Illinois Green Challenges And Opportunities

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Illinois Green Challenges And Opportunities

  1. 1. Illinois Green: Challenges and Opportunities Prepared by Victoria Cooper, PhD vcooper@victoriacooperphd.com September 9, 2009 The nation as a whole and Illinois in particular is faced with the need to address the growing cost of energy and the crisis of climate change. One solution that has taken center stage is the concept of creating green jobs. Many firms, workforce development boards and educational institutions have made a commitment to this idea. The proposition is that by supporting green jobs we can address two of the most important challenges we face today: climate change and economic recession. What is a green job? The first proponents of green jobs, or green collar jobs, as they were initially called, identified them as employment directly related to the energy sector and the reduction of the use of fossil fuels for energy production. Some of the job titles originally included in the categories were bicycle repair mechanic, weatherization construction worker and solar panel installer. The job titles and training programs associated with them mostly addressed the goal of preparing a workforce to do the tasks necessary to reduce residential, commercial and industrial energy use. By 2007, with the passage and signing by President Bush of the Green Jobs Act, an expanded understanding of green jobs emerged. The jobs categories now included a much wider range of job titles and careers pertinent to or related to energy production and use as well as climate change. Among them were jobs in the professions such as environmental engineers, architects, and landscape designers. Skilled trades workers in fields such as electrical, plumbing and heating, ventilation and air conditioning were also added to the list of green jobs because their skills were needed to install and repair building systems directly related to energy efficiency. Examples include the installation of energy conserving hot water heaters, putting in place electrical systems to run solar and solar-thermal systems, and the operation and maintenance of heating and air conditioning systems to increase efficiency. With the growth in fuel and energy costs during the last few years the methods of addressing the challenges associated with these increases we have seen an explosion of interest and an expansion of the green jobs concept. As stated by the American Association of Community Colleges: “The pervasiveness of Green: Every job will have a green tinge to it, since energy waste will be costly and unacceptable”1 In Illinois we saw some early activity around energy efficiency through the work of the State to provide funds for home weatherization for low income families as a way to reduce energy costs. This effort was financed by the US Department of Energy and the energy company portfolio standards passed by the Illinois legislature in late 1990s. More recently at the state level, ARRA funds, through the Illinois Department of Commerce 1 Green Jobs: An Overview, Carolyn Teich, American Association of Community Colleges, www.aacc.nche.edu/sustainable 1
  2. 2. and Economic Opportunity, are being used to encourage the development of energy efficiency programs in home weatherization, institutional alternative energy and energy efficiency programs and innovation in new technologies. As part of the most recent Capital Improvement bill passed by the legislature there are requirements for green construction. Governor Pat Quinn has been identified with green programs and is encouraging energy efficiency initiatives. Training for green jobs has become a priority for the Illinois Community College Board. All community colleges in the State have formed an organization called the Illinois Community College Sustainability Network where curriculum and best practices can be shared. This statewide organization sees as its goal the increasing of green job training throughout the State. Through funds from the State Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, four initial schools received start-up funds for Sustainability Centers. Two additional schools have been added. The community college system in Illinois, along with Chicago City Colleges, are working towards increasing their programs addressing green jobs. Chicago and the Chicagoland area have embraced the green jobs concept and implemented programs and policies to put this commitment into practice. First,with the leadership of the Mayor and City officials, Chicago has strived to become the greenest city in the United States. Initially, building code incentives led to the adoption of USGBC Green Building Standards by many building owners for new and existing institutional, commercial and residential structures. Using the Chicago Building Department expedited construction permitting for green buildings and adding green components to the building codes, Chicago instituted green construction incentives and requirements. Public efforts and code requirements have led to the greening of open spaces in the city. To illustrate the importance of addressing and minimizing climate change Chicago invested in creating a green roof on City Hall. This project is very successful. It has shown that using green roofs as insulation against heat and cold can play a role in reducing energy costs. Roof top temperatures have been greatly reduced in comparison to temperatures on adjacent non-green roofs. Not only did the green roof on City Hall have an energy reduction impact, the process identified a green career path in urban horticulture and agriculture which continues to grow with increased job placement for low skilled, difficult to employ individuals. In fact, Green Corps, a City of Chicago workforce development program, has recently been recognized with grants from private and public sector agencies to support its activities. Chicago has shown impressive leadership with the creation of the Chicago Climate Action Plan. This document identifies strategies to address climate change and the resulting lowering of greenhouse gas emissions. It focuses particularly on the built environment, energy efficiency measures, alternative energy sources and the methods that can be used to cut energy costs. 2
