Powell blooms in retirement at green building expo
“Colin Powell is … an interesting choice for a convention on green building,” said George Baños, a project manager attending the industry’s largest annual gathering.
Baños was one of thousands of people who assembled in a hangar-sized auditorium at McCormick Place near downtown Chicago this morning to hear the former Secretary of State’s opening address to Greenbuild 2010, a showcase for the latest innovations in green building.
Powell acknowledged he wasn’t an obvious choice.
“All of you should be saying to yourself,” Powell said in opening, ”‘Excuse me, isn’t this guy an infantry officer, the former Secretary of State? What does he know about green building?’”
A lot more than you think, was his answer.
“I am trying to do my part,” Powell said. “One of the core focuses of my life is to get involved in what is going on in the world with respect to the environment.”
Powell talked about his role in building a 50-unit residential building three blocks from his childhood neighborhood in the Bronx that qualified for a LEED Platinum environmental-rating.
Powell is also a limited partner at Silicon Valley bellwether Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, an early backer of Google.
Through them, Powell said, he’s involved in a number of green technology investments and start-ups, like Bloom Energy, the makers of the “Energy Server”— small opaque boxes that use, according to Bloom’s website, “solid oxide fuel cell technology” to generate power.
“Natural gas comes in one end and electricity comes out,” Powell said, adding that the boxes are capable of producing 100 KW of electricity in a clean and efficient manner.
“These aren’t generators backing up the grid, this is the main source of electricity,” he said. “We are going to build a factory in the near future to put them out by the hundreds, not just by the dozens.”
He hopes to make them small and portable enough to replace biomass with electricity in poor or isolated places.
After a few jokes about aging and missing the Secretary of State’s private 757, he moved on to discuss leadership and how to inspire people to achieve progress. And how progress means using innovation to foster wealth creation. This was enthusiastically received by the audience.
Among the hundreds who filed back to the exhibition area during Carville’s speech was architect John Birazzi, a Principal at Booth Hansen in Chicago.
He said he came to the conference to learn about innovations in green building, solar technology, and energy conservation products — not politics.
“I’ve had it up to here with all the divisive politics,” he said. “That’s why I left.”