Decoding Design

A redesign of green infrastructure funding: re-investing workers' pension assets

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At an opening session of the Clinton Global Initiative's annual meeting in New York, former U.S. president Bill Clinton discussed an innovative program to fund new jobs in the green infrastructure sector, in which working families' retirement assets become sources of financing.

NEW YORK -- Most news related to the state of employment in the United States today is not sunny. But at the Clinton Global Initiative's annual meeting, which opened today in Manhattan, former U.S. president Bill Clinton discussed how an innovative way of funding energy-efficient infrastructure is starting to create new jobs and gain momentum faster than first expected.

At a morning session, Clinton brought on stage leaders from the AFL-CIO and the American Federation of Teachers and informed the audience about these organizations' joint program (in partnership with the Center for American Progress, a think tank, and CGI) to re-invest up to $10 billion in pension assets of working families into green infrastructure projects. The idea first came about in January of 2011, and at the first CGI America meeting in Chicago in June, the funding plan was designed.

The AFL-CIO, made a June commitment to fund $20 million for energy projects, Clinton told the audience, but in the last 3 months alone, the organization has already funded $134 million in green energy and asbestos abatement projects since June in New York City alone, to create new jobs.

"This is very important not just because of scale but because of scope," Clinton said. "What I hope is that banks and others will see this and ask, 'why should retirement funds have all the fun?' We'd have a million new jobs and I'm not kidding."

Clinton suggested that this new model could work in Asia, where he said there exist similar resources, as well as in Europe, which is facing economic and employment troubles on a large scale. "I see my friend Gerry Adams writing this down," Clinton said, pointing to the Irish politician, sitting in the audience. "This would be great in Ireland."

Creating jobs in the U.S. and around the world is one of three main topics to be addressed in this year's CGI annual meeting, which asks companies, governments, influential individuals, non-profits, and NGOs to partner to create projects to improve the livelihood of people around the globe. They must later report on their progress at the CGI annual meeting. The other two key topics at his year's high-profile gathering are exploring sustainable consumption and "Girls and Women: Scaling What Works," a theme that was also addressed at CGI's past events.

A destination for for heads of state, CEOs, NGOs, and movie stars alike, the event is expected to attract 1,200 attendees. This year, they will range from Muhtar Kent, Chairman and CEO of the Coca-Cola Company, to the musician Sting and his wife Trudie Styler, to President Barack Obama, all confirmed to join Clinton during the three-day gathering, which runs through September 22.

Photo: Taylor Davidson/CGI

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Image: Jake Wellington/Wikimedia Commons

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Reena Jana

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Reena Jana has written for the New York Times, Wired, Harvard Business Review online, Fast Company, Architectural Record, Artforum, Time Out New York, Harper's Bazaar, and GQ. Previously, she was the innovation department editor at BusinessWeek. She holds degrees from Columbia University and Barnard College. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure