Remarks of Secretary Shaun Donovan at the 2013 Greenbuild International Conference and Expo

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Friday, November 22, 2013

As prepared for delivery

Thank you very much, Roger (Platt), for that kind introduction.

Let me also thank the U.S. Green Building Council for its 20 years of leadership in transforming industries and communities. Finally, I'd like to thank all of you in the audience.

As my former colleague, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, reminded us last night, the work you do as architects, entrepreneurs, scientists and developers is leading to healthier economies, healthier families and a healthier planet.

Now, I can't claim to have greened the White House, but I can tell you that HUD headquarters is currently undergoing a $30 million dollar energy efficiency renovation. It's not costing taxpayers a dime because we're using innovative techniques that capitalize on the energy savings.

So I'm practicing this in my home just as you are. And it's a pleasure to be here this morning to talk about building on this progress.

The Urgency of the Moment

We gather here today at an important moment for the global community. We all know we've got to act now to combat climate change and prepare our communities for tomorrow.

I know that all of you in the green building community are committed to meeting this challenge. And so is President Obama. As he said in his Inaugural Address, we must "respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that failure to do so would betray our children and future generations."

And under his leadership, the U.S. generates more renewable energy than ever; has doubled its use of wind, solar and geothermal; and raised fuel standards so that by the middle of the next decade, cars will get double the mileage per gallon of gas.

In my own department-which is charged with building decent housing and a suitable living environment for every American-we have worked tirelessly to advance this agenda. For example, we partnered with the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency to create the Partnership for Sustainable Communities.

In just a few short years, we've provided planning grants to communities that are home to nearly a half of the American people - helping them meet their housing, transportation, economic development and energy goals.

In total, the Obama administration's work is making a real difference. Despite loud voices of opposition, carbon emissions in the United States are at their lowest levels in two decades.

And as the President points out, as we've been reducing our carbon footprint, the U.S. economy has been growing. Businesses have created nearly 8 million new jobs over the last 44 months - proving that those who say helping the environment hurts the economy are presenting a false choice.

As you show every day, we can do both. And that's why the Administration is committed to working with the green building industry to fulfill the goals of the President's new Climate Action Plan.

Released in June, the plan represents the most aggressive initiative ever taken by a U.S. President to address climate change. And today, I want to highlight our efforts towards two critical goals: one, to drastically reduce carbon emissions to reverse climate change; and two, to protect our communities from the threats climate change already poses to all of us.

Building More Resilient Communities

Let me begin with resiliency.

Last month marked the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, the superstorm that devastated the Northeast region here in the U.S. This was a particularly painful episode for me.

I am a native New Yorker. Many places that are dear to me were devastated. Friend's businesses were wiped away. Most tragically, the daughter of a close friend lost her life.

These kinds of stories and experiences took place across the region. 650,000 homes were damaged or destroyed. $65 billion in damages and economic losses. And incredibly, more than 9 million people lost their power.

Visiting the region days after the storm hit, it was clear that the road to recovery would be long and difficult. So when the President asked me to chair his Hurricane Sandy Task Force-and help rebuild my home area-I immediately said yes.

In addition to getting immediate assistance to communities in need, we also set another objective: ensuring that the region builds stronger and smarter than before so that it is equipped to deal with future storms. I urge you to go to HUD's website and look at our Rebuilding Strategy. We've put forth interesting and innovative measures.

We began with something the President has always believed: that when it comes to our environment, we need to put science first. That is why the Task Force partnered with the best scientists to develop recommendations that empower local governments, businesses and citizens with the tools they need for the future.

For example, we've designed a sea level rise tool that allows users to go to the web, click on a map and see projections of rising sea levels for their community as far as 100 years forward. This helps policymakers plan for the future. It helps homeowners prepare for the future. It also helps businesses build for the future.

As one CEO of a utility, who lost critical facilities due to the flooding told me, "just tell me how high to rebuild." This tool will help them do just that. With this knowledge in hand, communities can take the measures necessary, with partners like you, to protect themselves from future floods.

To complement this work, the Administration took action to ensure that all projects using funding from the $50 billion Sandy-supplemental package take into account future flood risks - the first time the federal government has ever done so

In fact, in the President's Climate Action Plan, he committed to using this approach nationally, taking future flood risks into account with all infrastructure investments. And HUD is already helping communities integrate climate adaptation into their own plans.

For example-in Mississippi, on the Gulf Coast-HUD grants have funded an assessment of the shoreline to determine the areas in highest risk of natural disaster, fundamentally changing how they execute projects like housing for the elderly or shopping districts.

When regional development keeps resilience as a guiding principle, communities all across the nation stand to be stronger and more successful. Communities also stand stronger when they incorporate the most innovative ideas from around the world.

That's why we launched Rebuild By Design, a groundbreaking competition to develop innovative projects that protect and enhance Sandy-affected communities. We launched this effort because great challenges often inspire groundbreaking solutions. And as we looked to the future, we wanted to maximize our rebuilding efforts by attracting the best thinking from across the globe.

So we put out an international call for ideas, and the response we got was overwhelming. Almost 150 teams from over 40 countries answered the call, all presenting incredibly imaginative ideas - ranging from infrastructure to green spaces.

And as we evaluated them, we weren't just looking for creative abstract concepts. This was not just a beauty contest. Instead, we wanted ideas that we could implement and fund so they could strengthen communities.

After an intensive judging process, we recently announced the final ten proposals, all with the potential to change how building is done in cities and along shores. Right now, design teams are meeting with leaders on the ground to determine how these proposals can be implemented, and we ask that you serve as a resource for them. Their innovative ideas combined with your expertise would be a powerful combination. This work will save lives and protect communities. So I ask you to please connect with this effort by going to

In doing this work, we know that the Sandy-affected region will be better off. And we truly believe that it could guide communities across the globe as they prepare for the future.

