Siemens Ari Kobb: Growing Market Share by Leading an Industry

"Green jobs are tied to fast growing segments of the economy, namely green buildings and energy efficiency. Despite the down economy, green buildings have grown while the overall construction market has declined."

Below is an interview with Ari Kobb, Director of Green Building Solutions for the Building Technologies Division, Siemens Industries. The interview is part of an on-going series by Maryruth Priebe, special to THE GREEN ECONOMY.

Q: What do you think of the green economy?

A McGraw-Hill Construction report, presented at Greenbuild in Chicago in November 2010, estimates that green buildings already account for 35% of the construction/major renovation market today, and this should increase from 40% to 48% by 2013.    This is far greater an impact than anyone expected. This means that in most key construction sectors, green buildings are growing and taking a larger share of the market--notably in higher education, commercial office and healthcare.    In addition, LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) for Existing Buildings is finally taking hold, and this year accounts for 1/3 of total LEED projects.

Q: What has been the most encouraging aspect of the green economy?

Efficiency is the quickest and easiest way to reduce consumption, reduce GHG and have a positive impact on the bottom line.    When you look at energy efficiency projects--such as implementing new equipment, building envelope improvements, lighting retrofits, building control upgrades and strategies--we see a tremendous demand for people with those skill sets in engineering and project management. These are green jobs. Nothing against renewable--we have a robust business in alternative and renewable technologies for customers, including solar PV, small wind projects, landfill gas to energy--but efficiency can drive the green economy.

Q: What has been the most disappointing?

I am not disappointed.    There definitely was a lot of hype, but I believe that those who are discouraged aren't looking at the right things. If we look just at what the US Federal Government is doing, I would say that we should be encouraged.    They have implemented mandates and targets for energy efficiency, water conservation, GHG reduction, renewable energy use, metering and reporting, agency sustainability plans and green building standards. Very impressive. Green building legislation has continued to grow: hundreds of municipalities and most states have implemented green building guidelines for new building construction. But what has been most encouraging has been corporate America's embrace of sustainability, and how rapidly it has grown and become part of the strategic discussion.  Looking again at the research study that we did with McGraw-Hill (which was a follow up to a 2006 study), we can see that the C-Suite views sustainability as not only a cost saving and operations efficiency strategy, but as a differentiator in the market, and as a means to attract and retain customers and top talent.

Q: Has dubious green marketing tarnished the glimmer of green?

You assume that there is dubious green marketing. Because the market is embracing green, we have seen explosive growth of green products, whether in the area of water, energy, renewables or products like paint and flooring.  There are industry standards covering these areas that really do keep the "greenwasher" at bay.  You are never going to be able to keep the free market from pushing the limits, but I do not believe that we are over hyped.

Q: What do you think about the talk of green jobs, stimulus funds, and so forth?

I believe people want more.  If you read some of the pundits, like Thomas Friedman, an avid China-watcher, you'll see that he is tapping into a sentiment that we can do more. He thinks that because we have not made energy policy or GHG [green house gas] reduction a priority, that China has taken a leadership position, especially in the area of renewable energy technology.  However, our clean-tech sector is growing, and despite what some perceive as lack of government incentive, there is still significant investment and focus. If we view green holistically--energy, water, environmental quality, renewable, materials/resources--there is so much more opportunity out there.  As the market begins to get better cost and savings data, we will quell the hype and prove the economic argument for going green.

Q: What holds the greatest potential for a turnaround?

I wish that there was a silver bullet that would solve our energy and environmental issues, but there isn't.  The green economy (and the efficient economy) is driven by a combination of attitude shifts, demographic shifts, government leadership and corporate America's embrace of sustainability.  I see no turning back.

Q: What will it look like for the green economy to become business as usual?

Green is becoming the norm. We have seen an increase in the use of LEED in the public sector--government in particular. Green building is a desired outcome in most new construction today--at least in the projects in sectors that are most visible (higher education, class A commercial office, data centers, healthcare, federal government facilities). As the industry gets more and more experienced, the data on the benefits of green becomes more available (cost savings, operations savings, improved occupant comfort, productivity and satisfaction). In the future, LEED is likely to continue to make certification more demanding for the "greenest" buildings--the cream of the crop.  This is not a bad thing at all. We are seeing LEED adopt more stringent standards on the energy efficiency side, and on the post-occupancy performance metrics as well.

From a Siemens perspective, we are part of the green economy, and our business has been successful because of this: even during a very challenging economic time.  New people coming into our company are proud to work for a leader in the energy/green world, and they are demanding that we embrace sustainability within our own business as well.