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.

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