Green Jobs Make Up 35% of Design and Construction Industry: “People Will Never Go Back to Building Inefficient Buildings”

While the Wall Street Journal was busy running its relentless campaign to discredit the existence of clean energy jobs, a report featuring some impressive job numbers was released quietly — with zero pick-up from the mainstream press.

According to McGraw Hill, more than one third of architects, engineers and contractors in the U.S. say they have “green” jobs. That’s 661,000 jobs, a number that is expected to climb to more than 900,000 jobs in the next three years.

That’s in line with the $71 billion American green building market, which represented 25% of all new U.S. construction activity in 2010. The value of that activity is on track to reach $145 billion in 2015.

Say what? I thought that green jobs weren’t real?

I went to the Greenbuild conference in Toronto last week to talk to some of the leading experts in green building for this story.  It became apparent very quickly why this story isn’t getting out. So-called “green” building practices are a natural progression of the conventional building industry, with many of the same companies participating in both sectors. As firms in this industry adopt new technologies and techniques, it’s difficult to determine the precise employment impact.

“These jobs are very hard to track. There are a lot of new jobs being created and there are a lot of jobs transitioning as well. It’s a mix and the numbers aren’t easy to follow,” explained Janet Milkman, executive director of the Delaware Valley Green Building Council, in an interview with Climate Progress.

That is the story of tracking green jobs generally.

Clearly, there’s a lot of value in the sector. More than 40% of the industry representatives surveyed for the McGraw Hill study said that having “green” credentials to meet changes in the market mean better career advancement and new job opportunities. With the conventional construction industry floundering, new construction in the green building space grew by 50% in 2009 and 2010, according to McGraw Hill.

Rather than talk about job creation — a conversation that has turned very political — people in the industry would rather talk about value creation: saving money, raising health standards and increasing worker productivity.

“With zero hesitation, this is a business opportunity,” said Rick Fedrizzi, President and CEO of the U.S. Green Building Council, when asked by Climate Progress how the industry how the industry messages its goals in the face of so much political negativity.

There are more than 10,000 certified green commercial buildings in the U.S. today. According to Fedrizzi, the USGBC certifies 1.5 million square feet of buildings in 129 countries around the world every week — the equivalent of three Empire State Buildings.

“I learned a while ago that we are not going backwards ever again. I don’t care how much money popped up on the scene tomorrow, people will never go back to building inefficient buildings that deprive humans of daylight and superior health opportunities,” Fedrizzi said.

That’s what this is about — value creation. Rather than simply bean counting jobs, we need to focus on the broad-based environmental and economic value of a particular technology or industry.

“The vast majority of our projects are about solving a problem. It’s all about the value proposition — lowering energy bills, helping improve the functionality of a space, and maybe there’s sustainability value for some customers,” explained John Van Dine, Founder and CEO of SAGE Electrochromics, in an interview with Climate Progress.

SAGE produces windows that can be electronically tinted — blocking sunlight while still allowing building occupants to see out the windows. The company recently signed an $80 million partnership with the large building-materials company Saint Gobain and is currently constructing a facility that could produce 4 million square feet of electrochromic glass per year at full capacity.

“We come in and solve specific problems like glare and heat, thus reducing energy. We are a solution. We try not to pay attention to all the other stuff,” said Van Dine, referring to the politics around green jobs and sustainability.

When those solutions are clearly communicated and executed, the jobs fall in line. And so far, even with the green building sector at a relatively early stage, more than 660,000 people are supported by the “green” sector in some way in the U.S. alone.

John Williams, a sustainability expert with HDR, asks the media to question the value those jobs are creating.

“Tell me about the jobs, tell me about the social benefits, the environmental benefits, the economic benefits. Tell me about resiliency benefits, and tell me about how that investment will enhance competition,” explained Williams to Climate Progress.

“The more questions we answer, the better off we’ll all be.”

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3 Responses to Green Jobs Make Up 35% of Design and Construction Industry: “People Will Never Go Back to Building Inefficient Buildings”

  1. Great to hear that green jobs continue to grow and develop. We hope contributions via Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) plants will continue to push the trend! Learn more at The On Project:

  2. fj says:

    naturally, things that that work well with the environment make the most sense

  3. Paul Revere says:

    How exactly are these NEW jobs? More builders building green mean fewer builders building dirty. More workers making tinted glass mean fewer workers making regular glass. This is sort of like saying that car workers who make Toyota Priuses have “green jobs” whereas an increase in Prius sales means fewer workers making gasoline cars.