From shovel ready to sustainability

From the pages of In Business magazine.

With the endless spitfire embedded in the nation’s capital these days, the one issue President Trump and his Democrat detractors are most likely to collaborate on is a potentially massive infrastructure bill. Call it Stimulus 2.0, if you will, but in addition to roads, bridges, airport renovations, and rail improvements, we hope they don’t neglect an opportunity to engage in public-private partnerships to advance the cause of sustainability.

Why not take some of this infrastructure spending to create incentives for building efficiency projects? Why not partner with construction firms to invest in the renovation of the worst energy sucking buildings in cities across the country? True, this is not an example of infrastructure per se, but it would offer some bang for the buck and keep contractors busier than they otherwise would be.

This idea is hardly original on my part. It was articulated five years ago by Brad Binkowski, president of the Madison-based Urban Land Interests, when discussing the efficiency of government buildings. Binkowski felt the federal government missed the boat in the 2009 stimulus bill when it failed to create incentives and partner with contractors to make its own buildings more efficient. The same logic applies to city- and state-owned buildings, but I would go one further and include commercial buildings, as well.

Based on personal experience, Binkowski can testify that such projects create value for long-term owners. He cited Madison’s U.S. Bank Plaza as a good example because when ULI did the modifications, it took a building that was highly problematic and transformed it. The old building, Binkowski noted, had a very uncomfortable environment for office tenants and consumed extraordinary amounts of energy, but sustainable renovation gave it a new lease on life (sorry).

“In the process, we saved over $800,000 in annual operating costs,” he stated back in 2011. “That’s the kind of thing you have to do.”

While Trump has yet to spell out his plan in detail, he has pledged to deliver to Congress a significant package — somewhere between $500 billion to $1 trillion but likely to be trimmed by budget hawks — sometime this year. Reportedly, it will feature a mix of public and private funding, but the mix that’s even more important is the variety of projects. We hope that variety also includes sustainable building projects.

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