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Dear Fellow Industry Professionals,
As we announced yesterday, provided below is Part 2 of 5 in our series of articles on how the pandemic is impacting our industry.
Today, we’re bringing attention to the much-needed opportunity the energy efficiency and (more broadly) building performance industries have to position themselves not only as part of the newly-themed “essential services” industry, but also as integral must-have investments in the country’s pandemic recovery efforts.
As some organizations focus on unemployment filings (see here, but not yet), we recommend that the industry play its best card first: return on investment. In a time when entire industries and workforces are jockeying for position, support for our industry’s employment losses can take center stage by messaging to policymakers about the substantial financial return our workers provide.
Every $1.00 invested in a North Carolina energy efficiency worker returns $5.15. Beat. That.
Right now, building performance has an opportunity to play an essential role in our nation’s and state’s recovery plans and we need to let policymakers across the country know. Now is the time for our industry and energy efficiency advocates to work together, speak up for ourselves and be recognized for the value we offer our customers, our local economies and the country.
Take care and stay safe,
D. Ryan Miller
Founder & CEO, NCBPA
Here Are the Big Numbers
Back in September of 2018, a room of economists spent an entire summer (okay, it was our intern Emily Bulla and I) crunching data that became the 2018 North Carolina Energy Efficiency Potential Report. As stated in our press release, the report identified a 16.8% energy savings potential over ten years that would result in $13.9 Billion in statewide energy savings. The $2.7 Billion price tag isn’t cheap, but with a financial return on investment of 5.15 : 1, it’d be worth it, no matter who is paying.
Here’s what the economic and workforce benefits of that investment looked like prior to the pandemic (are they even better now?):
- Create 53,200 new jobs, doubling the size of our workforce.
- Increase tax revenue for state and local governments by $2.5 Billion.
- Create the need for 250 new local businesses or growth opportunities for current ones.
- $11.2 Billion of available investment in local economies
And the kicker? Energy efficiency industry professionals know that the work we perform creates valuable non-energy benefits as well. The $2.7 Billion investment would also take 72.9 Million metric tons of CO2 out of the environment. That’s the equivalent of taking 1.5 million cars off the roads for ten years.
So what do we do with this information? National policy organizations should augment their unemployment claims with economic, environmental and workforce data found in energy efficiency potential studies like ours. This data is easy to find and adds substantive messaging to the workforce needs. And in case you don’t believe our data, take a look at the national studies – our report is actual more conservative than others.
We have the data. We have the proof. We need the message to be delivered in state legislatures and on Capitol Hill.
The Difficulty with Energy Efficiency Job and Unemployment Numbers
A big part of the unknown in this entire situation is how energy efficiency job numbers and unemployment claims are being counted and more so how they will be used to project potential investment and focus areas. What’s a more valuable investment: a manufacturing job or a low income weatherization job? The thing is, we don’t really know. This is an area that our industry has struggled with for years.
Energy efficiency is on one hand its own employment sector with jobs like energy auditors, energy efficiency consultants, energy engineers and the like. But, when you take one step away from those core roles, the jobs become hard to categorize and you end up asking questions like these:
- Is an insulation worker an energy efficiency worker?
- Is an architect that designs an above-energy code building envelope an energy efficiency worker?
- Is a traditional HVAC worker an energy efficiency worker? All the time?
- Is a crawl space encapsulation worker an energy efficiency worker?
At some point, you have to draw the line in who is an energy efficiency worker and who has the opportunity to be an energy efficiency worker. This reasoning lends itself to studies of high employment in good times, and studies on how investment can best serve workers that are out of jobs in bad times (like now). Building performance is more broad than energy efficiency and it’s much easier to incorporate the types of positions above using that criteria. Our industry needs to have this conversation in a much more transparent way than what’s been done previously. This is needed to ensure that the energy efficiency workers that are so often left out of workforce investment opportunities are not left out of this one.
