Back in black

By Amara Rozgus, Senior Editor December 1, 2008

According to reports from McGraw-Hill Construction and Reed Construction Data (a sister company of this magazine), the construction industry is set to contract in 2009. Even though new-construction volume is expected remain above $400 billion, negative growth tends to make people nervous.

A question that has been popping up in the media is whether the emerging green market will keep its momentum. True or not, green projects still have a stigma of being more expensive, and additional costs are being heavily scrutinized.

But the green market is more than green buildings. So-called “green collar” jobs—which focus on making buildings leaner and cleaner, expanding mass transit and freight rail, constructing smart energy grids, expanding production of wind and solar power, and advancing biofuels—represent new business opportunities for products and services.

Fortunate for many manufacturers, President-Elect Barack Obama’s administration sees green-collar jobs as a possible way to lift our economic downturn. The green component of a large stimulus plan would cost $15 billion a year. Some folks are ahead of the game. Kankakee County, Ill., for example, is positioning itself to be at the forefront of the green jobs revolution. Local workforce, sustainability, and economic organizations have combined efforts to place the county in the spotlight when it comes to attracting and keeping green jobs.

“Green Recovery, A Program to Create Good Jobs and Start Building a Low-Carbon Economy,” released in September by the Center for American Progress, a Washington D.C.-based think tank, calls for a $100 billion investment in key green building and manufacturing areas.

An economic stimulus package with a green foundation is being developed by Congress with the intent of being signed by President Obama immediately after his inauguration. Congress was successful in having the energy tax credits extended for eight years as part of the $700 billion bailout package signed in October. The combination of the two will be a boon for greening American buildings, transportation, and lifestyles, while providing much needed jobs and improving national energy and economic security.

Green could color reddening bottom lines back to black.

While attending the 2008 Greenbuild conference and expo in Boston in November, I saw no sign of a green market slowdown. The conference sessions and expo floor were packed with people and products.

Any green jobs initiative would extend to consulting and specifying engineers. According to an informal survey of MEP engineers, at least two-thirds of their clients are asking that some sort of energy-efficiency measure be added to their project. “What we are seeing now is that clients are much more aware of energy use as a critical issue and are asking the design team to help them navigate through all of the various design alternatives,” said Allan Montpellier, PE, LEED AP, senior vice president at WSP Flack + Kurtz, Seattle.

MEP engineers are tasked with marrying efficient products, like HVAC or IAQ items, with smart green design. “As engineers, the means in which we can move the market toward ‘green engineering’ is three-fold: it exists in the education of our clients, the early collaboration of all disciplines and stakeholders, and the support of our clients to employ more sophisticated means of analysis to answer and solve the more complex questions and design challenges that face us,” said Cynthia Cogil, PE, LEED AP, principal, SmithGroup, Washington, D.C. “The ability to model the complex interrelationships between systems and architecture generally resides with the engineer, further enhancing the role they play on a project and their influence on the final design solution.”

Indications are that the green market will not only survive a recession, but help us out of it, too.

Author Information

Rozgus is senior editor with Consulting-Specifying Engineer magazine. As a University of Illinois Master Gardener, she’s working toward greening her own garden and home.