Archive | February, 2009

Yes We Can (Have a Green Economy)…Can We?

26 Feb

Two recent news items caught my eye, especially in light of the continuing meltdown of the economy and President Obama’s call to action at last night’s” not so” State of the Union address. First, according to a recent survey (http://www.rockwellautomation.com/news/get/ManufacturingSurvey.pdf), an overwhelming majority of Americans believe that safer, cleaner and more energy-efficient production are the most important manufacturing issues in today’s economy. Americans chose product and employee safety, and environmental issues as the most important attributes. Among the top answers chosen include:

· Provide safe, quality products (86%)

· Provide a safe workplace (84%)

· Use natural resources efficiently (80%)

· Produce minimal waste (71%)

· Keep current prices or reduce prices (59%)

Americans also believe U.S. manufacturers need to invest in automating and modernizing their factories to improve environmental sustainability, competitive position and product quality.

· Use energy, raw materials or natural resources more efficiently (92%)

· Continue to remain competitive and grow (89%)

· Minimize waste and other environmental impacts (86%)

· Provide safer, high quality products (85%)

· Respond more quickly to customer demands (85%)

· Provide a safer workplace (83%)

A striking statistic in the survey found that only 18 percent believe U.S. manufacturing technology is more advanced than other countries and only about a third (34%) noted the U.S. has become more competitive in the past ten years. This downward competitive trend tracks well with president Obama’s statements last night.  This is becoming apparent even in the growing “clean tech” sector, where China and other nations are producing far more at a substantially lower per unit price.  So is government stimulus the answer?  Many believe that government incentives to modernize manufacturing will help create highly-skilled, higher-paying jobs, while upgrading automation at U.S. factories for many years to come.

In contract, a study released on the eve of the recent Washington DC national conference on green jobs says that emerging eco-friendly work must provide adequate pay and benefits — or risk damaging efforts to restore the economy and strive for environmental sustainability.  The study, “High Road or Low Road? Job Quality in the New Green Economy,”  (http://www.goodjobsfirst.org/pdf/gjfgreenjobsrpt.pdf), was conducted by the nonprofit resource center Good Jobs First. Researchers looked at pay and labor conditions for existing jobs in eco-friendly business sectors, including the manufacturing of components for wind and solar energy projects, green construction and recycling.

Researchers found that low pay, often just slightly above minimum wage, was prevalent in many green job sectors.  There were many notable exceptions, those being where unique public-private partnerships or established labor agreements were forged.  The researchers went on to state that “ care needs to be taken in creating those positions….One of the greatest risks is that, in our haste to create a large quantity of new green jobs, we pay too little attention to their quality”..

“Environmental sustainability will be difficult or impossible to achieve if it does not go in hand with economic sustainability for workers and their families,” the researchers wrote. “The fact that an employer is engaged in a business that benefits the environment does not necessarily mean that the employees of that enterprise are going to be treated well.”

In my last entry on this site, I discussed the important of having not just a well-trained green workforce, but a credentialed one.  The Good Jobs First report discussed many ways in which job quality standards could be integrated while developing the infrastructure for the green workforce of the future. Some of the more novel ways that (at least to me) stood out included:  strengthening prevailing wage requirements, adopting best value contracting, adding labor criteria to LEED standards and using “clawbacks” to enforce job quality standards (in other word, requiring a company that fails to fulfill its project commitment to repay a subsidy, tax break or any other related financial assistance received).

So what will it take to get a trained and credentialed green workforce integrated into a strong manufacturing sector that will yield sustained upward productivity and growth?  Is it up to our state and federal governments?  Is organized labor the key?  Would public-private partnerships or apprenticeships be the answer?

What are your thoughts?

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Economic Stimulus…The “Sustainablity Lens”, Technology Investments, and Enabling the Green Workforce

13 Feb

Investment decisions are increasingly impacted by climate change information, based upon new research by the Carbon Disclosure Project (http://www.cdproject.net).  Over 80 institutional investors (three-quarters of those surveyed) that signed the information request sent out by CDP said they factor climate change information into their investment decisions and asset allocations.  This once again demonstrates the value-added impact of looking at operations and organizational decision-making processes though a “sustainability lens”.  As more companies take the time to examine their work practices and explore ways to implement cost-effective technologies with a fairly secure return on investment, the more financially secure they will likely be in weathering this financial downturn.  Further, it’s these forward thinking companies who will emerge out ahead of the pack when the economy does in fact make its turnaround.  So ask yourselves, is your organization a “game changer” or just willing to get by and instead “follow the leader”?

