06/07/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Retrofitting Our Buildings

In the US, energy-inefficient buildings account for over half of greenhouse gas emissions.

But tearing everything down and rebuilding means a lot of demolition debris - carted off with trucks through poor communities - to be dumped on other poor communities further away. Not good.

Retrofitting buildings is often the best solution, and that means everything from more efficient appliances and lights, to vegetative surfaces on the roof and even walls, to renewable on-site energy generation and water systems.

Making over our buildings will take millions of people and some time - but take Southern California in the 1990's as a lesson: they built two nuclear power plants worth of electricity into homes and businesses through energy efficiencies, AND their economy grew faster than the rest of the nation.

If we put real capital into how we conserve energy, rather than building new power plants, we'll see more job-creating projects that support families and prosperity, instead of ugly, toxic-waste producers. The costs might look the same, but the employment and environmental outcomes are very different.

Engineers, carpenters, plumbers, and janitors alike can play an important role in accomplishing this mission. And remember: the real victory will come when all our buildings - and our people - are operating at peak performance.