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Columbia University Gives the Big Apple a Running Start on Better Buildings

new york city and columbia university team up to form urban technology innovation center for green buildingsBy the time President Obama announced the Better Buildings Initiative last week, forward-looking players in the energy efficiency game were already a few steps ahead. One example is New York City, which has partnered up with Columbia University to create the NYC Urban Technology Innovative Center. Its mission is to create new green jobs and business opportunities in the city, by developing and commercializing new energy efficiency technologies.

Better, Greener Buildings

Compared to the futuristic stuff that’s going on with solar power, emerging materials and biofuels (just to name a few), buildings don’t seem all that exciting. Guess again – buildings are a major factor in greenhouse gas emissions, and commercial buildings gobbled up 20 percent of the energy in the U.S. economy last year. The President’s initiative is designed to encourage the private sector to upgrade inefficient older buildings through new tax incentives and financing opportunities for small business. There is also a green job-training component, and a “Race to Green” incentive for local governments to streamline their permitting processes.

The Better Buildings Challenge

Where Columbia and New York jumped the gun is in the initiative’s “Better Buildings Challenge,” in which the President is calling upon business and academic leaders to – well, to lead by example. Companies and universities that save energy and meet certain goals will be eligible for goodies such as public recognition and technical assistance. That’s where the Urban Technologies Innovation Center comes in. It will be managed by Columbia University’s Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science, and its focus will be on connecting manufacturers and building owners with new research and technologies. As pithily stated by the center’s executive director, Jack McGourty, “New technology means new businesses and jobs.”

More and More Green Jobs

The Better Buildings Initiative has the potential to be a green jobs powerhouse — just check out the big bucks that went into energy efficiency upgrades for the Empire State Building.  These jobs benefit the job-holder of course, and they also result in benefits for people and businesses by lowering utility bills and improving productivity. As the White House points out, in part the new initiative builds on the success of Recovery Act programs that also created beneficial green jobs. That’s nice that the White House is so optimistic, but it would sure help things along if all those legislators who made such a great big deal about job creation during the 2010 election campaign would stop messing around with women and start working on some legislation that actually helps people get jobs.

Image: Empire State Building by aka Kath on

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Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.


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