A Better, Greener Future for Americans

Courtesy of the U.S. Green Building Council

Multiple speakers at the Democratic National Convention addressed climate change, what the draft 2016 Democratic Party Platform calls an “urgent threat and a defining challenge of our time.”

Lurking behind all of the smog, pollution, superstorms and wildfires, is the truth: climate change is a fact. The strong position of the platform and the party is welcome, especially in light of those who want you to believe that climate change is an opinion, that extreme droughts and floods are par for the course and that — even if our planet is in danger — taking care of our environment would come at the cost of our jobs, our economy, and our country’s future.

Encouragingly, the Democratic platform calls for steps to combat climate change — environmental corporate accountability, cutting energy waste in homes and businesses around the country, creating a clean economy — and steps to help the improve the economy — protecting and restoring American jobs and manufacturing, and investing in infrastructure, manufacturing, research, and small business jobs. The platform seems to be developed with the awareness of climate action’s nexus with a strong economy, though it does not expressly assert what we know: that fighting climate change will actually have a direct impact on achieving the economic goals laid out. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions, increasing American use of clean energy, and making corporations accountable for their impact on the environment, will actually make the United States economy stronger, more stable, and more sustainable.

Policymakers are beginning to understand that the clean energy market and economy nexus is a space where American workers and businesses need to be able to compete if we want to create more and better jobs for Americans.

Their instinct is right on the money: the United States’ “clean economy” employed over 2.7 million workers in 2011, according to a study by the nonpartisan Brookings Institution — more than either the fossil fuel or bioscience industries. During the Great Recession, the clean economy outperformed the nation as a whole. And — crucial to the political argument that we need to lift up working-class Americans — the clean economy actually offers more opportunities and better pay for low- and middle-skilled workers than the national economy as a whole, the Brookings study found.

Moreover, American companies and their employees actually stand to gain from a political commitment to cleaner, more efficient manufacturing. Corporations around the world are profiting as a result of going green — as are leading U.S. corporations — so why not increase revenue at home too?

Take America’s own IBM and its climate protection policies. Between 1990 and 2014, the technological giant conserved 6.8 million megawatt hours of electricity consumption, avoided 4.2 million metric tons of CO2 emissions, and, as a result, saved $550 million. Consuming less energy meant that IBM spent less money on fuel and electricity — and put those funds to better use elsewhere.

Or take the consumer brand behemoth Unilever, which launched the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan in 2010 to integrate the practice of sustainability into a number of their brands and products, with a goal of halving the environmental footprint of the making and use of Unilever’s products by 2020. In 2015, Unilever’s sustainable brands grew 30 percent faster than its other products and contributed to half of the company’s total yearly growth.

Legacy companies are getting in on the action, too. In 2015, Detroit-based General Motors made over $1 billion through its recycling and reuse program, which recycled and composted more than two million metric tons of waste materials globally, converted about 144,000 metric tons of waste to energy, and avoided 8.9 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions.

Going green is good for everyone: companies’ profit margins, employees’ health, the economy generally, and the future of our planet as a whole. Policymakers need to address this opportunity, and the green economy’s potential for profit in the private sector means that corporations and companies will lead the charge as well.

Saving our planet isn’t a trite sentiment; it’s a call to action that benefits businesses, employees, the economy, and the future. The American people know this , and they’ll look for leaders who are ready to do business in the 21st-century when it comes to the green economy. Both parties will have to recognize the steady growth of the green economy as a moral and business imperative, because, at the core, confronting climate change and strengthening the economy are two sides of the same coin — a better future for Americans.

Rick Fedrizzi is CEO and founding chair of the U.S. Green Building Council.