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'Green' Careers Galore: Renewable Energy Jobs, Energy Efficiency Careers

Energy efficiency sounds like a fine idea-easy on the environment, and a good way to fight global warming. But what does it have to do with jobs?

Plenty, according to Dr. David B. Goldstein, author of the new book, "Saving Energy, Growing Jobs" and co-director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's energy program. In the book Goldstein explains that efficiency is about improved technologies-not cutbacks, as many believe-and leads to jobs producing and installing new products.

Meanwhile, consumers and businesses that save money through more efficient products pump those funds elsewhere, he writes, "expanding employment throughout the economy."

Goldstein said efficiency can create jobs where they're badly needed.

"With efficiency you're talking about jobs in existing buildings, homes, jobs at construction sites ... they provide opportunities that people are looking for," Goldstein said. "Installing efficiency systems-that's pretty hard to outsource. Installer jobs in your home are always going to be American jobs."

In March 8 testimony to the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, Goldstein said climate change offers a chance to enhance economic development "and small business growth in particular, because the primary opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are through end use efficiency, and efficiency has been shown to cut costs, create jobs, and increase innovation and competition."

Goldstein said efficiency is "probably 75-80 percent of the answer to global warming," but public awareness just isn't there yet.

Building 'Green'

'Green' building refers to the process of making buildings and their locations more efficient in using energy, water and materials, according to the Office of the Federal Environmental Executive. OFEE's definition also says green building cuts the "building impacts on human health and the environment, through better siting, design, construction, operation, maintenance, and removal - the complete building life cycle."

Dan Gerding, AIA, LEED AP, managing principal of Gerding Collaborative, an Atlanta-based architecture firm, recently shepherded a green building project: The Sweetwater Creek State Park Visitor Center. (LEED refers to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, a green building rating system developed by the U.S. Green Building Council.)

Gerding said the design team for the Sweetwater project included an energy modeling consultant, commissioning agent, exhibit consultant, LEED consultant, landscape architect, structural, civil, mechanical and electrical engineers, and a construction cost estimator.

Job Average Salary*
Landscape Architect $56,212
Civil Engineer $66,562
Mechanical Engineer $68,468
Electrical Engineer $81,116
Project Engineer, Environmental $64,980
Construction Estimator $65,119
Construction Project Manager $76,600

*Annual Salary is the current United States average annual salary, which includes base salary, bonus, commission, and profit sharing, as appropriate.

The Sweetwater building's overall energy consumption is estimated at 51 percent less than a similar, non-green structure, and it cuts carbon emissions by 27 tons a year, says a release. A large section of the roof gathers rainwater, which is filtered, treated and used within the building.

Buildings in the United States account for 36 percent of total energy use, 65 percent of electricity consumption and 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, according to the U.S. Green Building Council.

Gerding said he believes this year will be a turning point for green buildings and other initiatives that save energy and help fight global warming.

"All things are coming together and raising awareness of climate change and other environmental problems. What that tells me is on an individual basis, if you deny the reality of this big change, then you are going to put yourself at a competitive disadvantage with your future or current employer," Gerding said. He pointed out that the same can be said for companies: "You can say that about my industry, about architecture-the better firms, the ones considered the leading firms in the country, have all been strong proponents of green design."

Gerding said green building has already picked up speed.

"It's probably more of an exponential change rather than incremental. It's exploding. Of course the ultimate goal would be that down the line ... people won't make the distinction if it's a green building because that will pretty much be the norm," he said.

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