Today is the general election, when people around the nation will be casting votes for a number of hotly contested local and national positions. As I consider what role the political process plays in the transformation of high performance business and buildings, I am particularly interested in the 36 gubernatorial races.

Governors are unique in our many-layered system of governance: they are elected largely along party platforms and they function as the CEOs of their state. So while political ideology can drive much of their messaging to the voters, they must also have a handle on how to lead the business of their state.

States as a Sustainable Business

One can argue that the business of a state is to grow economic prosperity, maintain healthy communities, and preserve the resource base. What governor would not want — indeed be driven to deliver — a condition of abundance in the three pillars of sustainability—people, planet and prosperity? And yet the issue of sustainability is barely on the radar screen.

Leading an organization in our times is extraordinarily challenging, especially at the state level, and at first glance it may not be surprising that climate change isn’t on the top of the list of concerns.

Polls show that voters today care about jobs and economic recovery most of all, and no wonder: through July of 2014, only 17 states have returned to pre-recession employment levels.

And with employment levels down, so go the tax rolls—that means by a two-to-one majority, most states have not stabilized economically to the new reality and are unable to sufficiently invest in people, programs and infrastructure that keep the business of the state in balance.

However, I think it incorrect to view sustainability or climate change as a separate issue that can’t be solved until we figure out what to do about X, Y and Z. The three pillars of sustainability touch all voter concerns and present an opportunity to create jobs, strengthen the economy, improve our health and wellbeing, and protect our communities against devastating weather events.

Other organizations have gotten over sustainability as political theater and now understand it as an important business driver.

The insurance industry acknowledges climate change as material a risk to be covered. This industry knows that they cannot show a return if they ignore weather disaster trends.

The military see sustainability as an operational efficiency issue. The US cannot protect its troops and its interests overseas without reliable and renewable energy in the battlefield.

The real estate industry is measuring the environmental footprint of commercial building portfolios, as they can no longer guarantee investor capital if the assets are not environmentally rated.

A Divided View on Climate Change

Of the 50 sitting governors, 13 openly accept climate change as real, 15 deny climate change is a problem, and 22 have little to nothing to say about climate change. So another way to view the outcome of today’s election is this: has there been a net add or loss of governors that accept climate change as a driver to the business of their state?

It is interesting how the climate debate splits consistently by party, even though it is a debate about the future of American life, as we know it.

The liberals have historically viewed government as a tool for enhancing equality of all. It is not a surprise that the 13 sitting governors that accept climate change are Democrats, governing mostly coastal states.

Conservatives, on the other hand believe smaller government best delivers enhanced freedom. No sitting Republican governor has accepted climate science, although several challengers do. For the challengers, the conversation is mostly about energy independence, sometimes through renewables like wind but more often further exploitation of fossil fuels through fracking and the XL pipeline.

Framework for the Future

Whether you believe humans are the cause or not, climate change at the local level; i.e. freakishly big tornados, hurricanes, droughts and forest fires are on the rise and seem almost normal these days. Coupled with slow economic recovery, we have a tough road ahead of us and we need visionaries more than demagogues.

So, whether they are red or blue, I hope to see a net add of sustainability champions after today—some critical thinkers running that will get past the rhetoric and start planning for the long game. Leaders focused on sustained abundance of economic opportunity, natural beauty and safe, livable communities. Who wouldn’t vote for that?

Sustainability in states, climate change





Tom Paladino PE, Assoc AIA, LEED® AP is CEO of Paladino and Company

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