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Michelle Moore: Relentless Change Agent

Interview by Jane Kolleeny
March 2012

Michelle Moore was the Obama Administration’s federal environmental executive from 2009 until early 2012. The office stewards the implementation of President Obama’s Executive Order on Federal Sustainability (EO 13514) and the GreenGov initiative. Previously, Moore served as senior vice president of policy and public affairs at the U.S. Green Building Council. She holds an MS in foreign service from Georgetown University and a BA from Emory University.

Michelle Moore standing in front of the offices for the White House Council on Environmental Quality in Washington, D.C.
Courtesy of the Council on Environmental Quality
Michelle Moore standing in front of the offices for the White House Council on Environmental Quality in Washington, D.C.
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GreenSource: Tell us about the Better Buildings Challenge.

Michelle Moore: The Challenge is a part of the Better Buildings Initiative launched in February 2011 by President Obama to support job creation by catalyzing private sector investment in commercial and industrial building energy upgrades to make America’s buildings 20 percent more efficient over the next decade, reducing energy costs for American businesses by nearly $40 billion. The Challenge is spearheaded by former President Clinton and the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.

GS: What is the role of financing and job creation in the Better Buildings Initiative?

MM: Building energy upgrades is the focus of the Better Buildings Initiative. Upgrading the energy efficiency of America’s buildings is one of the fastest, easiest, and cheapest ways to save money, cut down on harmful pollution, and create good jobs now. The nearly $40 billion per year that American businesses would save on their energy bills by improving energy efficiency by 20 percent is money that could be better spent growing  business and hiring new workers. Moreover, those energy upgrades would also boost manufacturing of energy efficient equipment and materials.Expanding financing for energy upgrades is a key component of the Better Buildings Initiative. On December 2 of last year, President Obama announced $4 billion in investment in energy upgrades to public and private sector buildings that will create tens of thousands of jobs and save billions. The $4 billion investment included a $2 billion commitment, made through the issuance of a presidential memorandum, to energy upgrades of federal buildings using long-term energy savings to pay for up-front costs, at no cost to taxpayers. In addition, 60 CEOs, mayors, university presidents, and labor leaders committed to invest nearly $2 billion of private capital into energy efficiency projects.To sustain this momentum, we also need to address how energy upgrades can improve the value of a building. That’s why the Department of Energy and the Appraisal Foundation, the congressionally authorized source of appraisal standards and appraiser qualifications in the United States, have launched a collaboration to make sure that appraisers have what they need to make energy performance a recognized aspect of how buildings are appraised.

GS: What sectors will be affected by these efforts?

MM: More than $5 billion has been invested by the General Services Administration alone in projects around the country that are making federal buildings more sustainable and efficient and putting architects, engineers, contractors, and other building professionals to work. Better Building Challenge partners also have new energy upgrade projects underway. For example, Lend Lease has already broken ground on its commitment to upgrade 40,000 units of military housing all across the country, which will give our military families lower utility bills and a higher quality of life.

GS: What roles are states and municipalities taking with this initiative?

MM: States and municipalities serve as partners in the Better Buildings Challenge. The cities of Atlanta; Denver; Houston; Los Angeles; Sacramento; Seattle; and Washington, D.C. have already joined the Challenge, as have Iowa’s Department of Administrative Services and the state of Minnesota. Together, they’ve committed hundreds of millions of square feet of commercial building space and hundreds of millions of dollars in local financing programs to upgrade public and private sector buildings in their communities.

GS: Is there an incentive to commercial enterprise to participate in the Better Buildings Challenge?

MM: The Better Buildings Challenge is a leading example of how business and government can work together toward shared goals. As a voluntary initiative, the Challenge supports commercial and industrial building owners by providing technical assistance and proven solutions to energy efficiency from the Department of Energy. The program also provides a forum for market leaders to enhance collaboration and problem solving in energy efficiency.

GS: Is there anything new we should look out for?

MM: In his most recent State of the Union address, the President laid out a blueprint for an economy that’s built to last—one that relies on American energy, manufacturing, worker skills, and a renewal of values. He laid out a new era for American energy—fueled by homegrown and alternative energy sources that will be designed and produced by American workers. Over the past few years, renewable energy use has nearly doubled. In fact, in 2011, the United States reclaimed the position as the world’s leading investor in clean energy—but staying on top will depend on smart, aggressive action moving forward. The President believes this is a make or break moment for the middle class and those trying to reach it.


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