Chicago Green Jobs

My Least Green Job Ever
March 31, 2009, 7:59 pm
Filed under: Job Training and Skills
Roger Smith (CC BY/NC/SA)

Image by Roger Smith (CC BY/NC/SA)

“Hey Feds! Get your hands off my truck! No New Energy Regs!”

I used to work for a company that handed out bumper stickers featuring that splendid little slogan at Nascar rallies. We had been hired by General Motors to create a “grassroots” campaign to influence public opinion against CAFE, a set of fuel economy regulations under consideration by Congress.

The Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency (CAFE) standards are designed to ensure that auto manufacturers build a minimum level of fuel efficient technology into the fleet. The idea is that all the vehicles in a manufacturer’s fleet should meet an average miles per gallon target. In other words, companies can still manufacture a gas-guzzler as long as they balance it out with a more fuel efficient option. CAFE standards were first created in 1975, and they aren’t going anywhere.

So yes, my least green job ever was helping GM delay the inevitable and continue building gas guzzlers! It was a dark time.

In light of GM’s spectacular collapse, I thought I’d look into just how much money GM has spent lobbying against CAFE standards. I was working on this in 2001-2002, and over those years GM spent a grand total of just over $20 million on lobbying, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

There are two caveats to that number. The first is that GM lobbyists were doubtless working on other issues in addition to CAFE. The second is that my company was actually a public relations firm, so the money they spent with us (and who knows how many other firms doing public opinion work) is not included in that figure.

So GM fought against CAFE in 2001-2002, but surely they saw the way the wind was blowing in 2007. Right? Nope! In 2007, GM re-launched it’s anti-CAFE reg campaign, and their lobbying spending jumped to nearly $19 million for 2007.

This is the moment when I could launch into a righteous rant about how if GM had just invested that lobbying money into building more fuel efficient cars then maybe they wouldn’t be on the brink of bankruptcy. But let’s look at the numbers instead. GM spent just over $100 million on lobbying between 2001 and 2008.  GE invested $1.4 billion in R&D through it’s Ecomagination initiative in 2008 alone. $100 million just doesn’t buy the breakthrough technology that could save a company.  So even though it would make a much prettier morality tale to blame GM’s anti-CAFE efforts for it’s downfall, I just can’t in good conscience do it (for an excellent analysis of GM’s structural problems, check Nate Silver’s piece here).

Nevertheless,  GM invested an awful lot of time and money into fighting inevitable regulation instead of figuring out how to innovate new products and processes. Looking backwards is just not a winning stance for business success – and neither is building Hummers in a carbon-constrained world.


Green Job Profile #2: Director of Business Development for WRD Environmental Inc.
March 30, 2009, 6:06 pm
Filed under: Green Job Profiles

When I think “green job” I think “fish hotels.” That’s why this week I’m profiling Thom Boyd of WRD Environmental, the ecological consulting firm that creates sustainable landscapes like pocket parks and fish hotels all over Chicago. Thom is a very interesting guy – I learned a lot about the politics and process around building sustainable landscapes in Chicago from him. (Hint: there are a lot of incentives to install green roofs).

Thom switched to sustainability work mid-career, and his path shows how people from just about any industry can transition into a green job based on experience and skills rather than specific training or certification. Since working for a paycheck is more cost effective than paying for a certification, this is terrific news for anyone feeling stuck at work.

Title and Organization: Director of Business Development for WRD Environmental.

Relevant Training : Experience in sales & marketing

So what do you do all day?

My role consists of building relationships with current clients, networking with potential new clients, exploring new market opportunities, and marketing our services to our industry, governmental entities, municipalities, park districts, corporations and not-for-profits. We do this by attending/presenting at educational seminars, industry trade shows, sponsoring worthwhile causes and engaging people who share our company vision and mission. I also assist with identifying project bid opportunities and getting proposals out the door.

What did you do before you got this job?

My background consists of approximately 25 years of sales, primarily in the medical industry with Johnson & Johnson and Sunrise Medical. I also worked with a real estate development company in a sales and project management capacity. In my case, WRD Environmental was more interested in the skills that I brought to the table rather than having previous experience within the green industry. My passion for the environment and wanting to make a difference to forward the cause of sustainability, protecting our natural resources, cultivating biodiversity and being a good steward of our planet was just as important as my previous experience.

What impact do you have on the community and the planet through your work?

Our firm creates and fosters sustainable landscapes. We conserve natural resources, promote sustainability, cultivate biodiversity and restore nature’s balance through projects and programs that are helping to green Chicago and Illinois. Our work helps to revitalize previously barren landscapes or brownfields to vibrant natural environments like the Chicago Center for Green Technology or the bird sanctuary at McCormick Place. We helped Friends of the Chicago River by creating new fish habitat in the otherwise urban river flowing through downtown Chicago with the “Fish Hotel”. We also help run and administer the Chicago Greencorps program with Chicago’s Department of Environment. This is a training program designed to help ex-offenders acquire new skills within the landscape industry, recycling industry and winterization of homes that they can use to assimilate back into the communities throughout the city.

