William Stewart

Along the north side of Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C., stands the imposing Classical Revival headquarters of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Running along H Street and facing the White House is a series of large red and blue banners, each containing a single letter that, together, appear: J-O-B-S. It’s true that job growth is an indicator of a healthy economy. But the simplicity of the “jobs” sign obscures a bigger, more complex debate about sustainable practices that, according to U.S. Chamber of Commerce policies, are job killers, not job creators.

But what if this nation’s business community became convinced that inaction, not regulation, posed the greater threat to our economy? Corporate America might turn out to be the most effective driver of a global response that stands some chance of averting the environmental disaster predicted by scientists.

Yes, there will likely continue to be those who argue that climate change has not been demonstrated conclusively. But that’s not the reflexive dogma of the commercial community, which places far more credence in hard facts. And facts are increasingly adding up to a convincing case that a lack of bold action is the real threat.

On both U.S. coasts, the timber industry watches its profits eaten by greater infestations of beetles able to survive milder winters, in addition to disastrous fires fueled by unprecedented drought. That same drought threatens California’s Central Valley, this nation’s “salad bowl.” And in this country’s midsection, drought has caused the price of corn to skyrocket, affecting every food product that depends on high–fructose corn syrup, not to mention the biofuel industry.

Beyond these shores, global supply chains are being challenged by the greater frequency of severe storms, which are driving up the cost of imported materials. Global insurance corporations in particular are concerned with climate resilience, including Swiss Re, which along with the AIA, is a commitment partner to the Rockefeller Foundation 100 Resilient Cities initiative.

This is more than an inconvenience to commercial interests; it’s a potential opening for us in the design and construction industry to engage members of the business in a mutually advantageous conversation about the facts of global climate change as it affects their bottom line. Enlightened self-interest may be the most effective strategy to enlist an indispensable ally that positions this nation as a global leader in confronting a challenge that threatens all of us. 

Helene Combs Dreiling, FAIA
2014 President