Can Energy Efficiency Help You Get a Job?

Back in February, President Obama asked the Council on Jobs and Competitiveness to help lead the Better Buildings Initiative to make American businesses more competitive by saving them about $40 billion per year in energy costs. The first question the Jobs Council asked, of course, was exactly how many jobs we were talking about here?

As of today, the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst released an independent study projecting that the Better Buildings Initiative would create more than 114,000 jobs – half of which would come from a new tax credit for building energy upgrades that the President proposed to Congress in his 2012 budget. That would mean new jobs for people like contractors, sheet metal workers, engineers, and architects.

Creating new jobs in building energy upgrades means we also need to develop new skills.

Yesterday, I visited North Carolina Central University just prior to the Jobs Council meeting to talk about how they’re building skills for America’s future.

Technical universities and community colleges are critical to developing new building industry professionals to take advantage of the opportunities that the Better Buildings Challenge will create. That’s why the National Institute of Standards and Technology, working with the Department of Energy, will announce a new competitive grant program for technical and community colleges later this summer – fulfilling President Obama’s commitment to launch a Commercial Building Technology Extension Partnership.

To sustain this momentum, we also need to address how energy upgrades can improve the value of a building. A better building will cut your utility bills, but energy performance isn’t consistently factored into how buildings are appraised even though it’s an appropriate consideration under existing national standards. That’s because the information and tools that appraisers need aren’t readily available. That’s why the Department of Energy and The Appraisal Foundation – the Congressionally authorized source of appraisal standards and appraiser qualifications in the United States – have launched a collaboration to make sure that appraisers have what they need to make energy performance a recognized aspect of how buildings are appraised.

Developing the market for building energy upgrades is more about silver buckshot than a silver bullet. It’s steady, systematic progress like this – working in partnership with business – that will attract the investment and create the jobs that will put America’s building industry to work making American businesses more efficient and competitive.

Penny Pritzker is a Member of the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness
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