What 3 essential skills are needed to do your job?

1. To be able to build and maintain relationships

2. To be detail focused and creative at the same time

3. To be a good communicator

What 3 essential personality traits help you succeed in your job?

1. Being down-to-earth

2. Being honest (editor’s note: I think “integrity” would serve here too – a critical trait for people who generate new business)

3. Being personable has served me well!

What is the least glamorous aspect of your job?

Probably the time spent sitting at my computer. I prefer to be out and about and always on the move. Sometimes I’m not able to do that as much as I would prefer.

What is the most influential book you’ve read on sustainability?

Cradle to Cradle by William McDonough

What do you do to keep current on your field and/or expand your knowledge and skills?

Attend seminars, industry conferences, read a lot. I’m also studying to become a LEED AP.

What do you think is a growth area in the green jobs sector right now?

There are lots of areas of growth. I’d say sustainable landscape design, green building, renewable energy.

Green Menace! “Seven Myths” is Ideology, Not Scholarship
March 25, 2009, 4:58 pm
Filed under: Green Job Research

What’s the difference between red communists and green job proponents? If you’re the authors of the “Seven Myths About Green Jobs” report, the answer is… nothing!

The report is larded through with dramatic warnings about “centralized planning” and “reordering society,” but just in case the reader missed the hints the authors included this pair of priceless quotes:

“Despite their new packaging, these calls for creating a new society through central planning are as old as human history. The failure of the twentieth century’s utopian experiments suggests caution in undertaking such widespread transformations of society.”

“Our review convinces us that the real purpose of the green jobs initiative is not to create jobs but to remake society.”

Green menace! Keep in mind that “Seven Myths” purports to be a critique of the methodology of green jobs reports by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the American Solar Energy Society, the Center for American Progress, and the United Nations Environment Programme. I mean, everyone knows that the U.S. Conference of Mayors has been itching to seize all private property and place it under state control for years now. But that’s no excuse for the authors to jump on the green bandwagon as a cover for rehashing their pet issues.

The truth is that no one is arguing that creating green jobs is an end in itself. President Obama was elected on a platform that promised to transition American energy sources away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy. All levels of government are  now engaged in figuring out how to make this transition in a way that maximizes benefits to all stakeholders. Because any transition on this scale creates new industries and new jobs, businesses and other organizations are doing their own research and trying to get a seat at the table. These four organizations are contributing their ideas about how this transition might generate jobs to the debate, and how various policy options might impact who gets those jobs (hint: Americans, please!).

The authors of the “Seven Myths” report take the position that the market alone will transform our energy system:

“By analyzing the problems with the green jobs literature’s claims, we hope to persuade readers that the fundamental question is not whether to spend $20 billion or $400 billion of taxpayers’ money on solar or wind power but who should decide how resources should be allocated: people in the marketplace or planners and politicians in Washington, D.C.”

Any serious discussion of policy requires that participants have the intellectual flexibility to understand that solutions don’t have to be either 100% market-based or 100% government-based. By refusing to offer constructive ideas about solving the problem at hand and choosing to drown their handful of valid points in a sea of hysterical fear-mongering, the authors have shown themselves to be ideologues who who have nothing to contribute to the adults at the table.

False Assumptions in the “Seven Myths About Green Jobs” Report
March 24, 2009, 5:35 pm
Filed under: Green Job Research

Pop quiz: What is the only problem in the entire world that can’t be solved by free markets, according to the authors of the “Seven Myths About Green Jobs” report?

Answer: Valuing carbon emissions! That’s right, creating a cap and trade system to bring market principles to bear on climate-changing emissions totally won’t work as long as government plays any role in its creation. I have definitely noticed that markets are only efficient without pesky government regulation. I mean, look at the oil market – except for the Organization for Petroleum Exporting Countries and US government subsidies ($37 billion annually) it works completely without governmental interference!

As you can see, I’ve spent some more time with the “Seven Myths” report. I wrote last week about some of the false assumptions threading through the report, but there are so many that it deserves another look. Here are five more doozies:

Five Myths:

Myth 1. Green jobs advocates want to eliminate non-renewable energy sources.

Myth 2. There hasn’t been any public debate on making sweeping change in energy policy.

Myth 3. Free markets create only positive externalities; government policy creates only negative externalities.

Myth 4. The primary goal of shifting our energy supply to renewable sources is to create green jobs.

Myth 5. Because the goal is to create the right kind of jobs, that really means we’re talking about centralized economic planning.

And frankly, it’s a shame that the report is built on so many false assumptions because the authors do make several excellent points that deserve to be discussed more widely. Here are four of those truths:

Four Truths:

1. Transitioning to a green energy economy will destroy jobs as well as create them.

2. There is no agreed-upon definition of a green job.

3. Organizations that commission studies may bias results.

4. Ethanol sucks.

Despite these truths, this report should not be taken seriously by anyone trying to make serious policy decisions around transitioning the country to a renewable energy future. Tomorrow I’ll explain why.

