Sustainability includes environmental, social and economic dimensions. A healthy environment cannot exist without a strong economy, nor can a strong economy exist without a healthy environment. Green technology deals with the application of knowledge and experience to protect the natural environment and resources. Figure 1 provides a graphical illustration of the different dimensions of sustainability.
Without a comprehensible vision, energetic leadership, integrity of intentions and the commitment to excellence, the wheel of sustainable development comes to a grinding halt. Communities exist with varying levels of economic activities, social equities and environmental health. The differentiating criteria relates to the level of activities in the interfaces found between Society-Environment, Environment-Economy and Economy-Society. It is in these interfaces where innovation and creativity occurs.
“Going green” is no longer about protecting an exotic species or hugging a tree—it has become an economic necessity. The U.S. automotive industry has suffered greatly because of the unexpected rise in gas prices and the economic decision many car buyers have made that more efficient vehicles are needed. Americans drove 9.6 billion fewer miles in May 2008 than in May 2007, the third-largest monthly drop since the federal government began collecting data 66 years ago. The implication is that American business better take notice and respond effectively to the future needs of the customer.
It is interesting that the Ford Model T, which was invented in 1908, provided 25 miles per gallon, whereas in 2004, the average car got just 20.8 miles per gallon. Not only was the Model T more efficient than many of today’s vehicles, it was also capable of running on either gasoline or ethanol. Obviously, the Model T had a much smaller engine, less comfort and lower top speed than today’s cars, but consider that 100 years of technological advancement have produced cars with a worse fuel economy. If the Toyota Prius can get 45 miles per gallon, then cars manufactured in the most technologically advanced nation on the planet should be able to match it.
The myth that sustainability is costly ignores the reality that for any society to thrive and prosper, it must seek to create a healthy balance between its environmental, social and economic dimensions. Sustainability is not just about building green but about building a community and sustaining a quality way of life. As a community, we cannot afford to wait to take the initiative to pursue geothermal, wind, solar and other sources of energy, efforts which could create new jobs, attract new businesses and reduce our utility bills.
Green Collar Jobs
The potential for highly desirable green-collar jobs is very large. Despite what is happening at the federal level, many nations and states are passing legislation designed to improve energy efficiency and the environment. Further, many U.S. multinational companies, including Caterpillar Inc., are thriving overseas in countries that embrace green technologies and sustainability. Labor unions are being challenged to seek new skills and develop training programs that will enhance and strengthen their positions and value to the public and business community.
Over time, these factors will result in a significant expansion of green-collar jobs in Peoria including:
- Energy stations related to biodiesel, hydrogen, electric cars, etc.
- Energy retrofits to increase efficiency and conservation
- Geothermal, solar and wind energy
- Green construction and LEED certification
- Sustainable housing, including insulation, weatherization, etc.
- Green waste composting on a large scale
- Demolition and construction materials debris
- Hazardous materials clean-up
- Manufacturing jobs related to solar panels
- Materials recycling
- Sustainable transportation systems
- Water efficiency and conservation
- Emission control devices
- Efficient heating and air conditioning
- New construction materials and techniques.
This will require that we develop a new understanding of the policies and programs necessary to ensure that green-collar jobs are made available to workers with limited education and technical skills. We need to develop strategies to reduce the potential for social inequalities and injustices. This means that Peoria has the opportunity and responsibility to develop the proper incentive programs that will help attract and develop new businesses in the sustainability space.
Peoria’s Sustainability Commission
The Peoria Commission on Sustainability and Green Technology was formed by Mayor Jim Ardis in April. This commission can transform Peoria into a “Green Machine” that drives our local economy, develops innovative technologies, attracts new green businesses, creates the jobs of the future and puts Peoria on the world map as the go-to city in the areas of sustainability and green technology. The old adage “Will it play in Peoria?” could be replaced by “Will sustainability work in Peoria?”
We live in a world with limited natural resources, an increasing population and a delicate environment. The one commodity that we have an abundance of is the ingenuity of the American worker, engineer, scientist and business executive. Executives from business, labor, government and education serve on our commission, and these commissioners possess a shared vision and the intellect required to make Peoria a green city.
The recent rise in energy costs has mobilized our community to consider alternative fuel sources, green construction to increase efficiency, recycling and New Urbanism to reduce driving. We are fortunate to have businesses in the sustainability space and a capable labor force with the technical skills to make our community a source of innovation and pride. We must challenge our traditional perceptions in order to preserve our American way of life. iBi