  3. 3. The spotlight on these policies has led to other municipalities along with the State of Illinois developing similar mandates and incentives. The City of Evanston Office of Sustainability was established and set a goal of reducing green house gas emissions. In Lake County, Illinois, the Board adopted in 2009 a “Strategy for a Sustainable Lake County”. We will continue to see communities throughout the State of Illinois continue to focus on increasing their programs and policies to become more sustainable and energy independent. The political and social climate in Illinois creates multiple opportunities for entry into the green marketplace. With the increased interest in alternative energy there are possibilities of creating substantial installations of wind turbines, solar-thermal arrays, and geo-thermal systems. We have already seen proposals for such projects. Other opportunities exist in the manufacturing strength of the Chicagoland area where there is adequate capacity for component production and assembly. Retooling the manufacturing capability could certainly have an impact on job creation. Since Chicago is a transportation hub for the Midwest and the nation, innovative improvements in transportation, with support from the Federal government, will further encourage and support the reduction of the use of fossil fuel. Given all this progress and commitment to a greener economy, green job creation is a requirement. But jobs don’t stand alone. Employers need to integrate green jobs into their operations in every sector of the economy. Manufacturers must produce green products in green ways. Construction companies must build green structures for clients who want green buildings. Service providers, such as health care institutions, need to reduce their climate impact. Companies in every sector of the economy must review their operations and identify ways to reduce their climate impact and energy use. To understand the scope of the task we can identify five economic sectors that are central to addressing our climate change strategies. Energy-renewable, alternative and efficient: With the increased interest in alternative energy there are possibilities of creating substantial installations of wind turbines, solar- thermal arrays, and geo-thermal systems. We have already seen proposals for such projects. These ventures stimulate jobs and capacity building in the electrical grid to carry the power they generate, along with the associated activities of the production of the supplies and materials to bring them to completion. New construction, building renovation, operations and maintenance to reduce energy use in existing buildings: Though the construction industry is suffering greatly in this recession we have seen some signs of economic turn around in the last few months. The drive for climate action will stimulate the increase in jobs and commercial activity related to the built environment. Recycled and reused construction products will generate jobs in deconstruction, warehousing and transport of materials. Existing buildings will be retrofitted for alternative energy usage. New construction will be designed and executed using energy efficient methods and practices. 3
  4. 4. Transportation for individuals and commodities: Alternative energy autos and trucks provide another opportunity for green jobs. Production of the vehicles, powering them and maintaining them all require new skills for people in those occupations. We can see community colleges throughout the state looking at their automotive programs to augment fossil fuel based curriculum with alternative energy skills development. As the regional hub for rail and other inter-modal transportation such as air and long haul trucks, Chicago presents many opportunities for job growth. The installation of charging stations for electric cars and the conversion to bio-diesel fuel for large over the road vehicles are just two examples. The creation of high speed rail would have a major impact on the job creation and would be a positive contribution to preventing climate change by reducing the use of fossil fuel through the decreased use of personal vehicles. Manufacturing: The Chicagoland area has underutilized manufacturing capacity. This provides an opportunity to introduce energy systems component production and assembly. Retooling the manufacturing capability could certainly have an impact on job creation. Agriculture and horticulture: As an agricultural state Illinois has focused its activity in the area of corn and soybean production. There has been increased interest in locally grown food. In Illinois, legislation has passed and been signed by the Governor that encourages increased production in more diverse agricultural production. This has been identified as an area for increased job creation among hard to employ and under employed individuals. While this may not seem to have the potential for large scale employment, innovations in urban agriculture with all year round production using green house technology and hydroponics may just provide the type of innovation needed to create green jobs. Illinois has economic strength in each of these employment sectors. We provide a transportation hub for manufactured goods from all over the world. We also have a proud history of manufacturing in our region. We have a construction growth record that rivals many regions throughout the world. Our agricultural capacity is a