Former Secretary of State Gen. (Ret.) Colin Powell addressed about 12,000 people during the keynote address at the U.S. Green Building Council’s Greenbuild International Conference & Expo Wednesday in Chicago.
Powell hoped to inspire the packed room of green building professionals with messages of leadership and optimism through his experience as an Army officer who rose through the ranks to become the top-ranking General in the U.S. Military, and later Secretary of State. He also touched on retirement.
“You reflect on the fact that one day you were the No. 1 diplomat in the whole free world, one day you’re the Secretary of State of the United States of America, and the next day, you ain't. You’re just another guy out there,” he joked.
Powell also showed an admiration and understanding of the green building movement.
"I know a lot more than you think I do," he said. "For openers, the United States government has done a lot of innovative things with respect to energy conservation, with respect to green building,” he said.
“All of the services are now focusing on getting LEED certification for their existing buildings and for new buildings.”
As Secretary of State, Powell had a building budget of roughly $1 billion per year to spend on embassies around the world. While focusing on the attractive architecture and security were key, Powell said an increased effort was made to ensure new and old embassies met green standards as well.
Powell also pointed to a LEED Platinum-rated 50-unit apartment building that bears his name in the South Bronx -- just a few blocks from where he grew up -- as an indicator of how far the neighborhood, the country and the green building movement has grown
Powell hit on his experience as a military leader to impress points on being an effective leader. “Leadership has to be passionate," he said. "If you want to get a group of humans to believe in you, you have to be passionate about what you believe in. You’ve got to be passionate about green building. You’ve got to be passionate about making this a better country, a better world.”
Leadership was an important factor in the growth of the USGBC’s efforts to expand LEED programs, according to Rick Fedrizzi, president and CEO and founding chairman of the USGBC. Fedrizzi thanked Chicago Mayor Richard Daley for helping the city achieve more LEED-certified buildings than any other major city in the world.
More than 1,800 exhibitors and a sizeable number of fortune 500 companies were in attendance at this year’s expo, he said.
Fedrizzi pointed to key events earlier in the week: The House Committee on Science and Technology, which held a special field hearing in Chicago specifically as a kickoff to Green Build; the USGBC Green Build International forum, which convened more than 750 international green building leaders from 112 countries around the world; and the Green Jobs Summit, where 35 companies and more than 500 job seekers came together to help advance the green economy as further proof the green building movement was alive and well.
Fedrizzi also commended PNC Bank’s commitment to LEED.
“This financial services powerhouse now has over 100 LEED-certified buildings, more than any other organization on the planet,” he said, but warned them not to get too comfortable, as Wells Fargo had made a commitment to certify 2,500 locations under the LEED for Existing Buildings program.
Worldwide, the GBC is certifying approximately 1 million sq. ft. to LEED every single day and recently reached 1billion sq. ft. of LEED-certified space across the globe.
During his speech, Fedrizzi also announced that United Technologies Corp. has joined the Center for Green Schools at USGBC as a founding sponsor. UTC’s financial contribution will help build more than 600 LEED-registered schools over the next three years, as well as provide hundreds of free resources and training sessions for lower-income institutions.