Why Taipei 101 Lifts Green Building, and Green Jobs, to New Heights

Over the past six weeks, the American media has been awash with stories claiming that the U.S. can't create green jobs, and that it is foolhardy to try to do so. For a sampling, here's New York Times columnist David Brooks, the Washington Post and the Colorado Springs Gazette/Orange County Register.

I agree with the Obama Administration's critics that the Solyndra loan guarantee deal misfired, especially provisions subordinating Solyndra's federal debt [PDF] to the interests of private investors. But the Solyndra experience by no way negates the promise of job creation in the solar sector (Solyndra represented only 3.4 percent of the U.S. Department of Energy's loan portfolio) or in other green industries.

A global perspective, moreover, suggests that public investment, alongside private capital, can indeed boost overall green job creation. Take a look at Asia, where green jobs are thriving -- often with infusions of American talent and technology.

In July, I was in Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, for the LEED Platinum designation of Taipei 101, now the world's tallest LEED Platinum building (and the second tallest building in the world). Taipei 101 achieved the honor through a retrofit conducted by an international team headed by Siemens Building Technologies, LEED luminary and GreenBiz editor Rob Watson through his advisory firm, EcoTech International, and the Steven Leach Group.

My coverage of the Taipei 101 LEED opening is available from the Sustainable Cities Collective; information on Taipei 101's ongoing green campaign, GreenOn, can be found here.

The opening of Taipei 101 allowed me to meet Siemens building energy efficiency executives and real estate journalists from throughout Asia. The contrast between the U.S. commercial real estate market and their accounts of Asian growth is stark. New construction has virtually halted in the U.S., and green renovations have been largely confined to a minority of Class A buildings.

In contrast, green construction and renovation are booming in Taiwan, Korea, Hong Kong and on the Chinese mainland. Like Taipei 101, many Asian green projects are being designed with personnel and technologies from the U.S. and the EU. And while locally created green building certification systems are being used throughout Asia, the U.S. LEED system has made significant inroads in the region.

The record also shows that Asian governments are investing in green technology far more adroitly than the U.S. While America debates budget and tax cuts and slogs through a swamp of political gridlock and nay-saying, Asian governments are committing capital for the future. Consider the following:

According to a June 2011 article by Benjamin Fox and John D'Angola, "Taipei's legislature has called for the creation of 50 low-carbon pilot communities… by 2012. These communities are to serve as a predecessor to larger initiatives; Taiwan will have four low-carbon cities and two low-carbon islands by 2014, and four low-carbon regions by 2021." The goal is to support Taiwan's emerging clean technology industries.

South Korea spent approximately 80 percent of its economic stimulus on green ventures [PDF], including efficient rail systems, waste and water management, renewable energy and energy-efficient buildings, in an amount equivalent to 3.2 percent of its GDP. Government spending has been widely credited with South Korea's early emergence from the global economic slowdown. A green building and infrastructure program sized at 3.2 percent of 2010 U.S. GDP would invest $470.4 billion in green projects.

China's 12th Five Year Plan, targeted for implementation between 2011 and 2015, will construct 35 million meters (approximately 377 million square feet) of green buildings in Beijing alone. Energy-efficient building retrofits are also a key area of spending in China: it is estimated that 25 percent of the building stock [PDF] in medium-sized cities and 10 percent in small cities will need refurbishment or reconstruction by 2020, according to Diener|Syz Real Estate. About a third of the advisors for China's green ventures will be drawn from the U.S., according to the China Greentech Initiative.

These examples show that government investment is being used successfully to create green buildings, green infrastructure and green jobs across Asia. U.S. technology and expertise are being used in many of these initiatives. If public investment for green jobs works in Chinese renminbi, Taiwanese dollars and Korean won, there's no reason that it can't work in the U.S dollars, especially as the U.S. has the talent and technology to make these investments successful. We just need to end the political gridlock and the nay-saying.

Taipei 101 photo via Shutterstock.