Chicago Green Jobs

Chicago Climate Exchange, Are You Ready For Your Close Up?
February 28, 2009, 2:36 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

The hot topic around the water cooler today: is our very own Chicago Climate Exchange going to become America’s official greenhouse-gas emission trading system?

For those of you who don’t obsessively follow budget news, here’s the deal: the budget blueprint Obama just sent to Congress projects ten years out, and his numbers assume that we’ll be getting $78.7 billion in revenue from a greenhouse-gas cap-and-trade market by 2012. It’s the job of Congress to send Obama a bill creating such a system, and with the revenues due in just four years they don’t have any time to shilly-shally. What does this mean for Chicago? More after the jump.

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This Is What the Stimulus Looks Like
February 26, 2009, 5:41 pm
Filed under: Chicago Green Businesses

Boy, it’s nice to read the papers in the morning and find GOOD jobs news for a change. According to the UE, the 300 or so workers laid off when Republic Windows and Doors closed up shop last December will be back to work soon.  California-based Serious Materials has purchased the plant and has agreed to offer jobs  manufacturing energy efficient windows to all the workers laid off last December – at the same rate of pay, no less.

Buildings account for a whopping 72% of electricity consumption in the US, and Serious Materials is in the business of creating high performing building materials that can cut those ridiculous inefficiencies down.  By cutting energy consumption, Serious cuts greenhouse gas emissions right along with the electricity bills. Their goal is to save 1 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions every year, 1/3oth of the global total. And with their focus on manufacturing windows and drywall, Serious is driving to create thousands of green collar jobs.

In other words, Serious Materials is exactly the kind of company Chicago needs. And considering that stimulus bill included $4.5 billion in building weatherization spending and that Mayor Daley has stated that weatherizing buildings is one of the city’s priorities, I’d say that Serious Materials has made a good bet by settling here.

Update: according to the San Jose Mercury News, Serious Materials CEO Kevin Surace said “What gave us the confidence to do this was the stimulus bill.”  Surace estimates that the package includes about $30 billion for projects using the types of products Serious makes. Forward thinking fellow, that Surace.

Chicagoland Green Collar Jobs Summit: March 27
February 26, 2009, 2:47 am
Filed under: Event

I spent some time making spreadsheets – glorious, glorious spreadsheets – on the green initiative funding in the stimulus bill this morning. Some of the numbers on green stimulus spending floating around on the webernets turn out to be wrong – can you imagine? More on that later though – today I’m talking about the Green Collar Jobs Summit coming up on March 27th at Kennedy-King College here in Chicago.

I got the details from the Summit organizer, Paige Finnegan of the Local Economic and Employment Development Council, this afternoon. This Summit is not to be missed if you are interested in any of the following:

  • Getting a better understanding of the green collar job system in Chicago today,
  • Understanding the role of government and the stimulus in that system, and
  • Hearing hot off the presses research on the green job and green job training scene in Chicago

Seriously – who isn’t interested in these things? Oh wait, no one in your social circle? Well, as an added bonus, when you come to this event you’re going to meet 300+ other people who actually are interested in these issues – and with a breakfast and a reception included it should be pretty easy to chat them up.

Panelists of note include but are not limited to:

As the Agenda firms up we can expect more interesting people to be added in. For more details about the day, check out the draft agenda for the summit. You can register here. I’m all in, myself.

Statistics on the Table: Green Recovery Report
February 25, 2009, 3:08 am
Filed under: Stimulus Bill

As a project developer, there is nothing I like more than a nice, meaty, report that’s choc full of numbers.*  I just came across this splendid report: The Green Recovery: A Program to Create Good Jobs and Start Building a Low Carbon Economy, published jointly by the Center for American Progress and PERI. The report outlines an economic recovery program the authors believe will create 2 million green jobs. The price tag? $100 billion over two years – a très 2009 number.

The Green Recovery plan divides that $100 billion into six renewable energy and energy efficiency sectors:

  1. Retrofitting buildings to improve energy efficiency
  2. Expanding mass transit and freight rail
  3. Constructing “smart” electrical grid transmission systems
  4. Wind power
  5. Solar power
  6. Next-generation biofuels

Most of the jobs in these sectors have familiar titles: Civil Engineers. Electricians. Construction Laborers. Metal Fabricators. Agricultural Workers. It’s the end result that makes these familiar sounding jobs green: the infrastructure to support a low-carbon economy that combats global warming and weans us off foreign oil.