Meanwhile, positive flow for the green economy, energy and the environment as the $789 billion stimulus bill was hammered out this week by Congress.  These gains represent about 10% of the total in the stimulus package and contain several items toward advancing a sustainable future, notably:

  • $8.4 billion for mass transit;
  • $8 billion for construction of high-speed railways;
  • $6.4 billion for clean and drinking water projects;
  • $4 billion for job training, much of which will be used to direct workers into “green jobs”;
  • $13.9 billion to subsidize loans for renewable energy projects;
  • $11 billion toward renewable infrastructure including a smart electricity grid to reduce waste;
  • $6.3 billion in state energy efficiency and clean energy grants;
  • $5 billion to weatherize modest-income homes; and
  • $4.5 billion to make federal buildings more energy efficient.

This indicates of a positive direction and recognition that the Obama administration and Congress is taking appropriate steps in creating a climate of creativity, innovation and reduced reliance on a carbon-based economy.  Susan Hockfield, President of MIT noted in the Boston Globe that “the United States must go beyond the priorities of the stimulus package…[and] invest in the kind of research and innovation that will ultimately spin-off millions of jobs by building a new economy. This includes investing in early- and later-stage research on the most promising technologies; funding new R&D centers to accelerate critical breakthroughs; equipping research labs with state-of-the-art instrumentation for advanced research, prototyping and demonstration of emerging technologies; and training a new energy talent base.” http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2009/02/13/the_next_step_in_stimulus_long_term_economic_growth.  How?  Perhaps in the form of tax credits, public-private partnerships, etc?

Here in Washington State, $64 million is being targeted to train unemployed workers for new jobs.  It’s been my observation as a seasoned EHS and sustainability practitioner that what is lacking to date is a “boots to the ground” work force that is trained and certified as green workers.  I recognize that there are a myriad of public and private institutions that offer targeted programs designed to retrain traditional tradespersons into a retained work force.   But something is missing.   In my mind, it is paramount that in order for skilled trades to effectively ‘brand” themselves to gain those higher paying jobs,  that there be concentrated programs in place to provide the education, certification and immediate job entry opportunities necessary to make meaningful contributions to the economy and to support individual growth and professional development.   Here is hoping that some of those training funds will be directed toward development of such curriculums.

Why Sustainability Matters in a Resource-Finite World…

13 Feb

We live in a finite world with finite resources. The global marketplace is getting more competitive. Rules and Regulations are getting tougher- and more costly. That means that organizations must think sustainably before they act sustainably– by operating in a more resourceful and optimized manner, and in a way that responsibly manages resource use, reduces operational and environmental footprints and enhances employee and community well-being.

This is also an exciting time that can spawn creative, productive places where people want to work, where technological innovation can be realized, profits are optimized, the environment is respected, and products have greater “choice value”.

Yesterdays study released by AT Kearney (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/29097210/from/ET/) highlights how many forward thinking institutions highly regarded organizations that are taking the “long view”, adjusting planning horizons, and implementing effective, deep sustainability initiatives stand a better chance of surviving the current financial crisis that the world is in.

Despite these ‘lean’ economic times on both sides of the cash register, its critical that manufacturing companies, service providers and even public agencies across all sectors continually seek “lean” and efficient methods to manufacture their goods and provide services. Process efficiencies with an eye toward sustainable resource conservation, sustainable supply chain and product life cycle management helps companies cut waste and remain competitive. So folks- keep up the good fight and don’t accept the excuse by decision-makers that “we are watching our spending” without inquiring about how effectively organizations are focusing on tracking life cycle costs and striving toward resource optimization.

Make the “business case” that sustainability leverages organizational risk and enhances competitiveness by finding ways to optimize resources, cut waste and avoid costs. Isn’t that what good business is all about? I invite your comments…

More to follow…DM