Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Environment: If We Value It, the Jobs Will Come

Given how much our economy depends on energy, the more energy we buy from other countries, particularly in the form of oil, the less good it does our country. Of course, our economy is so large, we can't completely avoid buying energy for some time to come (from Canada, for example), but we need to understand that the more energy we buy from others, the more jobs it takes away from Americans.

And it adds an additional burden to us when a considerable amount of the money we spend on energy goes overseas and eventually ends up being spent by others for things that are not in our interest. Finally, the more oil we buy, the more it puts our environment at risk.

The greatest opportunity for creating our own energy is right here at home. We can create a considerable amount of energy through such things as windpower and solar cells. But the biggest improvement in our energy situation will eventually come from greater efficiency and conservation; in the long run, efficiency and conservation are worth several Saudi Arabias. And they will create jobs. They will also go a long ways towards improving our environment.

Now I'm not a great fan of Wal-Mart, but Frank Greve of the McClatchy Washington Bureau uses Wal-Mart to introduce his story on the green movement that's gaining momentum in the construction field:
In addition to the Wal-Mart's legion of skylights, for example, the store's foundation is made of ground-up chunks of runway recycled from Denver's old Stapleton International Airport. Porous paving in its parking lot soaks up and filters polluted storm-water runoff. Huge north-facing windows provide most of the store's interior light. Used motor oil from the tire and lube shop helps heat the store, as does old vegetable oil from the deli.

According to Don Moseley, senior Wal-Mart engineer for environmental innovation, these and other efforts "are good for the environment and good for our business."

That's the mantra of the so-called green building movement that's sweeping the nation.

Kudos to Wal-Mart if their green movement continues. Otherwise, I'm sure Greve's story will please Wal-Mart during this busy shopping season and McClatchy will be more than happy to receive all those Wal-Mart ads. Greve's story goes on to talk in general about how the construction of large buildings are going green—and creating jobs:
Scores of colleges and universities - including Emory, Pennsylvania State, the University of Florida, the University of South Carolina and the University of California-Merced - also have taken the pledge. Harvard University alone has 12 green buildings.

Scads of students at architecture and interior design schools share the green zeal. "It's hugely, hugely, unbelievably popular," said Sylvie Sugg, 21, an interior design student at the Art Institute of Colorado in Denver. "Green is so big now that people shouldn't go into design if they don't like it."

The job market for grads with green credentials varies widely from city to city, reflecting the trend's ongoing spread from West to East. In general, green grads do well, according to Kira Gould, the incoming chair of the American Institute of Architects' environment committee. "I see a lot of firms looking for expertise in green buildings at all levels," she said.

The key to the movement is a new set of standards that's far more demanding, environmentally speaking, than local building codes. The movement invites innovation because it's based on environment-protecting performance standards, not rules. That leaves it up to architects, builders and designers to decide how best to reduce energy and water consumption, for example, or workers' dependence on cars.

Flexibility, whether it's the construction of buildings or putting in place windmills, ethanol plants, solar panels or any other of a wide range of innovations, is going to be the key. As an example, it might make sense to emphasize wind power in North Dakota, solar farms in Arizona and retrofitting Chicago with better insulation in its buildings. States and local communities will have to work out what combinations work best and the federal government can help most with research, resources, networking, red tape cutting and flexible nonbinding guidelines. Whether at the local, state or federal level, this will all create jobs and much of it, if not all, will be paid for by the savings from not sending our dollars chasing increasingly scarcer resources overseas.

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