central pillar of our economy. We have just begun to address our energy sector which currently uses very little renewable and alternative energy. The Chicago Climate Action Plan and its associated programs address the energy sector in a robust way. But creating green jobs requires more than addressing energy use in the built environment, building by building. The greening of the American economy is a process that needs to be approached systematically. We have identified four barriers to this process. These are not meant to be inclusive of all challenges. However, by addressing these items we can begin to reach the goal of developing a green jobs workforce. The first barrier is the lack of involvement from significant members of the business community. The current green jobs initiatives emphasize workforce preparation and development. Those of us in the educational field are seeing many federal and local 4
  5. 5. requests for proposals to develop and implement green jobs training programs. However, we are in an economic downturn and there is a general lack of jobs with many skilled and unskilled workers unemployed. This is particularly true in the construction industry which is one of the most significant targets for green jobs. Though this situation will not last forever, talk about green jobs creation will ring hollow until there is a general increase in employment. Additionally, some of the green jobs introduced through the American Resource and Recovery Act are often short term, low wage jobs without the ability to advance beyond entry level. Lack of technological innovation continues to stall the rapid development of green initiatives leading to jobs. The lack of advance in battery technology is just one indicator of the slow pace of invention and production of energy efficient products and services. When advances are made, such as the use of LED technology, the costs remain high. To address this lack of development, Illinois should encourage the expansion of new technology through the use of tax and other incentives. This could result in the creation of research and development hubs which could promote the newly developed advanced technologies into production and use. Here we could see how such incentives could result in new jobs at the advanced technical level along with middle and lower skilled jobs in their implementation and use. The lack of technological advancement goes hand in hand with another important barrier to green jobs creation which is the lack of incentives for business along with few regulatory standards. Without support for business through tax benefits and market incentives firms are hesitant to jump into green job creation. We are just beginning to see public and cost pressure providing some business motivation for adopting green methodologies but this is not universal across American commercial life. While many states such as California and Minnesota have robust tax incentive programs for reduced energy use and alternative energy production, Illinois needs to enhance these opportunities for future job growth. A balance of strong incentives and well crafted regulation can result in robust rewards for energy use reduction. Sometimes there can be conflict between incentives and regulatory requirements. To avoid this unintended consequence all parties involved need to be discussing together the best way to encourage green initiatives. Finally, green job creation will not have an impact on American economic strength until we address green jobs throughout our economy in a systematic way. Every aspect of our supply chain has an environmental impact from raw material extraction to final products for sale. Each retail item has many components with energy used in all phases of the production process for every unit sold. Whether we are talking about construction waste, fuel used for trucks and trains to transport products, or packaging for consumer goods, there are jobs that can become greener if analyzed and modified. Given the current crisis in the automotive industry, one wonders whether Ford Motor Corporation was better prepared for the economic downturn because of their commitment to their green supply chain programs. Ford developed an aggressive initiative in the 1990s to green their supply chain. Since Ford did not take bail out dollars and seems to be doing better than other American car companies can this be attributed to their green jobs approach? 5
  6. 6. As a good place to start, companies can implement policies and procedure that will green their supply chain. Through this process green jobs, both technical and professional, will be created and the products sold will satisfy our need to reduce our energy use. To accomplish this task of understanding their supply chain impact, companies would review their processes looking at their manufacturing operations as well as their distribution systems. The workforce needed to meet these goals of energy reduction includes the upgrading of current employees as well as creation of new job categories in the green collar job market. There is still much debate regarding green jobs. Some say they do not know what a green job is. Others quote multiple research studies which describe sectors and projections for new job creation. It is true that jobs alone will not change our energy use. However, as the recovery proceeds we will likely see more focus on the greening of America. That can only be acomplished by people working at it. Green job creation takes place as corporate officials provide leadership in their organizations. This leadership must set a standard for innovation and modification of processes and procedures designed to reduce energy use and minimize the impact of our lives on global warming. If everyone is more engaged in the greening process we are certainly likely to succeed. 6

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