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Coalition for a Sustainable Built Environment


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Where the Candidates Stand on Green Buildings

With the 2020 primary season well underway, there are scores of policy proposals flying around, particularly on environmental issues like climate change, energy efficiency and resilience from natural disasters.


But what about buildings? Buildings account for more than 40 percent of U.S. greenhouse has emissions and 70 percent of electricity use. Any comprehensive policy proposal on the environment should include the built environment as part of the solution.


CSBE reviewed the candidates’ websites to find out where they stand on sustainable building issues. Read on to see what each candidate says (or does not say) about green buildings. 

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Key Takeaways

What does reviewing every Presidential candidates’ website tell us about where the candidates stand on sustainable buildings policy?

Trump and the others aren't even speaking the same language.

While Democratic candidates tout their climate change-fighting credentials, the re-election website for President Trump doesn't even mention climate - except to highlight his adminstration's withdrawal from the Paris climate accords. Interestingly, Trump's GOP challengers generally agree that climate change is an issue - but it is unlikely any of them will wrest the nomination away from the incumbent. The disparity between President Trump and the Democrats shouldn't be surprising, as candidates are playing to their respective bases. But it underscores how far apart the parties are on green issues. 

All candidates who discuss climate agree it’s a major concern.

Not surprisingly, all the Democratic candidates who delve into policy agree that climate change is a major concern; many are supportive, or have outright endorsed, the Green New Deal, and most if not all pledge to rejoin the Paris climate agreement should they be elected. Most of the policy differences are on the edges: how aggressive carbon reduction targets should be, or where limited funding should go.

Those that have detailed climate policies mention buildings, to some extent.

Not every candidate has outlined a detailed policy agenda, while some go into exhaustive detail. In general, those that mention climate also mention buildings. That said, many seem to consider buildings as a secondary facet of climate change, after transportation and energy production and deployment. Very few identify buildings as a distinct sector deserving of policy attention.

A lot of candidates do not outline specifics.

Some candidates who talk about green buildings are notably vague on the details, saying, for instance, they pledge to make houses more energy efficient without explaining how they will do it. This is not necessarily surprising, particularly at this early stage in the political process. But the devil will most certainly be in the details.

Supporting a policy and getting it enacted are not the same thing.

Some candidates stand out with very bold, comprehensive agendas for reducing energy consumption in the building sector. But having a long list of policy goals does not mean they will become law if the candidate wins next year. They will have to deal with a Congress that will have ideas of its own, and many proposals come with hefty price tags. If you’re looking for a candidate who will get things done policy-wise, it’s also good to question how effective they will be.

All but one of these candidates will lose.

At the end of the day, only one of these candidates will be the President in 2021. Some Democratic challengers are focusing on a single issue to the virtual exclusion of other topics; for example, Washington Governor Jay Inslee's campaign platform is all about climate (and has a pretty detailed plan for buildings, too. Few expect him to be the nominee, but speculate his goal in running is to make sure climate stays on the agenda (and, perhaps, to bolster his chances of running EPA in a Democratic administration). The extent to which the eventual nominee will incorporate ideas from the also-rans into their platform is an open question, meaning many of the ideas below may end up on the cutting-room floor.

Candidates won’t necessarily talk about buildings unless the industry speaks up.

Most policy proposals don’t spring from the candidates' minds; they get on their agenda because citizens, activists, interest groups and business leaders make them a priority. To the extent that the candidates are talking about buildings at all is testament to the work of building advocates over the years to get these ideas onto the table. But making sure that green building policies occupy a visible space in the 2020 agenda will take a lot more advocacy over the next several months.

About the CSBE

The Coalition for a Sustainable Built Environment is an alliance of building industry companies and professionals who work with government to advance policy change that fosters buildings that are safe, sustainable and economically vibrant.

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(Disclaimer: CSBE does not endorse candidates in primary or general elections. Nothing in this report should be construed as support or opposition to any candidate. Candidates and parties are listed alphabetically. CSBE took every effort to report on candidates’ positions accurately; any mistakes or omissions were inadvertent. Please email with any suggested corrections.)

Copyright 2019, Coalition for a Sustainable Built Environment. All rights reserved.

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