Over the last year, as part of its economic stimulus package, the Obama administration has made the largest one-time investment in clean energy in history. The package included nearly $70 billion for promoting energy efficiency, mainly in homes. This makes political and policy sense: Americans trying to dig out from enormous household debt naturally would like to lower their monthly energy bills. And in light of the continuing downward pressure on housing prices, families undoubtedly welcome opportunities to improve the value of their single largest asset. In late August, Vice President Biden announced the successful retrofit of 200,000 homes under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act .
As the residential retrofit industry gains momentum, national policy makers should turn their attention to a sector with even larger jobcreating potential: commercial building retrofits. Although economists say the Great Recession is over, the private construction industry is still suffering Depression-era unemployment levels and spending has declined by over 30 percent in retail and commercial offices. One in four construction workers are unemployed, according to the Associated General Contractors of America.
A targeted set of short- and long-term policies to spur jobs and drive investment in retrofitting commercial buildings can help reverse these trends. A recent study by Johnson Controls, a leading provider of equipment, controls and services for heating, ventilating, air-conditioning and refrigeration for buildings, found that over 80 percent of management executives identified energy efficiency as a priority for new construction and retrofit projects planned for the coming year. Over the next decade, the market potential for commercial building retrofits is projected to be $18 billion annually. Simply put, retrofitting commercial buildings can help spur economic recovery and therefore should be a top priority for policy makers.