Sustainably Speaking

Inspiring words from Gen. Colin Powell

My first Greenbuild Conference & Expo was a success — I was able to explore current sustainable HVAC and plumbing products and meet with industry professionals. Besides networking and learning about products, the highlight of the conference was having the opportunity to attend Retired Gen. Colin Powell’s keynote address with a message of leadership and optimism for the future, which he delivered to a crowd of approximately 10,000 people.

When one thinks of Powell, green building might be the last thing that comes to mind, which he himself admitted to the crowd.

However, Powell has been involved with the green building movement for some time. When he was Secretary of State, he made sure U.S. embassies and consulates around the world were made energy efficient. And then there is the Gen. Colin L. Powell Apartment building, a U.S. Green Building Council LEED Platinum apartment building, named after him, in the Bronx. The building just recently received certification, and it is located in the Longwood section of the South Bronx, a few blocks from where he grew up. And the U.S. Army, which he once commanded, has mandated that all new buildings achieve a minimum of LEED Silver certification beginning in 2013.

Powell spoke to the crowd about his experience growing up in the Bronx, and how remarkable it is that there is now a LEED Platinum affordable housing co-op building named after him in the same area.

Powell told the crowd that the apartment building consists of many sustainable features, including high-efficiency condensing boilers, combined heat and power cogeneration that generates electricity and makes hot water, and dual flush toilets, among others.

He also told the crowd that green building and everyone involved — from contractors and installers to engineers, architects and product developers — are making a contribution to the U.S. and world economy.

“Every person needs to be recognized,” said Powell regarding the green building movement. “Good leaders are those that can see that. See yourself with a broad purpose: to help the world grow economically.”

After speaking about sustainable building, Powell concluded his address by speaking of his past experiences in leadership roles, what he learned from these experiences, and how it is possible to redefine the future, regardless of the past.

“When I speak at schools I tell kids, it doesn’t matter where you start, it matters where you end up,” said Powell. “Never let where you came from or where you have been to be crutches. You can go as far as you want based on performance, willingness and dreams.”

“Always look ahead,” added Powell. “Look through the windshield, not the back window or side window.”

For me, Powell’s closing remarks were very powerful on both a professional and personal level. On a professional level, it is necessary, regardless of what industry one works in, to look to the future and be innovative, not to be scared of change, and always improve processes, products, procedures, etc. On a personal level, where one comes from and where one has been does not define a person, instead perseverance, character and focusing on dreams and goals define a person. After all, that is what has defined and continues to define Colin Powell.