Wednesday, January 27, 2010

LEEDing to a Brighter Future

Wind farm. Image: Wikipedia

"It was like a time bomb went off," Matt Edler said in a recent article in the Inquirer. For 10 years he worked at the Valero oil refinery in Delaware City. In late November the company announced they would close its operation, putting 550 people out of work.

"My grandfather worked there, my father, and I worked there," he said. "We were all doing the best we could to keep the place alive. That's our life."

It was the second refinery shutdown in the region since October, when Sunoco idled its Eagle Point refinery, just opposite South Philadelphia, along the oft murky waters of the Delaware River. The industry is in trouble, not just from the Great Recession, but due to the belief that U.S. gasoline demand will never return to the highs of a few years back.

Oil Refinery. Image: Wikipedia

The displacement of workers is always tragic. And Philly has seen some of the worst of that throughout the ages. We are at a pivotal moment in history, not unlike the discovery of oil itself. Renewable energy and energy conservation industries are emerging rapidly, and jobs based around them are coming into view clear as water - clean water, that is, not the kind from the Delaware River.

Last week Mayor Michael Nutter announced a $1.4 million green jobs training program and a plan to reduce energy consumption in the city's public buildings 30 percent by 2015. The conservation plan includes retrofitting existing structures with updated energy efficient materials and systems, and is designed to be virtually self-funded, in that estimated savings will offset implementation costs and generate revenue for other services like under-funded libraries, schools and related jobs, while simultaneously creating immediate work for contractors in the construction, home-building and related trades.

English: The emblem of, the offic...
The funding for jobs training is from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, including $100,000 of which will go to Connection Training Services to develop curriculum, course materials and competency models to meet the needs of employers in green industries, $140,000 to a pre-apprentice program at the Energy Coordinating Agency, and $150,000 to the Carpenters Joint Apprentice Committee to fund a program on green construction practices and procedures.

The Mayor shows no lack of boldness in stating his goal. He declares that Philadelphia will be "the greenest city in America." He says on the city's Greenworks website that "reaching it will be an opportunity to reposition and repurpose Philadelphia as a city of the future. 

"For the first time in decades, changes beyond our borders—primarily rising energy prices, but also climate change and an emerging green economy—are increasing the value of our urban assets. Philadelphia’s dense and durable stock of housing, infrastructure and amenities position us to prosper in a carbon-constrained future."

002 Mayor Nutter meet and greet
Phila. Mayor Michel Nutter
To enforce such standards the city is utilizing the LEED certification authority. LEED is a third-party certification program and the nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction and operation of high performance green buildings. The name is an acronym for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. Its certified auditors, consultants, and contractors are quickly growing to be signature career professionals in the green jobs sector. In fact, even the real estate appraisal industry has caught on to this and is including LEED specification training in portions of the Appraisal Institute's professional practice standards valuation guidance. The worth of a home may no longer simply be location, location, location. A building's heating and cooling system, efficiency rating, and insulation type might also be a factor.

Not all green jobs need be so technical and seemingly inaccessible. Some are traditional careers. Mayor Nutter includes local farmers in the category, brewery workers such as those at the Philadelphia Brewing Company who work with organic and locally grown ingredients, teachers who teach sustainability issues and eco-friendly design - even SEPTA bus drivers are green jobbers, he says, due to their providing public transportation for the city (however infrequent that may be, and when not on strike).

What's most inspiring is to see that young people are getting excited about this bold new world of work. A recent article in the local Star community newspaper titled Building for a Brighter Future describes how a consortium of professional and technical societies and major U.S. corporations such as Bentley Systems Inc., Ford Motor Company and Shell are teaming up with many area schools to boost science, biology, and engineering aptitude for kids.

Secretary-General Speaks at Children's Climate...
Technical assistance classes.
At St. Cecilia School in Fox Chase the task for the seventh and eighth-grade participants and their professional mentors is to design and build a model of a viable city, featuring affordable housing with an emphasis on energy efficiency and environmental friendliness. They must plan the community from the ground up, as if accommodating a mass influx of refugees from a natural disaster, like the New Orleans flood, or a financial emergency, such as the subprime mortgage foreclosure crisis.

The local Philadelphia Sheet Metal Workers Union will host the finals of the regional competition on Saturday. The winner of that event will qualify for the national finals in Washington, D.C. in February.

Come to think of it, there's another category that could be considered a green job - writers who blog about green jobs. --D.A. DeMers.

Images compliments of Zemanta and Creative Commons free share license organization.

Enhanced by Zemanta


  1. Another insightful post, Doug.

    FYI, architects and construction project managers are also pursuing continuing education on green technologies/design, spurred in part by government demand that these issues be addressed in bids.

    While I'm also interested to see how the green sector in our economy grows from scratch, what may be more powerful are all of the existing jobs/industries that adapt to new green techs, something your point about appraisal gets at. I'm thinking of things like roofers, siding/gutters, landscapers, and so on.

  2. Great point, Andrew. I noticed that a recent ad from a popular local trade school promoted continuing ed classes in green-building. The key to making this whole thing work is to build upon the skills that people already have, and adapt them to the changes ahead. In the consultant realm the buzz word for this is "fusion careers."

    The initiative here for the building trades, i.e, plumbers, HVACs, carpenters, electricians, etc., does seem to address your point by teaming with local trade unions and community training centers. Nobody should really be worried about becomming obsolete because of the emergence of green jobs - not even the oil refinery workers at Valero. Their process engineering skills are in high demand with renewable energy systems.

    Once people smell the profits, you'd be surprised how quickly they adapt. Good old fashioned capitalism works fine in this regard.

  3. Simple trick to cut your power bill by 75%:

    Want to know how to easily produce all of the renewable energy you could ever want right at home?

    And you’ll be able to make your home totally immune from power failures, blackouts, and energy grid failures
    so even if everyone else in your area (or even the whole country) loses power…you won’t.