By Courtni Wisenbaker-Scheel
We can all agree that the face of environmental protection and green development has changed dramatically over the past decade. What once used to be a small faction of the population is now a booming voice that is crying for change, and many across the political aisle have recognized the importance of action. From innovation strategies to technological advancements to incentive-based government programs, going green is now a talking point in almost every home and office across the country.
In fact, it is in these markets that some of the best strides are happening. Energy efficient appliances, solar photovoltaics, and eco-friendly construction materials are now common phrases to be heard at dinner tables and conference tables alike. Demand for green development is at an all time high, with many in the industry feeling like it has nowhere to go but up, even if the road gets a bit rockier in the coming year.
Environmentalism as a Governmental Priority
The public’s interest in environmental protection has certainly spiked, but a lot of that enthusiasm has been led by federal and state governments enacting legislation that incentivizes eco-friendly practices and applies pressure to traditional industries who are unwilling to comply. In 2015, President Obama signed the Planning for Federal Sustainability in the Next Decade Executive Order that looked to reduce greenhouse gas emissions created by federally-owned facilities by at least 40 percent through focusing on energy efficiency and expense within the next decade, as well as then laying the groundwork to transition to renewable energy sources later in the future. Agencies like the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) are choosing to lead by example through adhering to strict guidelines laid out by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) and Sustainable SITES Initiative for its capital construction program.
The enacting of the Clean Power Plan further solidified the future of green development within the country by aiming to decrease carbon dioxide emissions created from the energy industry by 32 percent of 2005 levels by 2040 through the reduction of coal-burning power plants and the promotion of renewable energy sources. Though this act is only a year old, coal consumption by power plants has dropped by 38 percent already, with at least an additional 15 percent of coal refiners scheduled to be closed in the near future. If this trajectory remains consistent, it is likely that the U.S. power will be totally coal-free well before projection, according to the Sierra Club.
Dominant American utility companies are taking note of this trend and are rapidly-jumping onboard. Many are even taking the next step by committing to be net-zero in their greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, an idea first proposed by The B Team. NRG Energy, one of the largest power providers in the country, aims to lead this transition within the industry. Recognizing that negative impacts on the environment affects everyone, and is compulsory to being a part of the change to rectify it. Business ventures would be wise to align their practices with green initiatives.
Economic Impact of Green Education Programs
It would seem like the Clean Power Plan and others like it were advances with little, if any, economic fallout, but that hasn’t proven to be the case entirely. Due to the major shift away from coal mining and refinement, many in the industry are suffering. In fact, over 68,000 jobs have been lost in the last five years in this sector alone, simply because the demand for coal has plummeted so dramatically.
No one wants the victories of the green development industry to come at the expense of a family’s ability to make ends meet. That’s why job training incentive programs are a key component in being able to further advance environmental government policy. Many of these programs provide funding for classrooms, as well as on-the-job training and employee wage reimbursement for multiple industries, making this career transition a far more realistic option for many citizens. Similarly, state governments are also offering businesses substantial tax credits for any new jobs they are able to create, regardless of the specific area within the green industry, which has helped ease the burden of business expansion for many smaller eco-friendly organizations.
Ensuring that demand for green products and manufacturing remains high is imperative if so much money is being given to reeducate a portion of the working population. That’s why measures have also been put in place to educate the public at large about what tax incentives and rebates are available when they choose to go green. States like New York have spent over $1 billion in order to advance solar initiatives through innovative programs like School Power. Naturally, that is designed to help inform their constituency about the role that solar can have in providing clean energy. Independent solar businesses have also worked hard to market the Solar Investment Tax Credit to potential patrons, helping them to understand how much more affordable going solar has become.
The Evolving Face of Green Development
Thanks to these education policies, families and businesses alike are actively seeking new ways to improve their energy efficiency and overall carbon footprint. The rise of smart technology has been revolutionary in how a home or building is able to conserve energy. With heating and cooling accounting for almost half of a home’s entire power requirements, smart thermostats that have the capacity to learn a family’s lifestyle are able to slash overall energy usage by upwards of 15 percent. Smart Energy Star appliances are now able to avoid peak energy times by knowing when a strong demand has been placed on the grid network. Best of all, companies are emerging that incorporate each of these elements together, making a fully automated home that is run entirely from its own miniserver. These systems are integrated seamlessly from the refrigerator to the solar photovoltaics to make homes as energy efficient as possible. For homes that are run on solar energy alone, these smart technologies have the potential to generate enough energy savings that no grid manufactured power ever needs to be used.
Even though the price of solar has fallen by 70 percent since 2009, with many analysts projecting it to fall an additional 40 percent over the next two years, it still isn’t an investment that is feasible for everyone. Enter the rise of solar collectives. Homeowners, renters, and businesses alike are able to work together to create community-owned solar arrays or have the option of tapping into utility-owned arrays through the purchase of specific solar panels or via a co-op membership. Not only does this arrangement have profound impacts on the reduction of carbon emissions, but it also allows for unusable areas like landfills to be repurposed.
Improvements to green development certainly aren’t confined to smart technology and solar power alone, though. Conservation and recycling are now important tenants for many in the construction industry, too. From WaterSense showerheads to Energy Star windows, green innovation allows for preservation of our natural resources, without having to sacrifice comfort, as well as the chance to lighten the landfill load with recycled countertops and tile. Though many of these products have been available for years, it wasn’t until large companies made LEED designations so prestigious that the market became more competitive. It was this competition that lead to many households being able to afford these Earth-saving materials, and now construction companies across the country are reporting that most most homeowners are now choosing to incorporate green materials in their new home build.
Whether it is due to governmental policies or strictly market demand, businesses that choose to go green are seeing their profit margins grow, some by as much as 20 percent. In fact, the World Wildlife Fund has noted that companies and homeowners alike who have implemented environmentally-conscious materials and strategies have seen a 233 percent return on their investment. Plus, green jobs help drive local economies by creating new jobs that liven the economy. That makes the future for green industries very bright indeed.
About the Author: Courtni Wisenbaker-Scheel is a mother of two, and lover of all things Danish modern. She enjoys writing professionally for Home Improvement Leads, with the goal of empowering homeowners with the expert guidance and educational tools they need to take on big home projects with confidence and find quality contractors to complete the job.