A few blocks down the street from the White House, two dated 1970s office buildings are being combined and renovated into a space that will cut energy use and emissions by more than half. Soon, around half of the existing buildings in the city will also need to make changes under a new law.
It’s one piece of an ambitious climate bill, to be signed into law later today, which aims to help the city cut its carbon emissions by 50% in a little more than a decade. First, the law calls for 100% renewable electricity by 2032. “It’s the most ambitious renewable portfolio standard in the country,” says Mark Rodeffer, the chapter chair for D.C. Sierra Club. The deadline is 13 years earlier than those in California or Hawaii, which are also moving to 100% renewable electricity. More than 90 cities also have the same goal–including the larger city of San Francisco, which is aiming for 2030–though D.C.’s law, like the state laws in California and Hawaii, makes renewable energy a legal requirement for utilities, not a voluntary ambition. The law also calls for D.C. to increase its use of solar power, with a total of 10% of electricity coming from solar by 2041.
A rendering of the the 1101 16th Street NW offices, being redesigned by HOK. [Image: courtesy HOK]
“I think it’s especially interesting because less than three years ago, [D.C.’s] renewable portfolio standard for 2032 was 50%,” says Jay Orfield, who works with the communities program at the nonprofit NRDC. “I think that speaks to a number of elements in support of renewables–the pricing continuing to come down, but then also realizing that action on climate change needs to be ramped up.”
The city is also moving to electric vehicles: By 2045, all city buses, taxis, limos, and other privately owned fleets with 50 or more passengers or vehicles will have to use zero-emission vehicles. But buildings are an especially important part of the overall plan, since they account for around three-quarters of the city’s emissions. The city already has a benchmarking program that requires the largest buildings to report their energy use. But that will expand to include any building larger than 10,000 square feet. Over a period of years, those buildings will also have to meet new standards for energy use, meaning they’ll likely have to do some renovation or tweak the automated systems that run heating and cooling.
A rendering of the new terrace the 1101 16th Street NW offices, being redesigned by HOK. [Image: Neoscape/courtesy HOK]“You can’t really tackle that chunk of emissions, and that chunk of electricity consumption, if you don’t tackle buildings,” says Anica Landreneau, director of sustainable design at HOK, the design, architecture, engineering, and planning firm that is working on the renovation of the offices near the White House. “And if you’re only turning over 1% to 2% of existing building stock every year, you have to look at existing buildings.” Various programs will help building owners with funding retrofits, including the city’s Green Bank, which will give loans using money that initially comes from fees paid by utilities.
Other cities are considering similar plans, while the federal government, with a former coal lobbyist poised to be confirmed as the new head of the EPA, fails to act on climate change. “The action is all at the state and local level,” says Rodeffer. “That is where we will see real significant action on climate change, and that is the only way–at least for the next two years–to try to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And the good news is most people understand this is a serious problem and want to do something about it.”
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I often reflect on how lucky I am to have been taught, early on, the two most valuable words in business: just ask. As an entrepreneur who felt in over my head and unqualified to take on the roles I did (and do), asking became my magic.
And it’s damn addictive. Once I started to realize that asking leads to yes far more than it leads to no, it became a habit for me, fueled confidence, and led to self-fulfilling outcomes.
One of my favorite “just ask” stories came early on when I was building my marketing and communications firm, Prosek Partners. We were in a high-profile competition for a new piece of business. We did so well in the first round that we were told, “You’re going to get it. You just have to pass muster with the founder.”
The partner who delivered that news was named Andrew. He reinforced how impressed he was and how good the chemistry was between our teams. But unfortunately, at the meeting with the founder, we froze. He was among the most intimidating humans we had ever encountered, and we fell like dominoes in his presence. We knew, leaving that meeting, that we had blown it.
How I turned a “no” into a “yes”
When Andrew called, I knew it was bad news. He felt terrible but informed me that they would move in another direction. He promised he’d make other introductions for me and my business and that he hoped our paths would cross again.
Five minutes after we hung up, I decided to pick up the phone and call him back. When he answered, I told him that I was going to ask for something outrageous, that he shouldn’t feel obligated, but we are so interested in the business that I thought I’d ask.
I asked for another meeting with the founder. Another chance. With a fresh team. Silence fell between us for a few moments, and then he said, “Jen, I doubt it, but I will try.” We had our second chance a day later.
I’m sure you know where this story is going. We got the business, and 13 years later, this firm remains a top client, and the founder is a dear friend. It turns out he was impressed that we wanted his business and more impressed that we were gritty enough to ask for a second chance. Founders connect with that behavior.
The rules I live by when I make an ask
Of course, there’s an art to asking, and as I practiced more and more, I began to identify common themes that got me from a yes to a no. Based on my experience, going by these principles have always served me well:
• What’s the downside?: If you’re trying to muster the courage, always ask yourself, “What’s the downside?” In most cases, you will find the answer is perhaps a little bit of embarrassment or a blow to one’s ego–not too much of a loss after all.
• Ask with humanity and authenticity: My ask to Andrew would not have gotten anywhere if we had not established a human connection and mutual respect for one another. I explained to him, authentically and humbly, that I was genuinely disappointed in myself and how much it would mean to me to have a second chance.
• Watch your timing: Timing your ask is incredibly crucial. Don’t ask for something when someone is under pressure or overwhelmed, running out the door or having a bad day.
• Don’t qualify your ask: Deliver your ask directly and confidently. Don’t apologize for your ask.
• What’s in it for them?: Your ask should deliver something for the other party, even if it’s just a sense of contribution. To this day, Andrew feels great that he was able to provide an opportunity to a young entrepreneur who was building her business at a critical time. To this day, I always remind him of the impact he made on my professional life and career.
There is something to the expression “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” In business, if you don’t ask, you often don’t get. Remember, the downside is rarely as bad as you think, but the upside might be even better than what you’ve ever imagined.
Jen Prosek is the CEO & founder of Prosek Partners.