Turning the climate challenge into an economic opportunity

Anyone still laboring under the impression that fighting climate change has to mean financial sacrifice should take a look at our clients’ income statements.

For the past four years, Jones Lang LaSalle has helped more than 100 U.S. corporations and other building owners generate roughly $100 million in annual cost savings by reducing their energy use — and greenhouse gas emissions. As one of America’s leading financial services firms, our fundamental mission is to help our clients maximize profits. But we’ve yet to discover any conflict with helping them save the atmosphere for our kids.

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Recent polls show that most Americans want our government — and corporations — to take stronger action to address climate change, and as we all know, that process starts with taking a serious look at the way we use energy. With the introduction of bipartisan energy-efficiency legislation from Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio), there are signs of progress from policymakers. That bill passed committee last week and is gathering support from both sides of the aisle.

Businesses are also speaking up. At Jones Lang LaSalle, we understand that addressing climate change is not only a serious challenge but also a major economic opportunity. That’s why we have joined with 39 other companies — including big global brands such as General Motors, Nike, Intel and Starbucks — in signing a Climate Declaration calling on President Obama and Congress to act boldly in combating climate change. Strong policies can help us tackle this threat and capture economic benefits here at home.

Because Jones Lang LaSalle works so closely with buildings, managing more than 2 billion square feet worldwide including Chicago’s Union Station and San Francisco’s Moscone Center, our firm stands on the front lines of America’s battles with waste, pollution and climate change. Building energy use accounts for more than 40 percent of America’s greenhouse-gas emissions — a number that rises to 70 percent in some cities, such as New York. Yet experts estimate that America could cut its total energy use in half with deep but cost-saving reforms. At the Empire State Building, a retrofitting project we managed, we saved $4.4 million a year while creating more than 250 jobs.

Efficiency is a great start, and there are many other ways of tackling climate change while bolstering American economic opportunities. One smart step would be a pricing mechanism for carbon emissions. Let’s face it: Americans are already paying a hidden price for over-use of fossil fuels. Making that price explicit would help prioritize carbon-reduction initiatives and technologies.

Another advance would be to require building owners to disclose their properties’ energy use, as has recently become law in cities like New York, Philadelphia, Austin and Minneapolis. When you consider that U.S. commercial buildings pay a total of nearly $170 billion a year on energy bills, you can be sure there is waste to be cut. When those opportunities are discovered, we need better financing strategies for building owners eager to upgrade their energy systems.

Jones Lang LaSalle recently won a Sustained Excellence award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for our work in energy efficiency. As a leader of my firm’s sustainability efforts, I’m proud of that recognition, but I know I have to answer to a higher authority. A couple of years ago, my son Cooper, then age 5, dictated a letter for me. “Dear Grownups,” it read, “Keep working on the Earth so when I grow up it will be in good shape.”

I want to be sure that when Cooper asks me where I was when the fate of the climate was decided, I can answer him with a clear conscience. On behalf of my firm and the rest of the co-signers of the Climate Declaration, I hope Congress and President Obama will be able to do the same. 

Jordan is executive vice president of sustainable strategy at Jones Lang LaSalle, and is  a co-author of Six Sigma for Sustainability.