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Green Jobs: Creating Pathways out of Poverty

Two of the biggest challenges currently facing our communities are recovering from the highest unemployment since the Great Depression, and addressing the threat of global climate change. Remarkably, one solution—energy efficiency retrofits—helps address both problems simultaneously, while also saving money for families, businesses and government.

Most people are surprised to learn that buildings are the largest national source of energy consumption, costing $400 billion annually in energy bills and comprising 80 percent of local carbon emissions in some cities. Yet, efficiency gains between 30 and 50 percent are possible using existing, cost-effective technology. If our nation committed to retrofitting just our single family homes, we could cut energy bills by $21 billion annually, reduce greenhouse gas emission by 60 million metric tons a year, and create 78,000 jobs per million homes weatherized, paid for by the energy savings.

The Problem

There are currently not enough trained workers to weatherize buildings on the scale necessary to meet climate protection goals. And, jobs in residential construction typically do not pay living wages and do not offer training and career ladders to better-paying jobs in construction. This represents both a training challenge and an employment opportunity.

Communities of color have been disproportionately hit by the economic crisis and are often excluded from good jobs during good times. A green jobs equity agenda, based on a vision best articulated by Van Jones, has the potential to address both urban unemployment and climate change goals. With the right public incentives and employment standards, we can train the needed energy efficiency workforce and provide a clear path for disadvantaged workers to work their way out of poverty towards construction careers. We can ensure both workforce quality and opportunity through living wages, access to healthcare and the potential for advancement.

Our green jobs coalition work has two goals
1. Green Economy Equity:
Generate good jobs and lifetime construction careers, create new high-road, community-based enterprises, reduce urban poverty and chronic underemployment, and raise living standards.

2. Environmental Stewardship:
Achieve significant reductions in our carbon footprint and the energy consumption of our building stock, as well as create energy savings for our regional economy.

What’s at Stake
This is the biggest opportunity we’ve had in decades to have a say in shaping an emerging economy and workforce. We have the unique chance to create equity outcomes in a growing sector in which public investment and market solutions are needed. Already, the Federal government has invested significant stimulus money in energy efficiency retrofits, primarily through the American Renewal and Recovery Act (ARRA). However, low-income communities in Washington are not getting these jobs, and even more Federal and State programs are on the horizon, representing billions of dollars.

Sage’s Solution
The key to tackling this agenda begins with building partnerships between labor, environmental, and community organizations to work together for a solution that provides quality work in green industries and good living wage jobs for those who need them the most. Sage is building many such partnerships with Got Green, the Laborers International Union (LiUNA), Green for All, Climate Solutions, the Sierra Club, and King County Building Trades. Sage focuses on residential energy efficiency, because it offers entry-level skilled jobs that offer good wages and benefits.