By Shawn Dell-Joyce
Our buildings account for more than half of our carbon emissions, and three-quarters of existing buildings will need to be renovated or remodeled in the next 20 years. We also have a small army of unemployed and underemployed contractors with tools just itching for something to do. What if these ingenious folks were put to work retrofitting existing buildings with energy-efficient upgrades?
Cambridge, Mass., is doing just that — and setting an example for municipalities across the nation. Cambridge set the goal of reducing carbon emissions by 20 percent and drawing 20 percent of municipal power from renewable sources. To meet these ambitious goals, a nonprofit, city-sponsored group was formed to create green-collar jobs and increase building efficiency. The Cambridge Energy Alliance connects local business owners with energy-efficiency experts and bankers willing to loan them the money for these upgrades.
The Alliance generally reduces a business’ energy use 15 to 30 percent. The loans they help to secure are low-interest and can be paid by the savings from the business’s utility bill. Retrofitting thousands of old buildings has helped to stimulate a green-collar job market in Cambridge.
Green-collar jobs that are generated by encouraging energy efficiency would include jobs like home energy auditors, insulation installers, weatherization workers, retrofitters for buildings and solar installers for electricity and solar hot water systems, among other jobs. According to former green-jobs czar Van Jones, green-collar jobs are manual-labor jobs that can’t be outsourced.
“You can’t take a building you want to weatherize, put it on a ship to China and then have them do it and send it back,” Jones said in a 2007 New York Times interview. “So we are going to have to put people to work in this country — weatherizing millions of buildings, putting up solar panels, constructing wind farms. Those green-collar jobs can provide a pathway out of poverty for someone who has not gone to college.”
Picture this: Your child graduates from high school and has the option of going away to college or enrolling in a local trade school, which now includes green alternatives. Let’s say that young Sally, who might have opted for “beautician” as the only viable local career last year, can now choose from a $12/hour job weatherizing senior housing, with potential to grow to $40/hour as a certified home energy auditor. Or perhaps your fledgling will start with $18/hour working as a solar technician and work his way up to $50 per hour as a certified solar installer.
“If we can get these youth in on the ground floor of the solar industry now, where they can be installers today, they’ll become managers in five years and owners in 10. And then they become inventors,” Jones said to The New York Times. “The green economy has the power to deliver new sources of work, wealth and health to low-income people — while honoring the Earth. If you can do that, you just wiped out a whole bunch of problems.” — CNS