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Renewable energy is good for the planet-and good for business

President Barack Obama

Walmart, but it is different. A few years ago, you decided to put solar panels on the roof of the store. You replaced some traditional light bulbs with LEDs. You made refrigerator cases more efficient.

And all told, those upgrades created dozens of construction jobs and helped this store save money on its energy bills. And that's why I'm here today-because more and more companies like Walmart are realizing that wasting less energy isn't just good for the planet-it's good for business. It's good for the bottom line. And it means jobs.

Changing the way we use energy is just one of the ways Americans have been working so hard to move this country forward. In the wake of the worst financial and economic crisis in generations, our businesses now have created over 9.2 million new jobs.

A housing market that was reeling is rebounding. An auto industry that was flat-lining is now booming. And rather than create jobs in other countries, more companies are actually choosing to create jobs and invest right here in the U.S.

One of the biggest factors in bringing jobs back to America has been our commitment to American energy over the last five years. We generate more renewable energy than ever, with tens of thousands of good American jobs to show for it.

We're becoming a global leader in solar, thanks in part to the investments we've made in the Recovery Act. Over the past few years, the cost of solar panels has fallen by 60 percent; solar installations have increased by 500 percent. Every four minutes, another American home or business goes solar, and every panel is pounded into place by a worker whose job cannot be overseas.

We know that making buildings more energy efficient is one of the easiest, cheapest ways to create jobs, save money, and cut down on harmful pollution that causes climate change. It could save our businesses tens of billions of dollars a year on their energy bills-and they can then use that money to grow and hire more folks. It would put construction workers back to work installing new systems and technologies.

Three years ago, I announced what we called the Better Buildings Initiative. It's an ambitious plan to improve the energy efficiency of America's commercial buildings by 20 percent by the year 2020. And already we've got 190 businesses and organizations that have signed on. On average, they're on track to meet their goal-cutting energy use by 2.5 percent every single year. Together, they've already saved $300 million in energy costs. So we know it works.

And that's why, over the past few months, I've been picking up the phone and reaching out to more leaders to get them on board. And today, they're stepping up-from cities, school districts, businesses, universities, you're seeing folks move on energy efficiency. GM is pledging to improve energy efficiency in 31 plants. The University of Virginia is doing the same thing in its buildings. Cities like Little Rock, Kansas City, and Detroit are replacing regular street lights with more efficient LEDs.

And at Walmart, you've committed to reducing energy consumption across 850 million square feet of space. That's a lot. That's enough to cover more than half of the city of San Francisco. Taken together, this is going to make a difference, and it's the right thing to do for the planet, but it's also the right thing to do for the bottom line.

Two years ago, I ordered $2 billion in energy upgrades to federal buildings. Today, I'm ordering an additional $2 billion in upgrades over the next three years. And these upgrades will create tens of thousands of construction jobs and save taxpayers billions of dollars.

And last month, I called up leaders from a whole range of industries and made the economic case for why solar is a good idea. And they listened. And today, more than 300 organizations-from homebuilders, to affordable housing owners, to companies like Home Depot and Apple-announced that they are going to expand the use of solar energy, thereby creating more jobs and cutting carbon pollution.

Together, the commitments we're announcing prove that there are cost-effective ways to tackle climate change and create jobs at the same time.

So often, when we hear about how we're going to deal with this really serious issue, people say we can't afford to do it; it won't be good for the economy. It will be good for the economy long term-and if we don't, that will be bad for the economy. Rising sea levels, drought, more wildfires, more severe storms-those are bad for the economy. So we can't afford to wait. And there's no reason why we can't even go further than we are so far by working with states and utilities and other organizations to change the way we power our economy. Climate change is real, and we have to act now.

For the Record is an excerpt of a speech given by President Barack Obama on May 9 at a Walmart in Mountain View, California.


May/June 2014