Lead by Example, Clinton Tells Sustainability Forum

Source: MIREYA NAVARRO, New York Times • Posted: Friday, April 20, 2012

Bill Clinton speaking Thursday at a Midtown Manhattan hotel.Bill Clinton speaking Thursday at a Midtown Manhattan hotel.

“Chill out – sometimes this stuff takes years.”

That was Bill Clinton’s wry observation on Thursday as he addressed a sustainability conference in New York City, expressing frustration over how long it is taking for the country to move forward on clean energy and energy efficiency.

Appearing before a crowd of around 250 at the annual Sustainable Operations Summit at the Hilton New York in Midtown Manhattan, the former president said there had been some progress but that the upfront costs of adopting better technology — especially in shaky economic times — and a cultural resistance to change remained significant obstacles.

“We are too wedded to the way we’ve done things,” Mr. Clinton said, waving his reading glasses for emphasis as he spoke. “It’s psychological as well as financial. We have to liberate ourselves from that.”

Mr. Clinton, who sees upgrades as a way to create jobs and boost the economy, has made a cause of retrofitting buildings to conserve energy through his Clinton Climate Initiative and President Obama’s Better Building Challenge, which promotes public and private investment in energy efficiency projects. He encouraged his audience of business and environmental executives to lead “by argument and example” to convince people that sustainable growth is the only kind of growth that makes sense in the long run.

“Keep doing the little things that add up,” he said.

In a brief question-and-answer session, Mr. Clinton also touched on politics and the Trayvon Martin shooting case in Florida. He did not address the Florida case directly other than to say that the so-called Stand Your Ground statute “is not a good law” and that tighter gun control laws would ultimately come about only at the behest of voters, for example, by organizing a referendum vote.

Looking sharp in a dark suit and red tie, Mr. Clinton drew laughter when he referred to Eric Fehrnstrom, the Mitt Romney aide who got into trouble last month for saying that once the primary phase was over, the Romney campaign could reset the campaign message, comparing it to shaking an Etch A Sketch.

“He told the truth,” he said. “Sometimes that’s the worst sin you can commit in politics.” Mr. Clinton then made the point that, out of the heat of the primaries, the presidential candidates could engage in a different debate about controversial issues like health care.

Mr. Clinton said he stood firmly behind President Obama in the coming election.

“Most of his policies have moved the country in the right direction,” he said. “I personally think we’re making a pretty good comeback.”