With these and other efforts, the Obama administration's basic message is this: climate change is real and putting communities at risk. Resilience should be a part of all community planning. We're open to the best ideas from around the world to make this development safer and smarter.

And we look forward to working with the green building community-those of you here today-to shape more resilient futures.

Reducing Our Carbon Footprint

We also want to work with you to reverse the trends of global warming. One area that requires a lot of attention is the residential sector.

From 1950 to 2009, the amount of carbon dioxide emissions associated with residential use more than tripled. As I said earlier, during the President's time in office, the U.S. had made great strides in reducing our footprint.

But we know there is still a long way to go. Currently, the residential sector contributes one fifth of the energy consumption, and associated emissions, in the United States. And we've got to get this under control if we are going to tackle climate change.

To meet this challenge, HUD's Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities has made an unprecedented commitment to greening American homes. Just to name a couple of examples. we have partnered with the Department of Energy to retrofit 1.4 million homes over the last four years.

We worked with the El Paso Housing Authority in Texas to complete the first net zero energy LEED Platinum public housing development in the nation. We joined with the Denver Housing Authority in Colorado on an ambitious 2.3 megawatt renewable energy project that installed 10,000 solar panels across nearly 400 rooftops.

In total, we are changing the face of affordable housing in America as it relates to energy.

To build on this work, we have launched two initiatives that I would like to highlight today that are designed to decrease waste and increase use of renewable energy. The first relates to our Better Buildings challenge.

Launched in 2011, this challenge called on commercial and industrial buildings to become 20 percent more energy efficient by 2020. And the response from that sector has been terrific.

So in June, as part of the Climate Action Plan-and in partnership with the Department of Energy - we extended this challenge to the multifamily sector, asking multifamily owners to commit to a 20 percent portfolio-wide energy reduction over the next decade.

In so many ways, this plan represents an opportunity. An opportunity for owners to reduce costs. An opportunity to support the innovative industries of the future and create good jobs. And an opportunity to shape healthier neighborhoods - especially in vulnerable communities that are more likely to be affected by asthma and other medical conditions.

Partners across the nation have recognized this opportunity and seized it. In just a few short months, we already have commitments from multifamily owners representing 200,000 apartments, including some of the largest affordable housing and market-rate developers in the country.

This is a great start, but we won't be satisfied until every eligible owner takes part. So to all of you out there who can help-the owners, utilities, financial entities and more-I ask you to join us.

Doing so will be good for all of our families and their futures. And I look forward to working with you to cut energy waste.

I also look forward to working with you to increase the use of renewable energy. For the first time, as part of the President's Climate Action Plan, we are setting a renewable energy target for affordable housing.

Frankly, our focus over the past few years has been on efficiency and conservation, and rightly so. Now we want to build on that foundation by focusing on scaling up solar and other renewables.

Specifically, we want to more than triple on-site renewable energy in federally assisted housing to 100 megawatts by the year, 2020. Again, this represents an important opportunity to support industries of the future and shape healthier communities.

We want to see more successes like the Hispanic Housing Development Corporation's Las Moradas affordable housing property in Chicago. As one of our Energy Innovation Fund grantees, they recently closed on a multi-million dollar New Markets Tax Credit project, and leveraged utility incentives to finance solar for their rooftops.

As a result, they've seen a 25% reduction in electricity and are saving thousands annually. Imagine the potential of on-site renewables if it reached the over 5 million units of federally assisted housing in this country. We can and must reach this goal.

In fact, we see this as a key component of building a more economically and environmentally resilient future. And I thank the USGBC for their support of these efforts.

Through their Green Building Information Gateway, they have created a place where owners, investors and other stakeholders can come together to connect, accelerate the use of on-site renewables and reach this new federal target.

But to complete this mission-and support low-carbon, resilient communities-we are going to need all of you to participate. It's going to take owners, installers, manufactures, municipalities and a wide-variety of partners to make these initiatives a success.

So, I ask for your help. Together, bound by shared interests and goals, we can make a difference for both the health and wealth of communities.

These are outcomes worth fighting for. So let's fight for them together.


As I close my remarks, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that we come together today as the world marks the 50th Anniversary of the passing of President John F. Kennedy.

Naturally, it's a time to look back and honor his life and legacy. On a personal note, I literally would not be serving as HUD Secretary today if not for him because it was his idea to start the agency, formally announcing it in a State of the Union address to fulfill the goal of creating a suitable environment for every family.

And in the larger picture, as I was preparing my remarks today, I thought back to his famous speech at American University, where he sent a message to the world about his strategy for peace. It took place in the cold war era, a time full of conflict and uncertainty between international parties.

But rather than focus on disagreements, he choose to remind the global community of all that it had in common saying that "in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's future. And we are all mortal."

Here we are 50 years later, and those words still ring true. And it's those sentiments that have brought all of us-representing roughly 90 countries-here in one place today.

We all want better for the next generation. We all want to expand opportunity. We all want stronger communities. We all want a healthier planet. And by working together, we can advance these goals.

The only question is if we, as a global community, have the commitment and will to do it. And I think the answer is clear to all of us: yes, we do.

I know this because you have stood up against some very loud voices of opposition to your work. I know this because you have demonstrated it by innovating in ways that are benefiting both bottom lines and the common good. That's why I've been proud to work with many of you to advance the President's agenda. And I look forward to working with even more of you in the years ahead.

Let's stand up for our future. Let's prepare every community for the risks of extreme weather, cut energy waste in half and double renewable energy.

And let's create an environmentally and economically resilient future for this small planet we all inhabit.

Thank you.


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