Tag Archives: greentech

We Have Met the Enemy & It is Us! U.S. is Giving CleanTech/Renewables Away

22 Apr

“China’s leaders are investing $12.6 million every hour to green their economy… China is spending twice as much as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act spends to lay the foundations for a green energy economy, despite the U.S. economy being 1.5 times as large as China’s.”

In a hard hitting, between the eyes article, author Ben Furnas of the Center for American Progress laid it all on the line. http://bit.ly/2vHSbC.  Despite the most recent efforts laid out in the ARRA, The United States is starting to look like a laggard in taking the initiative in diversifying itself in a new energy economy.  And while China is no beauty when it comes to pollution control (what with the number of coal plants coming on line every week there), it at least recognizes a profitable market when it sees it.  Same goes for European markets as well.  Chinas own economic stimulus plan will spend over 3 percent of China’s 2008 gross domestic product annually in 2009 and 2010 on green investments—more than six times America’s green stimulus spending as a percentage of our respective economies.


So where has America cut itself short?  The report advocates for a cohesive national energy strategy, significant upgrading of the nation’s energy infrastructure (smart grid), massive investments in technology research and development, and increased accountability in the form of a carbon tax for the most polluting industries (not tax subsidies).

Through the past eight years of the Bush Administration, efforts to advance the types of critical investments in alternative energy and policy- making slowed to a snail’s pace, while nations across the world invested in what now seems so obvious- that we all live in a finite world with finite resources. Japan, China, and European countries marched right past the United States through the passage of progressive emissions control regulations, massive public investments, and private market incentives.

But all is not lost, because many companies in the U.S. have gotten the message and are moving forward on their own.

In a recent article in Industry Week (http://bit.ly/dvoIU) author Eric Shlumpf states (and I would agree) that “Shifts in product design, raw material usage, facility location, supply chain network design and many other areas of corporate decision-making will move in new and challenging directions as the impact of high energy prices and GHG emissions trickle throughout the entire value chain”.  These pressures are driving service and contract manufacturers to the brink, and forcing new ways to rethink and retool operations to meet global market pressures.  Many large companies like Dow Chemical, US Steel, 3M, Caterpillar, Home Depot, and Pfizer are, among other process related changes, developing active energy and greenhouse gas management programs designed to manage and contain production costs, reduce energy and environmental footprints and address stakeholder and supply chain requirements.  The savings are significant.  A multitude of smaller companies are making similar investments in managing greenhouse gas footprints as an active way to contain costs, leverage competitive position in the global marketplace, and manage customer expectations or requirements.  In other words “they get it”.

This month, on the table in Washington D.C. is EPA regulation of carbon dioxide and the Waxman-Markey Climate bill (an ambitious and likely to be altered) carbon cap-and-trade legislative template for greenhouse gas containment and control.  In addition to this and regional greenhouse gas initiatives, efforts to advance a national renewable portfolio standard would spur technological development in green sectors and help drive innovation across the economy.

300px-pogo_-_earth_day_1971_posterThirty-nine years ago on this Earth Day, I was chucking green, brown and clear glass and newspapers into huge dumpsters in northern Illinois with my Dad.  Even then (thanks to my “Greatest Generation” Dad), I “got it”.  My dad (who passed away two years ago), also said “remember these words- If it is to be, then it is up to me”.  We have the opportunity to be the “Greater Generation”, if we can just lay down our rhetoric and “git ‘er done”!  There is nothing quite as disheartening as watching the world go rushing by while we had the chance to ride the crest of the wave.

Update: After a year of tweeting and reporting on this issue, the U.S. has shown only slight gains in retaining cleantech development.  Federal stimulus money, poor or inconsistent policy or legislation and sporadic incentives have left many in the clean and green-tech industry gasping for breath.  Still, we have a historical habit of “fumbling the lead” historically in this area.  While the U.S. has been stellar in creating many of the new technologies that can drive the economy, we have failed to embrace them.  Michael Kanellos has some suggestions as to why? http://bit.ly/bwv1w2


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?

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.