Tag Archives: Jobs

Crunch the numbers and preservation wins

The following post is by Kathleen O’Brien:

New is not always better.

I have to confess that I’ve been a little put off by local historic preservationists self-righteously declaring that “preservation” equals sustainability and leaving it at that. Yes, yes, I understand that recycling buildings intuitively makes sense, but since sustainability sometimes asks us to think counter-intuitively, I needed more. At a recent Sustainable Cities Roundtable conducted by King County’s Green Tools Program, I got what I needed.

Photo courtesy of McKinstry

The previous owner used stacks of wooden pallets to keep the ceiling from falling in on this 104-year-old railroad building in Spokane, but McKinstry bought it and spent $20 million to create high-tech office space for its 150 Inland Northwest employees.

Robert Young, PE, LEED AP, is professor of architecture and director of the Historic Preservation Program at the University of Utah, and author of the new Island Press release, “Stewardship of the Built Environment.” He was guest speaker at the Roundtable. Young provided some very satisfying arguments for promoting preservation and building reuse as a sustainability strategy. In making his arguments, he gives equal weight to what he terms SEE (or what some of us have called the “three E’s”): social, economic, and environmental factors, and defines stewardship of the built environment as “balancing the needs of contemporary society and its impact on the built environment with the ultimate effects on the natural environment.”

The Historic Preservationists have been at their best when justifying conservation due to social factors, and Young does speak to this. What I appreciated is that he also addresses environmental and economic factors in an analytical but highly accessible manner. One of the areas he touched on in his talk was the idea of calculating energy recovery as part of understanding the energy performance of preservation vs. new construction. As Young notes in his book, “the argument for measuring embodied energy to justify the retention of a building is (still) met with skepticism.” He claims this is largely because embodied energy is considered a “sunk cost” and therefore not part of decisions about future expenses. I think he would also say it’s because of our societal preference for the glitter of “new” vs. the practicality of “existing,” which may not be part of the accounting equation, but certainly humming in the background.

In his talk, Young used his own home to compare the energy recovery periods required to simply perform an energy upgrade to his home, to abandon the home and build a new one in the suburbs, or to demolish and rebuild in place. When he accounted for the embodied energy in the new buildings (whether in place or in the suburbs), the energy to demolish the existing building, and operating energy required for the remodeled or new building, it became clear that the remodel was the best choice when considering true energy performance. In scenarios provided in his book, energy recovery calculations result in recovery periods that exceed “the expected useful lives of many buildings being constructed today.” And this is without calculating in the transportation energy expenses that are likely to accrue when the new building is built in a greenfield out in the suburbs.

In the economic realm, Young compared the job creation resulting from highway, new, and rehab construction. In jobs per million dollars spent, rehab wins again. Although a small part of the construction activity (Young estimated 5%), rehab creates roughly 5 more jobs per million dollars spent than highway construction, and 2 more jobs per million dollars spent on new construction. If I am interpreting Young’s figures correctly, just by turning our economic recovery lens on rehab and away from highways and new construction we could potentially create between 6-12% more jobs per million dollars spent on construction. (And we might actually reduce the environmental, social, and economic negative impacts of sprawl — even if it’s “green”)!

Young’s talk introduced some great food for thought, but I’m so glad to be reading his book. In his concluding chapter, “Putting it All Together,” he provides a list of “challenges” for stewards of the built environment, ranging from advocating outcome-based codes (since prescriptive codes are based primarily on new construction practices) to presenting project lessons learned (both positive and negative) to “decision makers and policy shapers who mediate building preservation and reuse policies.” Lots to work on.

Kathleen O’Brien is a long time advocate for green building and sustainable development since before it was “cool.” She lives in a green home, and drives a hybrid when she drives at all. She continues to provide consulting on special projects for O’Brien & Co., the firm she founded over 20 years ago, and provides leadership training and mentoring through her legacy project: The Emerge Leadership Project.

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Seattle hiring manager for energy work – apply quick!

The city of Seattle’s Office of Sustainability & Environment is hiring a sector manager for its retrofit ramp-up non-residential program. But hurry! The closing date to apply for this job is June 25- tomorrow.

Seattle received money through the federal Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant, as part of the federal stimulus. This position will manage retrofit delivery for the non-residential sectors of the grant, in partnership with the grant team, staff from other city departments and the project steering committee. The person chosen will also be responsible for developing a sustainability plan to ensure the programs created through the grant continue after the three-year grant period.

The job is funded for three years. The salary will be between $32 and $48 per hour. Applications are due to Jeanie Boawn, executive assistant in the Office of Sustainability and Environment by 4 p.m. tomorrow. Her email is jeanie.boawn@seattle.gov.

Here’s the full job description. Good luck!

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Lucia Athens moving to Austin, Texas to be city’s chief sustainability officer

Green readers! Today I got a shock in my inbox: Lucia Athens, a constant presence in Seattle’s green building scene, is moving to Austin, Texas to become chief sustainability officer for the city.

For those of you that don’t know Athens, she is presently the senior sustainable futures strategist with 

Lucia Athens
CollinsWoerman (a title she made up – pretty nifty, eh?) She previously spent 10 years with the city of Seattle, leading its green building program. Athens wrote “Building an Emerald City: A Guide to Creating Green Building Policies and Programs,” about her experience with the city. She also has served in sustainability leadership positions with the board of directors for the U.S. Green Building Council and the International Green Building Certification Institute.

Lucia is a fountain of knowledge, an engaging speaker and someone whose skills are sure to be missed in this emerald city. The Austin Chronicle has an article on the move here. In an e-mail, Athens said she loves Seattle but already has connections to Austin as she grew up in San Antonio and has family there.

The DJC has carried a number of articles involving Athens over the years. In February, she wrote the article “7 trends that will shape the future of green building.” In 2008, we wrote about a BetterBricks award she won for being a green building advocate. In 2002, she wrote this article about how Seattle was leading the way for the nation in green building. In 1999, she was on a panel discussing the evolving standard for green buildings.

This was a pretty sought-after job so it will be interesting to see how it all unfolds. I, for one, will be keeping my eye on Austin. Good luck, Lucia!

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Electricians: the next hot profession

Are electricians the next hot profession?

Houston Neal just published an interesting post on the topic at The Software Advice Construction Blog.

Neal says “electrical contractors” will transition to “energy contractors” to support the green construction market, and that the profession will grow tremendously.  Neal cites a study by the American Solar Energy Society of Boulder, Colo. that says renewable energy jobs for electricians will grow about 900 percent by 2030, just in Colorado.

Neal calls this “a coming renaissance in electrical contracting.” However to really benefit, he says electricians need to focus on changing now by gaining the right skills, promoting green credentials, and updating their bidding process to win green electrical jobs.

It’s a pretty extensive and interesting post. But it makes me wonder, what other professions this applies to? If there is a coming renaissance for electricians, what other trades or jobs could see huge growth or significant change? What do you think?

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Seattle’s Office of Sustainability will be making a new hire soon

Today, I was listening to the Seattle City Council pass legislation that accepts over $6 million in stimulus funds from the U.S. Department of Energy for a multitude of energy upgrades. Among the many things it funds is a new position in Seattle’s Office of Sustainability and the Environment. It will be a “strategic advisor I” post and the person will be hired to handle reporting and requirements of the stimulus grant. The position is funded for two years. The job will likely be posted on the city’s job page here. Other than that, I don’t know any more about the position.

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