Former President Bill Clinton Urges Cities to Boost Energy Efficiency

Clinton Foundation opens green purchasing cooperative to more than 1,000 cities.

by / November 8, 2007

Despite rising energy costs, many cities resist deploying green technologies. In many cases, municipalities lack the up-front cash needed for energy efficiency upgrades, despite the promise of lower long-term operating costs.

The Clinton Foundation Climate Initiative (CCI) aims to change that by including all 1,100 cities in the U.S. Conference of Mayors in its purchasing consortium. The agreement includes contracts with more than 20 companies for hundreds of green products, including software for optimizing chiller plant energy usage, energy-efficient lamps and fixtures, solar control window films and numerous other products. In the past, the consortium included only the world's 40 largest cities.

Former President Bill Clinton said the consortium would give all U.S. Conference of Mayors member cities access to sharp green technology discounts, made even lower with the expected increased city participation. Clinton announced the arrangement at the U.S. Conference of Mayors' 2007 Climate Protection Summit in November.

"We'll go back to the product suppliers with aggregate purchasing volumes that will be so much greater that we'll get even lower prices, and therefore accelerate the market deployment of green technologies and create jobs in your cities," Clinton said in a speech at the summit.

Clinton recommended that cities without enough cash to participate in these contracts borrow the money. He said the energy efficiency savings would enable cities to pay it back with interest.

He also urged U.S. mayors to motivate international cities by implementing green policies now. "There are mayors in other countries who don't want to wait for their countries to get the show on the road either, who will try to emulate what you're doing," Clinton said.

Clinton views the strategy as a way to simultaneously upgrade municipal energy efficiency, fight global warming and spur an increase in high-paying U.S. jobs. He added that employment created by a growing market for green technology could help reverse a trend toward shrinking wages.

"You cannot maintain a middle-class lifestyle with a growing middle class unless every five years you have a source of good new jobs," Clinton said. "When I was president, we had rising median incomes for the first time in 20 years, and it was because there were a lot of new jobs. Therefore, the fact that I had negotiated over 300 trade agreements was popular. Now, 'trade' is a dirty word to Democrats and an increasing number of Republicans because it stands for the fact that median wages have declined and that new jobs pay 20 percent less than old jobs."

Clinton insisted that local governments could collectively steer the market toward creating positions that pay as well as technology jobs of the late 1990s. "The reason we've been [economically] stuck in this decade is that we walked away from this decade's source of new jobs -- a serious commitment to an efficient, sustainable energy future," Clinton said.
He offered Denmark as an example to follow. The country has a similar unemployment rate to the U.S. and an only slightly higher economic growth rate. Yet median wages recently have increased in Denmark.

"They expanded their economy by 50 percent with zero increase in energy use. Meanwhile, they reduced their greenhouse gas emissions by going to 23 percent of their electricity generated by wind," said Clinton. "The largest wind producer in the world is now Vestas out of Denmark."

Local governments could help the U.S. replicate that success by purchasing green technologies in bulk, he added. "If we can organize the market for green technologies properly, we can drive down the product prices, fight climate change, generate more economic activity and keep you under budget."

Andy Opsahl

Andy Opsahl is a former staff writer and features editor for Government Technology magazine.