Al Gore in Chicago: April 1
March 24, 2009, 1:03 am
Filed under: Event

I am planning on writing more about that “7 Myths About Green Jobs” report, but I’ve got such a hideous cold that I just don’t think I can do it justice at the moment. So instead, let’s talk about Al Gore!

Mr. Gore will be speaking at the Chicago Theater on April 1 as part of the “Minds That Move The World” series. Tickets run $45 to $185 for the cocktail-and-photo-with-the-speaker option. $45 to hear Gore is certainly reasonable, but $185 to meet him is a pretty stiff tab, so for sheer comedy value you might prefer to invest your $185 to have your photo taken with fellow series speakers Karl Rove or Ann Coulter. Wouldn’t it be fun to get your photo taken with Karl Rove? And think of all the witty cocktail party repartee you could have with Ann Coulter!

Seriously, whoever decided that Al Gore and Ann Coulter are on par with each other in terms of great minds is a lost cause. I grew up in Nashville, and I volunteered on Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign lo these many years ago. He is an astoundingly smart guy, although I still go back and forth on whether or not their campaign headquarters address was intentional or not.  When I first called campaign headquarters to get directions, the conversation went something like this:

Me: “Hi! I’m a new volunteer coming in today, could you please tell me your address?”

Crotchety old man volunteering as receptionist: “We’re at #### Mainstream Drive.”

Me: “….are you kidding?”

COMVAR: “Why would I be kidding?”

Me: “Mainstream Drive? It’s just kind of funny, don’t you think?”

COMVAR: ” No.”

Me: “Right. See you soon!”

Good times! Believe it or not, unlike this particular volunteer Al Gore has a totally excellent sense of humor. I strongly recommend going to hear him speak – he really knows his stuff and he genuinely cares about it.

Oil Companies Hate Green Jobs So, So Much
March 20, 2009, 5:14 am
Filed under: Green Job Research

Let the backlash begin! After a spate of reports full of glowing predictions that investing in green and renewable energy will produce a bonanza of jobs, we’re starting to get the “Hold Your Horses” studies.

My personal favorite is the memorably titled “Seven Myths About Green Jobs” by a team of researchers headed up by Andrew Moriss, a University of Illinois professor. The study’s central premise is that the methodology used in green jobs reports published by a range of organizations, including the United Nations Environmental Program and the Center for American Progress, is suspect and based on “dubious assumptions.” But how do the arguments and assertions in this report hold up to scrutiny? Not so well.

First things first – who paid for this study? According to this News Gazette piece, a noble org called the Institute for Energy Research put up a sizable chunk of change. Their board of directors is a potpourri of oil execs and right wing policy wonks, and their issues include drilling in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge, expanding offshore drilling, and promoting a “free market,” or “non-existent,” approach to climate change. I think we can expect the IER to have bias towards the oil and coal based status quo.

It appears that this bias has carried over into the report, because there are some pretty outstanding leaps of logic scattered in the seven “myths.” My favorite “dubious assumptions” in this report are after the jump.
Continue reading

Green Jobs and Governor Quinn: The Proposed State Budget
March 19, 2009, 4:12 am
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags:

Our shiny new governor, Pat Quinn, is pitching a $26 billion jobs plan as part of his $53 billion fiscal year 2010 state budget. In his first address to the state legislature today, he said the plan will “support” 340,000 jobs. What with the state unemployment rate at 7.9% (which means 500,000 people are looking for work), “supporting” jobs definitely seems like a good plan. “Creating” 340,000 jobs would be better, but I think we can all agree that naming nearly half of the budget the “Illinois Jobs Now” initiative is pretty smart politics. So let’s go to the details:

– $14 billion to build and upgrade roads and bridges

– $5 billion to improve public transit

– $4 billion to repair schools

– $ 1 billion for economic development efforts

– $2 billion for environmental, energy and technology projects

Hmmm…necessary infrastructure, necessary infrastructure, more necessary infrastructure – wait! Environmental, energy and tech projects sounds pretty green jobalicious! Unfortunately, Governor Quinn didn’t go into any detail with regard to just what those environmental projects would be. On the other hand, he gave a shout out to incorporating sustainable features into that $14 billion on building roads and bridges: “We won’t just pour concrete and asphalt. We’ll make sure major projects are energy-efficient and sustainable.” Right on, Quinn – we need sustainability integrated into all our new spending, not fenced off into isolated projects.

Of course, this same speech to the legislature included the minor little detail that this $53 billion budget counts on a 50% income tax increase.  The proposed shift from a 3% to a 4.5% tax rate would be the first income tax increase in 20 years, which gives you an idea of just how hard it is to sell tax increases in the land of Lincoln.

So Quinn’s budget is the opening salvo in what is sure to be a hard fight to figure out a way to address the state’s $11.5 billion deficit. For the moment, we can at least be confident that Quinn will propose green spending and green collar job creation. Now we need to get on the phone and see about talking our state legislatures into passing that spending.