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Gary Hirshberg: Work Efficiently – It’s Good for Your (Economy’s) Health

By being energy efficient, you’ll not only save money – you’ll help create jobs.

Every day, in everything we do, we have an impact on the planet. This is true for individuals, but it’s even truer for businesses.

Any business leader who doesn’t get this by now is turning down the largest, most lucrative opportunity of this young century: reducing waste and increasing energy efficiency. Companies that figure out how to do both will not only reduce their costs and boost their profits, they’ll win tremendous public support as well.

Not a bad return on investment. But wait, as the TV ad says, “There’s more!”

It turns out that energy efficiency also creates new jobs, and that’s one benefit everyone can get behind, especially in this economy.

Hard to believe? More studies than you can count pour in daily, illuminating the incredible job growth and economic savings to be had simply by getting serious about energy efficiency and renewable energy.

Green Invests Here | See Complete Coverage
Green Invests Here | See Complete Coverage

One of them, released last month by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), found that Ohio could add $2.6 billion to its annual gross state product (GSP) and create more than 32,000 new good-paying trade and professional jobs by 2025 through energy efficiency measures. That’s like having 250 new manufacturing plants move to Ohio – with no need for new public infrastructure investment.

Similarly in Florida, a Center for Climate Strategiesanalysis found that a package of climate actions – led by energy efficiency – would add over $11 billion to annual GSP and more than 148,000 new jobs by 2025. What’s not to like about that?

These are “what-if” studies, but UC–Berkeley researcher David Roland-Holsttook an after-the-fact look at California’s energy efficiency investments over the last 30 years.

His conclusions:

  • 1.5 million more jobs were created than would have occurred otherwise, with a $45 billion payroll;
  • 50 jobs were gained for each job lost from the fossil energy sector;
  • $56 billion in savings resulted; and
  • California reduced its dependence on energy imports and ensured a smoother transition to the low-carbon economy of the future.

In a recession, it’s instructive to look at what industries are succeeding:

  • The energy efficiency industry grew about twice as fast as the overall U.S. economy from 2006-2007.
  • In the distressed building sector, green buildings still enjoyed strong growth; the U.S. green building industry is now worth $12 billion; 10 years ago, it was unquantifiable.
  • The renewable energy industry grew more than twice as fast as the U.S. economy from 2006-2007. Excluding drought-stricken hydropower, renewable energy grew more than 3 times as fast as the U.S. economy.

According to Dan Kammen, a leading researcher on energy and jobs, renewable energy produces twice as many jobs as traditional fossil energy for the same amount of power. It’s not hard to see why: more labor goes into designing, manufacturing, selling, shipping, installing, and maintaining hundreds of small distributed renewable generation sources (e.g., windmills, solar photovoltaic arrays, etc.) than capital-intensive power plants and transmission lines. Better yet, more of that money stays in the local economy instead of being “exported” out of state – or worse, out of the country. Not surprisingly, our energy security also improves. And I haven’t even mentioned global warming emissions and other pollution from fossil power plants.

That’s fine and good, you may think, for companies like mine that sell directly to consumers, but it doesn’t apply to manufacturers and other businesses that serve industrial and commercial markets. Wrong again, because consumer-product companies – my own Stonyfield Farm included – are starting to focus on lifecycle emissions, which means we’re pushing the green values our consumers want right up our supply chains to those upstream businesses. You can run from the end-user market, but you can’t hide – at least not for very long!

Happily, these lessons haven’t been lost on policy makers in Washington.

Creating jobs while greening the economy is an integral part of the Obama Administration’s stimulus bill, which calls for $70 billion toward green efforts— retrofitting buildings with new energy-saving features, improving public transit systems, and building an electrical grid able to integrate renewable energy sources. As a leading economist puts it, this is the first time that investment in a clean-energy economy has been connected officially with the idea of job creation in government policy.

As seminal as this idea may be, there’s an even more important element. After all, we don’t just want jobs, any jobs. We want the new, green, well-paying jobs of the future, permanent jobs that reflect stability for our families, protection for our planet, and competitive advantage for our industries and the nation as a whole.

Writing recently in Newsweek, Harvard Business School professor and former Medtronic CEO Bill George may have put it best. He pointed out “the enormous difference between saving jobs and creating new ones.” The focus needs to be on the latter, George insisted, “because saving jobs that are no longer viable only slows the retooling required in our economy.”

We have a lot of “retooling” to do, and one way to be sure you’re doing it right in these uncertain times is to make sure you “work efficiently” – as energy efficiently as possible!

Read more about Gary Hirshberg’s green business perspectives in his latest book, “Stirring it Up: How to Make Money and Save the World” (Hyperion 2009), _________________________
Gary Hirshberg is Stonyfield Farm President and CE-Yo and author of Stirring It Up: How to Make Money and Save the World.