Oh, and speaking of oil – I really like the part about how investing that same $100 billion in the oil industry would net a mere 542,000 jobs. I love finding numbers that show that the right thing to do is also the most cost-effective.

This report was published in September 2008, so the burning question is: how does the stimulus bill stack up against this plan? The authors were careful to point out that any stimulus program would need to be structured differently, with a greater emphasis on short term plans. Still, the $80 billion or so in green investments in the stimulus bill is in the same ballpark as the $100 billion recommended in this report, and there is doubtless some overlap. I’m going to do some research and make a few calls over the next few days and see what I can find out.

*At home I prefer Terry Pratchett novels.

Urban Food, Green Jobs
February 24, 2009, 3:59 am
Filed under: Local Food

In my last post I talked about the necessity of investing in green jobs and industries that can’t be easily outsourced. For example, solar panel installation vs. solar panel production.  Growing organic food in city vacant lots may be the World’s Least Exportable Job, and Chicago has a small but thriving local food movement.   Windy City Harvest, Growing Power,and Growing Home all offer training programs for budding urban farmers, and they offer job placement as well.

“Urban agriculturist” is a sterling example of an idealized green collar job:  aspirants require training rather than expensive degrees, and in under a year pros can be out beautifying neighborhoods and providing healthy organic produce to communities that don’t have much in the way of grocery access. Consider this fact courtesy of Mari Gallagher’s Research & Consulting Group: over 500,000 Chicagoans live in a food desert, a dismal place where fast food is close at hand but grocery stores are distant if they exist at all. Urban farms are a direct and effective way to put produce on the menu – with all the health benefits that implies.

There are dozens of urban farm plots in Chicago, but it’s not clear how many jobs are in that space (yet – I’m on it).  However, the beauty of urban farms – like many green enterprises – is that their worth isn’t measured in jobs alone. How many people get to enjoy fresh produce and improved health because of Growing Power?  How many have learned what “organic” means and why it matters because of Growing Home? If we want to get our city and our country moving towards building a green economy, we can’t afford to have “sustainability deserts” in our neighborhoods.

Big Trouble in Solar China
February 23, 2009, 1:12 am
Filed under: Green Technology

Chicago isn’t the only place in the US pinning its hopes and funding on a green boom to pull out of this recession: the state of Oregon now leads the nation in solar production. Yes, Oregon. The grayest state in the union.

According to this excellent piece in the Oregonian, Solaicx, Sanyo, and SolarWorld are the three biggest solar companies to recently put down Oregon roots, and more than 50 other companies have followed suit.  The combination of an educated workforce, the proximity of California (the largest solar customer in the union), and the financial commitment of the state government have created a strong green collar job market in the state. So far, so good.

Alas, there’s trouble brewing on the other side of the Pacific. China has swiftly taken the lead in solar production: 6 of the top 15 solar manufacturers are Chinese.  In Jiangsu province alone, 500 solar companies are up and running. Many of them are factories converted just in the last year or so, and there are more on the way. What does that mean for Oregon? More after the jump.

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The Path of Least Resistance
February 20, 2009, 11:59 pm
Filed under: Stimulus Bill

Now that the stimulus bill has been signed into law we can expect to see the money start pouring in for projects here in Chicago and across the country.   $80 billion in green investments and tax cuts is not chump change. But it behooves us to remember that the stimulus bill is intended to create jobs as quickly as possible. That means that much of the stimulus money,  like water, will flow down the path of least resistance:  fixing our crumbling car-focused infrastructure.

Mind you, Chicago has more “shovel ready” green projects than the average city.  Mayor Daley has made it known that he plans to use some of the funds to weatherize thousands of home for energy efficiency, for example.  But we’re going to see a lot of jobs that aren’t really green at all.  The Washington Independent has a great piece on the breakdown of the green vs. old school jobs projected from the stimulus spending here.

My favorite statistic comes courtesy of Dan Weiss of the Center for American Progress. Check this out: under current spending plans, roads and bridges hold a 4 to 1 funding advantage over mass transit. The stimulus bill shifts it to 3 to 2 advantage.

That’s a big improvement, and I think it will just be the start. The stimulus bill was always going to be tilted towards “shovel ready” projects, so the fact that 10% of it is for green projects is already a big win.  I think it’s safe to say that we’ll start seeing some serious funding for longer term green investments in this year’s budget.