in communities ready to deal with natural disasters. And three, expanding training opportunities so people can get jobs in the growing green industries you represent. 

HUD: Creating a Climate of Opportunity

Let me start with our work to protect the public health by making buildings more energy efficient. 

In the last three decades, the percentage of Americans with asthma has more than doubled. And many are from the vulnerable communities HUD serves - children, the elderly and families of modest means.  

These are Americans who're spending too many of their days in the emergency room instead of the classroom or their job. Families deserve better. That's why HUD is helping lead the expansion of President Obama's Better Buildings Challenge to the multifamily residential sector - an ambitious effort that joins with private industry to improve energy efficiency by 20% within a decade.

87 partners have pledged to meet this goal. Together, they control a portfolio of 400 million square feet and provide homes for 390,000 families. And that's just the start.

I'm proud to say that HUD also helped make another half-million homes greener and healthier since 2010. A few months ago I had the chance to see an example of this work in Denver, where the city has installed 10,000 solar panels on the roofs of over 650 public housing buildings. 

This state-of-the-art technology has reduced the housing authority's annual energy costs by 19%. 

Communities across the nation are seeing the same outcomes - so much so that we've blown past our earlier commitment to reach 100 MW of renewable energy in HUD-assisted housing, and tripled it to 300 MW.

And we're going to keep at it because the equation is simple: when we make homes healthier and more efficient, we do right by the families that live there, and we position them for a better tomorrow. 

The second step in creating a climate of opportunity is building resilient communities that are ready to withstand the extreme weather caused by climate change. It seems like every day brings a new headline about a drought, a wildfire, or a flood that has hurt a city or region.

Last month I visited the Breezy Point neighborhood of Queens, New York to mark the third anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, and heard firsthand how that storm wreaked havoc on people's lives. The folks there knew that it wasn't enough to build back to the way things were, they had to rebuild smarter, and stronger, and better. 

They also had to think differently about what it means to be resilient. It's more than just strong sea walls and basements that can withstand flooding. It also means strong communities that are working with a regional focus, and transportation networks that offer alternatives when one leg goes down. 

So we partnered with the Rockefeller Foundation to implement the $1 billion National Disaster Resilience Competition. It encourages communities that have experienced natural disasters to create their own systems for managing floods, wildfires, and more.

We'll announce the winners in January, but I can tell you now that every participant is already better off than when they started. Several have created new Resilience Offices to coordinate activities. Many have re-examined how they think about their own public investments. And all of them have engaged their citizens in a fact-based, forward-looking discussion about growing differently in the future.

This is happening in big cities, rural towns, tribal communities and colonias. 

Their work is creating a blueprint of the future, one that shows how to make investments that shape a more resilient tomorrow. And across all of HUD's initiatives, we're working with our local partners to make resiliency a key component of their planning process, not an afterthought. 

Communities can no longer afford to wait and react to extreme weather. They've got to prepare for it. 

And HUD stands ready to work with our partners today to master the challenges that will come tomorrow. 

The third step in creating a climate of opportunity is expanding economic opportunity. It's no secret that you represent exciting, new industries. This expo features countless cutting-edge products. 

New technologies to recapture and reuse water. New building materials that lower childhood asthma rates. Fast-moving lighting technology like LED systems, and so much more. And behind each product is a supply chain of economic activity. 

So when HUD invests in healthier communities, we know that we're benefiting both the bottom line and the common good. We're supporting industries like yours. And we're also giving folks the skills to succeed in these new fields. 

Earlier this year, we partnered with the Department of Energy to launch our SEED initiative. It's going to give thousands of public housing residents training in the energy and STEM fields so they can thrive in the job market of the present, and help lead these industries in the future.

It's truly special when all of this work comes together to make a difference. In April, I joined Mayor de Blasio in New York to launch what will-be the biggest public housing energy-savings program in the nation. 

This project will fund over $100 million in upgrades in nearly 300 developments. It will dramatically lower greenhouse emissions, save millions of dollars in energy costs, and produce over 500 jobs - many of which will be filled by residents of public housing. 

And New York isn't alone. We're seeing similar efforts across the nation - from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Yolo County, California, to right here in Washington, DC. And we're not going to stop until every community has access to the economic and environmental benefits that your work provides.


Long before the "green economy" was a coined phrase, there were many folks in this room who "got it."

You had a simple belief that building could be done better, that giving families healthier spaces to build their lives was the right thing to do, and good business.

Every person in this room has proven this belief was right. Many of you are among the "firsts" in your industry. You're trailblazers paving the way. And your movement has brought us to an incredible moment. 

Today, our nation now generates 20 times as much solar power as we did in 2008. Renewable energy generation is up 180 percent since President Obama took office. And buildings are now a vital part of the agenda in the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference.

Now, we've got to turn this moment into lasting change. That means telling those who continue to undermine this work that green means good health and more wealth. 

It means coming together at events like this to define new strategies and to develop strong partnerships. 

And it means continuing to do what you're so good at: building.

Building products. Building businesses. Building communities. And building a stronger America.

If we succeed in our mission, historians will look at this industry one day and rightfully say this:

You dreamt. You innovated. You built. And you helped secure our nation's place as the undisputed land of opportunity in the 21stcentury, and helped to make our planet safer, and stronger, and healthier. 

What a glorious legacy that is. Thank you very much.


Content Archived: March 17, 2017