University of Southern California USC

Sustainability, Retrofitting, Economic Stimulus and CEQA

Posted on by mbuchmei

This seminar was one of the most interdisciplinary we’ve hosted in the past two years as it touched on economic recovery, sustainability, public policy and real estate development.

Cary Lowe, a land use attorney and planner, shared with us his proposal for economic stimulus and improving sustainability in existing structures, which is detailed in his report “Saving the Environment, Saving the Economy”: PDF. Basically, he proposes that directing resources toward greening single family homes (installing more efficient water heaters, HV/AC systems, windows, insullation and water fixtures) will set into motion a chain of reactions that will benefit society. Results will include increasing construction industry jobs, creating demand for related supplies, increasing home values, reducing GHG emissions and reducing use of water and energy.

Funneling resources toward greening all the single family homes in the state would have a greater positive impact on emissions and conserving resources for much less money than constructing new LEED certified buildings. It would also provide homeowners with long term cost savings and increased home values and create thousands of jobs immediately. So why then is there not a statewide push to do this? Why are economic stimulus dollars spent on infrastructure repairs rather than adding value to the state’s housing stock.

Well, for one, such a program would require action and spending by homeowners, which is difficult to secure when the economy is poor, even with government incentives. And, in fact, there already are statewide programs to help homeowners who are interested in taking such actions on their own. There are energy efficient mortgages to help homeowners finance the costs of improving home efficiency ( and online resources to educate homeowners about how to improve the efficiency of their homes ( There are also regional efforts to improve home efficiency, especially in the San Francisco Bay Area. But it seems that most homeowners in the state are not taking advantage of these resources in a significant way. Coordinated education and action on a statewide level is missing.

Also, it could be that when the discourse focuses on “greening” certain people automatically stop paying attention, failing to realize that the activity being discussed can not only improve sustainability but also boost their bottom line. To secure the buy-in of business interests, the discussion should be reframed to emphasize the economic benefits.

Business and environmental interested are accustomed to being at odds with each other, but it’s time that they realize they can both benefit by working together.

Related links:
California Energy Commission residential resources:
PIRG’s Energy Service Corps:
California Youth Energy Services:
Green For All:

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