Apr 22
April 22, 2014

Investing in Our Built Environment


When I began to think about the plans for the Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock, Arkansas, I knew that I wanted to create a space that would be a leader in green building design and operation. It didn’t happen by chance. We thought about it and planned for it, and shortly after the Center opened in 2004, the library and museum were recognized with a Silver LEED Certification by the U.S. Green Building Council; in 2007, by incorporating additional sustainability practices, we received a Platinum LEED Certification for Existing Buildings from the USGBC, the first federally maintained facility to receive this recognition.

That’s why, this Earth Day, as people and organizations around the world focus on our decade’s new environmental challenges – including rapid urbanization and the growth of our built environment – I’m proud to share another milestone. Today the Choctaw Building at the Clinton Presidential Center became the oldest LEED-Certified building in Arkansas, and among the oldest of all LEED-certified buildings in the United States. This historic building dates to 1899 and was a former rail station; today it houses the Little Rock offices of the Clinton Foundation and the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service, and is a space for lectures and events.

The retrofits that led to the LEED certification will yield a variety of significant benefits, including energy savings of about $30,000 a year, a healthier and more comfortable work environment for employees and visitors, and water savings of 44.62 percent beyond the LEED baseline. This is an important step for the Little Rock community and the Little Rock environment. It’s also an important reminder that investing in the sustainability of our buildings not only improves our environment, it strengthens our economy.

Energy efficiency retrofits – of buildings, of streetlights, of civil infrastructure – create good local jobs over the short term and significantly reduce energy costs over the long term. Add to that the benefits to people and the environment and the case seems clear. Unfortunately, making that initial investment in a retrofit isn’t always easy. At Choctaw, we were lucky that the University of Arkansas received a grant for the work; but for most building owners or municipalities, the high up-front costs associated with many renewable energy technologies is a major barrier and a reason more projects like the one at Choctaw haven’t been brought to scale.

To encourage more investments in our built environment, we’ll need more examples like Choctaw Station – projects that demonstrate economic returns as well as environmental impact. This Earth Day, I hope more people in more sectors are inspired to follow suit, look at the models that work, and make these lasting investments. When it comes to reducing and preventing the devastating effects of climate change, to setting us on a path that’s more environmentally and economically sustainable, no one person or sector can do it all, but we all can do something.