Friday, September 2, 2011

Clean Energy and Conservation the Silver Bullet the American Economy Needs

Maggie Comstock
Associate, Policy
U.S. Green Building Council

One day the history books could say that the Obama Administration’s stimulus package of 2009 saved the nation from deep and irreparable financial collapse. But one thing we know right now is that the historic $90 billion investment in clean energy was a significant policy decision for unleashing critical market forces and helping ignite a nascent clean energy economy—a decision that continues to pay clear dividends.

Clean energy technology was identified by the Center for American Progress (CAP) as “one of the fastest-growing sectors of the global economy…projected to grow to $2.3 trillion by 2020.” For example, it is estimated that 827,000 clean energy jobs will have been saved or created nationwide by the fourth quarter of 2012 through the progressive provisions of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Bracken Hendricks, author and senior fellow at CAP, called the green stimulus dollars the “the most important energy bill in American history.” And if we want to spur more new jobs that cannot be outsourced, we need even more innovative policy decisions that spur better clean energy market choices.

That is why clean energy and a more intelligent and resilient infrastructure to deliver that energy are also key components of CAP’s three step approach to further boost job creation: 1) Invest in national infrastructure through existing channels and the creation of an investment bank; 2) Stabilize the housing market through restructuring loans and automatic foreclosure mediation; and 3) Promote residential and commercial energy efficient retrofits.

Today, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that unemployment in the United States has remained unchanged at 9.1%, and that no new jobs have been added to the U.S. economy. Retrofitting our buildings may be the most obvious step forward when buildings consume 70% of all electricity and contribute to 40% of our national greenhouse gas emissions. McKinsey & Co showed that we could create nearly a million jobs by working to bring building energy retrofits to scale. With 25% unemployment in the construction sector, energy efficiency retrofits make our investment dollars go further by creating jobs, saving homeowners and building occupiers utility expenses and reducing our nation’s impact on the environment—called a triple win by some lawmakers.

In a few days the President will address the nation on the current state of unemployment and the economy. We anticipate and hope that his speech will include provisions for ramping up investments in clean energy and conservation. The clean energy economy could be the silver bullet needed to ensure America’s sustainable future—not exclusively in the environmental sense, but as a self-perpetuating and long-term economic solution.

Greenbuild Green Jobs Summit: The U.S. Green Building Council, in partnership with the Center for American Progress, the BlueGreen Alliance and the BlueGreen Alliance Canada, will host the Green Jobs Summit at Greenbuild 2011 to further explore the role of green jobs in the economy as well as their deployment. The Summit will feature notable experts and sector leaders inlcuding eco-entrepreneuer Majora Carter and Dan Esty, Commissioner of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection for the State of Connecticut.


  1. CAP's three step approach lays the foundation for getting the strongest footing for a recovered economy and healthy, efficient environment. The third piece really is one of the biggest pieces. As pointed out, retrofits of existing buildings has a triple effect by providing jobs, reducing expenses for owners and improving the environment. The retrofit trend has been growing in past years and it only stands to reason that it will continue - with the correct policies and education put in place to support it.

  2. This article regards employment creation as a main reason for encouraging clean energy industry. Yes, clean energy industry would be an emerging industry, not only promote technology upgrading, but also provide new job positions for the society. But from the three step approach CAP wants to follow, this employment creation plan needs the help from private sector. Different from government, who focuses more on employment rate, private sector navigate it business decisions mainly based on commercial or profit benefits. Therefore this plan need great involvement from private sector, the government should think about how to incentive private sector to invest in clear energy and accordingly to create real job positions, rather than doing lots of capital games.

  3. Thanks for your comment, GBlearner! You make a great point. The private sector definitely needs to be a cornerstone of such a plan. That is somewhat included in the third step of the CAP proposal. Government incentives (at any level) could motivate energy efficiency in residential and commercial buildings; thus, the private sector would be given the tools and incentives to create jobs within the green economy. And, of course, reducing the level of resources being devoted to utility costs is in the favor of a business' bottom line. These newly available funds could be put toward organizational manpower and resources, also creating more jobs. Thanks again for your comment. We can't forget how important the private sector is in order to make job creation within the clean energy economy a reality!

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