Brendan Owens, LEED AP, P.E.
Vice President, LEED Technical Development
U.S. Green Building Council
If 10 years ago, someone had told you that a consumer desire to buy paints that don’t emit harmful fumes (also known as VOCs) would jeopardize the jobs of decent, hard working Americans, would you have believed them? If they had predicted that 10 years in the future, low-emitting paint, carpets and adhesives, would not only be widely available but also considered by many industry practitioners as standard rather than specialty products, would you have believed them? For me, it’s honestly tough to say.
Ten years ago I doubt I knew 50% of what I have come to know as a result of my engagement with the green building movement. Ten years ago I’m pretty sure I knew what VOCs were – but only because I had to endure organic chemistry in college: Not because I knew they were a paint ingredient. Ten years ago I’m pretty certain I knew that VOCs weren’t good for you, but I probably couldn’t have explained why (I was a pretty focused energy guy back in the day). Ten years ago I’m 100% certain that I would not have been able to tell you that VOCs were a chemical ingredient that, although they were very common at the time, would be completely absent from every single paint we used when we renovated the house we moved in to last year. And there’s just absolutely no way that 10 years ago I would have been able to tell you that it wouldn’t cost me a dime more to purchase a product that performs the same, but is vastly healthier than available alternatives.
|Photo credit: Bob Mical|
Since USGBC launched LEED in 2000, we’ve seen some extraordinary changes in our industry. Pick a product: paint, carpet, chillers, glass, lighting, furniture, air handlers, adhesives, lavatories, composite wood, concrete, toilets, steel, wood, building automation/controls, aluminum, drywall, insulation – virtually any product we make buildings out of/with – and I’m certain you can find a product that performs the same or better but has a vastly improved environmental and/or human health footprint than a comparable product sold in 2000. Has LEED driven all this? Certainly not on its own – the clever people who brought us these improved products were just as clever before LEED came along – but one thing I think we can say with confidence is that the rate at which this innovation occurred was accelerated by LEED. I think we can also say with confidence that the companies that took hold of the leadership of this movement and cultivated the innovation that has changed our industry are vastly better positioned than their competitors to respond to the global challenges we all collectively face.
In spite of all of this, trade associations are currently running around telling lawmakers that the ideas that USGBC is considering for future versions of LEED – ideas that are enhancements to the market-based ideas from previous versions of LEED, ideas that led to revolutionary innovation which has made hundreds of companies globally more competitive and hugely more profitable – are putting the jobs of decent, hard working Americans at risk. Do you believe them?
Me neither. Let’s do something about it.
U.S. Green Building Council
The Role of Energy Efficiency
Now that I have your attention, I will admit that this metaphor is not an original of my own, but rather a provocative and common sense remark made by Peter Molinaro, Vice President of U.S. Government Affairs at the Dow Chemical Company, during a Capitol Hill briefing yesterday on energy efficiency jobs.
Monday, the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) and Northeast-Midwest Senate Coalition hosted a Congressional briefing on the “Economic Impacts of Energy Efficiency Policies and Investments.” An expert panel, including the aforementioned Peter Molinaro; Harvey Bernstein, Vice President of Industry Insights and Alliances at McGraw Hill Construction; Kevin Crawford, Senior Vice President of Orion Energy Systems; Malcolm Woolf, Director of the Maryland Energy Administration and Chair of the National Association of State Energy Officials (NASEO); and Paul Hamilton, Vice President of Government Affairs, addressed a full room about the role of energy efficiency in job creation and economic recovery.
In an economy where construction activities, and consequently jobs, are at an all time low, green construction has maintained its level of economic activity and has even increased in many sectors from 2008 levels. These figures come from the findings of McGraw Hill Construction’s latest research venture on the green building construction, which revealed that the green building market supports 661,000 jobs in the U.S. and represents a third of the design and construction workforce.
In addition to the employment benefits of green building and energy efficiency, let’s think about its effect on American consumers: “The average American household spends $2175 a year on home heating, cooling and electricity. Over $5000 if you add the cost of transportation,” according to Molinaro. He continued, “If we can get every household in America to save 10%, that’s $25 billion available for other things…If we can save 30%, eminently doable with existing technology, that’s $74 billion in additional discretionary spending.”
The facts and figures are clear and real. Energy efficiency is a growing industry with astronomical potential. Energy efficiency supports both job creation and workforce transformation within a rapidly globalizing economy, allowing the U.S. to maintain international competitiveness. Paul Hamilton of Schneider Electric included a graph in his presentation with the caveat that energy management and the goals of energy efficiency support a “food chain of jobs.” And Molinaro reminded us of how this discussion is more timely and pertinent than ever. The “Occupy Movement” nationwide is concerned with the ever-widening income disparity between classes in the U.S. Energy efficiency is an opportunity to rebuild the middle class and put Americans back to work.
The speakers add that the low-hanging fruit of energy efficiency is often overlooked as a financial opportunity by consumers. Government policies and incentives are critical to supporting this sector, and no, that does not mean subsidies!! We need policies that remove barriers for innovative private sector finance, such as Property Assessed Clean Energy or PACE, and policies that facilitate data access and transparency. Training and certification programs are also essential to transforming the existing workforce and assisting our students and recent graduates to find a competitive job.
Harvey Bernstein had a final remark that resonated with me, “We are on the verge of another Industrial Revolution.” If the prospect of continued rapid global population growth and resource scarcity is not enough to prompt you to action, how about something closer to home? In a tough economy, why are we setting fire to money when energy efficiency can help alleviate unemployment, rebuild the U.S. economy and restore our global competitiveness?
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