(Source: NCBPA analysis of publicly-available industry job numbers prior to the pandemic)
How to Position the Building Performance Industry to Recover
NCBPA recommends that state and federal policy action focus on more than just putting individuals back to work in any job. Let’s make sure that, where we can of course, we’re putting individuals back to work in an industry that provides a high return on investment. And that industry, is building performance.
National policy advocates need to work with state advocates
State organizations like NCBPA and our allies across the country must be involved in these efforts. Thus far, that hasn’t happened. But, it’s not too late. As illustrated above and in Part 1, organizations like ours have the data, resources and support at the state and local level to provide feedback, data and stories that can be used to amplify policy messages. At NCBPA, I’ll say clearly that our goal in this process is to ensure that our state’s building performance and energy efficiency workers receive the recovery support they need from any possible stimulus funding and programs. I’m fighting for them. For that reason, we recommend the policy actions focus on these workers directly, and additional efforts coordinate with other trade groups (like HVAC, plumbing and electrical) where opportunities to support one another exist. Energy efficiency doesn’t have the fire power and notoriety of other trades, so let’s make sure that our needs aren’t overshadowed.
National certification and oversight organizations need to join forces and work together.
It may be time for this to start happening. Simply put, there’s only going to be so much time and money that companies and professionals are going to be willing and able to spend on professional development, conferences, training workshops and the like during the recovery. The ARRA days were one thing, but it may be different now. Not to mention project add-ons such as high performance and green certification programs may be a luxury that customers aren’t willing to pay for. What to do? As NCBPA is not aligned with any one standards setting organization or certification body, we are well-versed in working towards the end goal of high performance, no matter what pathway or program someone takes. Perhaps we should consider this type of strategy for our future workforce as well. Is it finally in the best interest for professional certification bodies like RESNET and BPI in the residential sector and ASHRAE and USGBC in the commercial sector to combine advocacy efforts, merge certification programs (gasp!), share resources and just, you know, work together to support our workforce? Let’s not force companies and individuals to bear any additional financial burden. Finding a way for like programs to work together is needed.
Valuable research from organizations like ACEEE needs an “installation guide”.
For more years than I know, ACEEE and other organizations have published report after report after report on energy efficiency policies that make sense through minor and major policy action. The problem has been, these policy recommendations haven’t come with a how-to guide to help us advocacy and lobbying organizations implement them. Now would be a great time to develop and share them with implementers like NCBPA and our allies across the country. What better opportunity do we have to share best practices on implementing like policies that support our respective workforces?
We need a career path to welcome new workers and benefit existing ones.
This is a sticking point for NCBPA that will be presented in more detail in Part 5. For now, think about it this way: how will students, young workers and adults looking to transition into our industry view the long-term career opportunities if we have no career resources to share with them? Will they pass us by if they don’t have a visual of what a career looks like with us? Our industry needs resources that effectively illustrate the many inroads to a lasting and diverse career in energy efficiency. Without it, we’re taking a big gamble that “energy efficiency” is attractive enough on its own. And I don’t think that’s worked well for us in recent years.
And lastly, maybe it’s time for building performance to take the stage.
This was not the intent of this article. But, it actually fits, so let’s give it a shot.
During the pandemic, we’ve all heard and seen the countless news articles, blog posts, reports, webinars and Zoom meetings (!) that identify the many ways that the pandemic is going to change how we design, build, service, live and work in our built environment, forever. Okay, I’ll buy most of that. I’d have more faith in that notion if the interests in resilience and sustainability after hurricanes and droughts in North Carolina resulted in real standards and practices changes here… They haven’t unfortunately, that issue is for another time. But, there’s definitely something here…
More than just setting new and better standards that improve home and building performance, the pandemic and recovery offers an opportunity to redefine our industry and our workforce, of course, for the better. What better way to jumpstart a renaissance of high performance construction that is green, sustainable, cost-effective, high performance and worthy of the investment that an economic stimulus like the one we’re fighting for would offer?
So, what’s it going to take for us to capitalize on this likely once in a lifetime opportunity? How do we turn opportunity into action?