One of the coolest things I saw at Greenbuild: a “building label” that riffs off of nutritional labels on packaged food. The label scores a building on items such as water efficiency, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality, and sustainable sites. It also gives its LEED rating, cost, and other pertinent info. Cool!

The Clintons were in town yesterday, and I caught Bill speaking at GreenBuild, the monstrous “green” construction convention taking place right now in Chicago. I had never associated the ex-Prez with green stuff—in my mind, that was always Gore’s terrain—so I was curious what he had to say.

Turns out, a lot. Some of it was funny; some of it was boring. He’s an incredible speaker, but no one—not even Bill Clinton—sounds great when they have to introduce a ton of important people crammed onto a stage. At times, Clinton sounded like Bubba from Forrest Gump, ticking off shrimp recipes: cajun shrimp, coconut shrimp. . . or, in Clinton’s case, governor of Kansas, superintendent of Chicago Public Schools Arne Duncan….

Things became a bit more interesting when he got fired up about “retrofitting,” which is a big issue here in Chicago and in other dense urban areas with existing housing stock. See, it’s all good and well to talk about new buildings that don’t suck up much power from the energy grid and are constructed out of renewable/recyclable resources, but what to do with all of the office towers and brownstones and high rises that are already there? Clinton’s answer: plunk a lot of cash (some $5 billion) from his foundation to helping cities (and school systems) “retrofit” existing buildings—or figure out ways to make these old workhorses more efficient, energy wise. See his announcement here with Mayor Daley that they’re going to start in Chicago with several buildings, including one of the city’s most notable: the Sears Tower.

A few other points:

1. Clinton stated repeatedly that the green movement is the “greatest economic opportunity that the United States has been given since World War II. It’s not a big bottle of castor oil that we’ve been given to drink.” He cited countries like Denmark and the United Kingdom, where green industries have “generated jobs, new businesses, and broadbased prosperity.”

2. He talked about daughter Chelsea’s alma mater, Sidwell Friends in Washington D.C., and how it was the first LEED-platinum building in D.C. (LEED is a green certification platform; platinum is the highest rating.) He was making the point that schools should be some of the first buildings retrofitted; if they’re built new, they should be green. I thought this was interesting, particularly in light of the speaker before Clinton who had said that the U.S. has more LEED-rated prisons than K-12 schools. Scary.

3. Clinton is “delighted” that Al Gore got the Nobel. Um, of course he is.

4. A quote I liked: “One day, we’re going to think it’s crazy to build a building that’s not carbon neutral. We’ll be racing to see who can produce energy-positive buildings. We’re going to turn this thing around.”


Photography: (Image 1) Cassie Walker; (Image 2) Nora O’Donnell