We brought together leaders working to accelerate retrofits in commercial and multifamily properties with a special focus on how to more fully engage utilities.

On Tuesday, March 15th Living Cities held its first ‘catalytic convening’ in partnership with MacArthur Foundation and the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). The idea was to identify and then bring together the leaders who were actually doing something to accelerate retrofits in commercial and multifamily properties with a special focus on how to more fully engage utilities. After about 4 weeks of talking to leading players, we identified 150 people from utilities, lenders, investors, large owners of commercial and multifamily properties, funders, ESCO’s (energy services companies) and local market makers, like our retrofit grantees, trying to build retrofit systems around the country.

With only about 3 weeks notice, 130 of the 150 came. It was the single largest collection of private sector players I had ever seen at a nonprofit/philanthropic meeting. Our goal was to get people together who needed to know each other, make it clear that we were trying to do something very different than others have done and to help them to bring about change in the next 12 months. Aside from the diversity and quality of the people in the room making a statement, the panels did as well.

From the federal side, we had the head of CEQ, Nancy Sutley, the Associate Director of OMB, Xav Briggs and the #2 at the National Economic Council, Brian Deese. On the multifamily panel, expertly moderated by Debra Schwartz from MacArthur, we had Jeff Brodsky, head of real estate management for Related Companies, Dan Letendre of our own Bank of America and Anne Evens who helped create the Chicago retrofit effort that has more than 1,000 building in it. On the commercial panel, we had Uwe Brandes, VP at Urban Land Institute moderate a discussion with Bill Lashbrook, the head of real estate lending for PNC bank, Chuck Leitner, the head of Deutsche Bank’s real estate equity group and Ashok Gupta from National Resources Defense council (NRDC). The panelists were great, frank and provocative and the audience was engaged. Lunch was available from 12:30 to 1:30 and many people stayed talking in groups until 3 pm.