Monday, February 01, 2010

Why Green Jobs?

Last week I got the opportunity to attend Portland Green Professionals Conference as a volunteer for Willamette University. I was fortunate enough to hear all the keynote speakers as well as attend two of the panel discussions: Sustainability in Education and Sustainability Consulting. It was great to hear all the awesome things that are happening nationally, state wide and right here in Portland around sustainability. In a world where recession, high unemployment rates and climate crisis dominate news reports, this conference was a refreshing and encouraging place to be.

Lots of people ask me what does it mean to be working for a sustainable consultant, how they can get more involved and why green jobs matter. Here are some trends and statistics I learned while at the conference that might shed some light on the green scene:

  • Portland aims to create 10,000 new green jobs in 2010 in industries including sustainable consulting, utilities, carbon neutral & renewable energies and education.
  • There have been a call to action placed around green jobs, they must be:
  • Not only white collar jobs, but blue collar ones too (LEED certified construction anyone?)
  • Available for every walk of life (social impacts are important when it comes to being a sustainable community)
  • Pay a living wage (Amen!)

Jon Wellington, the Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the first keynote speaker described green jobs as vibrant, secure and successful. He pointed out that Americans waste 50% of our energy. Which posed the question, how do we improve efficiency? Anyone who has a passion for process-flows and Excel spreadsheets should be really excited right now. Some other cool trends Wellington highlighted were:

  • In stream turbines BEFORE ocean turbines (I wonder how this will effect plants and animals in streams…)
  • LED lights will replace compact florescence (Anyone see the Portland Christmas tree in all it’s LED lighted glory?)
  • Vegas LEED certified buildings (If you can be sustainable in Vegas, you can be sustainable anywhere)
  • Smart grid technology, which is being led by General Electrics smart grid technology
  • Get away from incentives -> create a market (Sounds like business class to me)
  • Make capital available to allow people to get involved (Portland has some great programs like Energy Trust)

Next up was Bill Bradbury, my tall Segway riding friend and is also on the Oregon’s Global Warming Advisory Commission. Who spoke about how climate change is affecting Oregon. Citing the dead zone off the coast, which is caused by the acidification of oceans. (Just think of the 6.3 billion tons of CO2 released into the atmosphere, of which 3.1 billion tons is sequestered by oceans…) There is hope though Bradbury also spent some time talking about Al Gore’s Challenge to RePower America. This goal of a 100% renewable energy country in 10 years through: energy efficiency, renewable energy, a smart grid and plug in cars. Seems like a pretty big challenge to me. But definitely one I’d like to aim for. Bradbury pointed out three reasons while Oregonians should get on board the RePower America Challenge:

  1. Climate Crisis
  2. Struggling Economy
  3. Opportunity

Finally Erin Flynn, from the Portland Development Commission spoke. I heard her speak at the Green Light Greater Portland conference this summer and while her speech was pretty much the same it was really great to hear how on track Portland is to being the most sustainable city in the country. Makes me proud to say where I come from! Here are some interesting trends around Portland economy:

  • 1,000,000 expected young workers in Oregon by 2030
  • Oregon Industries are broken up into four clusters:
  • Advanced Manufacturing
  • Clean Tech
  • Solar Manufacturing
  • Wind Energy
  • Green Development
  • Energy Efficiency
  • Electric Vehicles
  • Active Wear
  • Soft Ware
  • Oregon has the highest concentration on clean energy jobs, which is growing at a rate of 5% a year (versus the national rate of 3%)
  • The average wage for a green job is $22.61/hour
  • There are currently 51,402 green jobs
  • Oregon Sustainability Center is the first net zero building in conception in the state
  • Wind turbines have over 8,000 different components, therefore there is a growing need for certified suppliers
  • Portland has some challenges to over come as well, investors have a perception that Portland doesn’t know how to focus on customers, marketing or how to grow a business (This I found particularly interesting…)

Next was the Sustainability in Education panel, which feature PSU, U of O, Willamette and Marylhurst University, while I’ll skip the marketing pitches that were happening in this session for which school is better (my slightly biased opinion is Willamette) I will highlight the benefits of an education in sustainability:

  • Green energy in China is a $1 TRILLION dollar market
  • Talent goes to where the opportunities lie
  • Sustainability education is an asset (or even a requirement)
  • Project management and systems thinking are fundamental
  • Knowing how 3rd party verifications and metrics systems work is important
  • Being able to answer the question what happens when a revenue stream becomes normal, what do you do?

Last but not least and definitely my favorite session of the day was the Sustainability Consulting session with featured Brightworks, Fluid Market Strategies and MarketShift Strategies. I think I liked this panel the best because my brain gets business and likes lists. For example:

Scott Lewis’ (Brightworks) Success Factors:

  1. Need to understand the market need (both from an ecological and financial standpoint)
  2. Deliver real value
  3. Be flexible, nimble, responsive and agile
  4. Remember why you are doing this!

“The only thing that is certain is things change.”

Stephanie Swanson’s (MarketShift Strategies) Best Practices:

  1. Connect the dots – systems thinking
  2. Find value in chaos
  3. Plan for policy opportunity
  4. Scale for flexibility

Not to mention leverage, planning, energy verification and implementation are all key.

This was a ton of information. I hope you enjoyed it and now have a better sense of why I think green jobs are the careers of the future and why I couple other local people think so too!


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