WASHINGTON, D.C., March 20—The U.S. has made significant strides in energy efficiency, but has only scratched the surface, according to a panel led by USGBC CEO Rick Fedrizzi. The panel discussion, presented by The Atlantic Magazine, was held at the National Press Club Thursday morning.

Sustainability experts (left to right) Rick Fedrizzi, Kateri Callahan, and Roger Ballentine, along with moderator R. Bartley Moore, discuss the green revolution during a panel presentation March 20.
The Atlantic Sustainability experts (left to right) Rick Fedrizzi, Kateri Callahan, and Roger Ballentine, along with moderator R. Bartley Moore, discuss the green revolution during a panel presentation March 20.

So, how does the U.S. fast-forward? Fedrizzi suggested the extreme scenario of cutting off all dependence on oil, sending the nation into what he termed as a “year and a half of hell.” But, he added, the country would emerge better off. “We need a Manhattan Project focus,” he exclaimed, recalling the famous U.S. commitment in the 1940s to create a nuclear weapon that required more than 130,000 people at multiple sites as demand and urgency warranted results.

Kateri Callahan, president of the Alliance to Save Energy, echoed Fedrizzi’s comments. “From the perspective of energy efficiency, the country has made a lot of progress since we first started applying standards about 30 years ago,” she explained. “But that has to be put into context of global use.”

The U.S., according to Callahan, uses 100% more per capita of energy than Japan and 80% more than Western Europe.

And while the panel acknowledged that the Energy Policy Act of 2005 is considered a stepping-stone to address some of the nation’s energy-efficiency shortcomings, they said it is lacking.

“The [2005] energy bill was paltry at best,” said Roger Ballentine, a former chairman for the White House Climate Change Task Force and president of Green Strategies.

One point the panel did stress was that while green is not a fad, it will be cyclical. And in an economic downturn, it will be hard to convince a homeowner to make a commitment to something like solar power.

The group also compared the current state of the green movement to the dot-com bubble of the late-1990s/early-2000s. Fedrizzi predicts that there will be a green revolution bust, but much like the dot-com bust, in which the Googles, eBays, and Yahoos emerged in tact, so will the stable green-minded companies and organizations.

The group’s assessment of energy efficiency was punctuated by one member’s observation of the meeting room.

“There are 74 light bulbs on right now in this room and the shades are down,” noted Ballentine. “And why? It probably has something to do with the fact that the person in charge of the lights has nothing to do with paying the bills.”