There are new jobs to be had from America's "green" building boom, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) confirms, and lots of them.
In a new report conducted with consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton, the USGBC says green construction is on track to support nearly 8 million new jobs by 2013 — a 400 percent leap over the previous five years.
The report is one of the first to focus exclusively on the employment opportunities from green building.
The authors found that efforts to make buildings more energy efficient already supports more than 2 million jobs and contributes $100 billion in gross domestic product and U.S. wages.
"The study demonstrates that investing in green buildings contributes significantly to our nation's wealth while creating jobs in a range of occupations, from carpenters to cost estimators," said Gary Rahl, officer of global government market at Booz Allen Hamilton.
Between 2009 and 2013, green construction will pour an additional $554 billion into the U.S. economy. That's "despite an expected decline in the overall construction market," the report's authors said.
The figures are more evidence that green building is the ultimate no-brainer climate and economic solution.
Buildings account for nearly 75 percent of America's annual electricity consumption and spew almost half of the country's global warming emissions.
Greening up the building sector will save $6 billion in energy costs over the next four years. That adds up to 45 million metric tons of planet-warming emissions averted — the carbon equivalent of removing 8 million cars from the road and avoiding 10 new coal plants.
The report was released as part of last week's annual Greenbuild International Conference & Expo.
Nobel laureate and former Vice President Al Gore, the conference keynote speaker, said in his 40-minute remarks that green buildings are "one of the key ways that we're going to solve the climate crisis."
But there's a catch: financing.
For the full benefits of green building to be realized, "we need to help homeowners pay for the up-front investments that these technologies require," Gore said.
He called for "tax incentives and financing instruments that build in the costs of the extra measures," which are going to "more than pay for themselves over a few years."
To accomplish that, "we need national legislation," Gore said.
Eyes on Congress
Experts agree that a national climate law could be a cornerstone of a green building boom — but not necessarily the version being considered right now in the Senate. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee earlier this year approved the American Clean Energy Leadership Act, which provides a blueprint for increasing energy efficiency in buildings. Its language likely will be worked into the larger Senate climate bill.
Ed Mazria, the founder of Architecture 2030, says the climate bill passed the U.S. House in June, the American Clean Energy and Security Act, is a better bet for the nation for one reason: Section 201 of that bill includes vital building energy code updates and timelines.
Specifically, the House bill calls for an immediate 50 percent energy reduction of all new and renovated buildings. Starting in 2010 and every five years thereafter, the energy efficiency required of buildings would have to be improved an additional 10 percent. The result? By 2030, virtually all new buildings would be carbon neutral.
The code was derived from Mazria's own "2030 Challenge," to which the U.S. Conference of Mayors, several states and numerous organizations have signed on. It would achieve more than six times the emissions reductions as 100 nuclear power plants at a fraction of the cost if adopted on a national scale, he said in an analysis published on SolveClimate.
They would "transform the entire built environment in the U.S. by 2050," Mazria wrote. "Section 201 must not be changed or weakened."
That may turn out to be wishful thinking.
The Senate's American Clean Energy Leadership Act includes key building energy code updates from Section 201, but the timelines for those targets were not included in the Senate equivalent Section 241 and "must be amended," Mazria's group said.
In a September call to action, 24 of America's largest and most influential architecture, engineering and development firms urged the Senate to pass the Section 241 building codes with the 2030 timelines.
"We — the Building Sector community — are on the front lines on this one. We have a big job ahead of us and we need Congress to begin putting into place the code regulations and support necessary to help us get the job done," said Ralph Hawkins, Chairman and CEO of HKS Architects.
Meanwhile, as the nation awaits a strong national building code, cities and states are ratcheting up their green building plans.
According to a new report by the American Institute of Architects, 138 cities with populations greater than 50,000 now have policies in place to promote green construction. That's up 50 percent from 92 in 2007.
And head's up: The USGBC is proving itself to be a force to be reckoned with, with growing influence in Washington. It now boasts 19,000-plus member organizations, which generate $2.6 trillion in annual revenue, employ approximately 14 million people and come from 29 industry sectors, including 46 Fortune 100 companies.
"Our goal is for the phrase 'green building' to become obsolete, by making all building and retrofits green — and transforming every job in our industry into a green job," said Rick Fedrizzi, president, CEO and founding chairman of USGBC.