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How the Stimulus Will Help Green Jobs and Green Businesses

The federal government's stimulus package is a top-of-mind concern for companies of all stripes these days, as worries about the economy only continue to grow. But above and beyond keeping businesses afloat, stimulus dollars are also aimed at moving the U.S. to a more low-carbon and green-collar economy. executive editor Joel Makower recently sat down with Nancy Sutley, the head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, to talk about where stimulus dollars are going and how they can be put to use in the greening of businesses large and small.

[This interview is also available as a podcast; listen or download below.]

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Joel Makower: Nancy, a lot of big companies, and smaller companies, they’re looking at what’s happening in the Obama administration, looking at what’s happening with green jobs and the green economy. I’m trying to understand where is the opportunity for them, not just to get stimulus money. It’s not simply about that, although that’s of interest, but what’s the role that you’re gonna be looking to them to help create green jobs?

Nancy Sutley: Well I think there’s a few things. The thing about the stimulus money, in addition to whether someone can find a program in there that works for their company, which I know there are a number of them, and not only the president has said, you know, we’ve got to get the money out quickly. The Department of Energy is working very hard on getting the money out quickly, showing that companies can take advantage of some of the pots of money, who are in the position to create green jobs, to move these technologies forward.

I think it really is a commitment, it shows a commitment to thinking differently about energy and looking to the private sector through research and development and deployment of these technologies to unleash the creativity of the private sector in a lot of these cases. I think having a research scientist, like Dr. Chu, running the energy department, I mean he gets that sort of chain of how you get from a bright idea in the lab to technologies that can be deployed.

We’re thinking not only about stimulus money, but the policies that support these kinds of businesses and that will focus people on developing these technologies. In talking about moving towards this clean energy economy and talking about –- you know, the president asked for Congress to send him legislation capping greenhouse gas emissions with a market-based system that, in addition to specific policies, will also provide a real spark and real stimulus to these companies.

JM: My company isn’t in the energy business. We’re probably not gonna qualify for that. I’m in a mechanical company. I’m a small parts manufacturer. I’m a retail chain. What’s the opportunity that I get to have in being able to, first of all, be part of the solution but also to help grow my business through new green opportunities of some sort?

NS: Well I think that this idea that we can have an economy that’s prosperous and more productive with less impact on the planet, clearly energy is sort of the biggest kind of explanation or the biggest thing people think about now. That kind of ethic, I think, is one that does translate to every part of our economy, and that we can harness this incredible record of technological innovation, that we can solve problems and really change our economy and change our world, and it will extend beyond just energy.

Then, things like the federal government is the largest single landlord in the U.S. It’s the largest single energy consumer in the U.S. It buys a huge number of products and services. Thinking about, as many state and local governments have, thinking about policies that say, “When we’re doing something, we should do it as sustainably as possible.” We have something in CEQ called the Office of the Federal Environmental Executive, which is focused on greening the federal government. Beefing that up and harnessing the creativity of the public and private sector to make the federal government greener will provide opportunities for people outside of just the energy business.

JM: So there’s a huge procurement opportunity. What’s that gonna look like? Is that gonna be something just more of what the government’s been doing all along? This was launched back in the Clinton administration, the Office of Federal Environmental Executive, or are there gonna be some new programs that you anticipate that are specifically gonna be ramping up purchases of green products and services?

NS: The existing structures have really I think sparked a conversation within the federal family about how do we do things. Over this time, I think agencies have learned not only from thinking about what they do, but also with their interactions with other agencies. We’re taking a look at that. For me, a goal for my time as chair of the CEQ would be to really make a mark on the sustainability of the federal government.

JM: Is there any particular opportunity you see for smaller entrepreneurial companies that have green products/green technologies that they believe that the government should be buying?

NS: Well I know that it’s a challenge I think with federal procurement rules. I know this from state and local government, too. You know, they can be difficult to navigate, but we’ll have to take a look at that because I think that in this area there’s so much opportunity for innovation that we have to find ways to help bring that to the market.

JM: Any advice for companies in terms of how they might make themselves more visible, whether it’s you or another branch of the government?

NS: I think that looking at the opportunities in the federal government -– the federal government is buying things all the time – and not being afraid to sort of say, “Hey, maybe I have something that’s useful for the government,” and not to be scared off necessarily. You don’t have to be a big company to do this.

JM: Are you optimistic about all that’s to come in the next 12 to 24 month?

NS: I think I am optimistic. I think that the president has been very clear from the campaign, and now as president, about how high a priority it is to really focus on this transformation of our energy economy to one that’s cleaner and to reduce our environmental impacts.

I’ve been in government a long time and at all levels of government. Having the leadership from the top saying that this is an important issue and a priority, and that it’s important for our current economic situation to deal with our current economic situation, but really to make that investment in the future. It’s a great time to be doing this and I’m very excited to be here.

JM: Great. Thanks so much, Nancy.

NS: You’re welcome.

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