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Show me the Green - San Francisco’s new environmental building codes = boost for U.S. economy ?

by Meghan


San Francisco is the second greenest city in the nation, after its neighborly competitor Portland, Oregon, according to a February 2008 study. I say, great job, San Francisco! But second place just isn't good enough for our strong-willed Foggy City. In August, it may have tightened the gap between number one and number two when Mayor Gavin Newsom signed a code requiring renovated and newly constructed commercial and residential buildings to follow strict green-building certifications.

"Let's end the stale promises, emphasize conservation, and tackle climate change on all fronts," said Mayor Newsom when he signed the mandate on Aug. 8. Lucky for developers, they have until 2012 to comply with the rigorous building standards, which are based on the GreenPoints rating system for low-rise homes and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification for commercial and high-rise residential structures. Now, San Francisco's green-building efforts are the most advanced in the country. Take that, Portland.

By 2012, officials say the building codes will reduce:
- CO2 emissions by 60,000 tons
- Waste and storm water by 90 million gallons of water
- Construction and demolition waste by 700 million pounds
- Automobile trips by 540,000

They will increase:
- Green power generation by 37,000 megawatt hours
- The valuations of recycled materials by $200 million

And they will save:
- 220,000 megawatt hours of power
- 100 million gallons of drinking water

Obviously we won't see big changes today, tomorrow, or even next year. The ordinance is gradual, which some members of the San Francisco Building Owners and Managers Association say will help the City meet its goal. And it's a very important goal, as half of San Francisco's greenhouse gas emissions come from the energy used in buildings, according to the City's Climate Action Plan.

Just imagine what the new codes will do for the Bay Area — and the entire country, for that matter. Not only will they reduce, increase and save the resources on the above-mentioned list, but also they will create thousands of jobs during a time of sky-high unemployment.

Obama has been advocating for these kinds of green jobs since day one of his campaign. Although green-collar jobs are just blue-collar ones that help the environment, I agree with the politicians and journalists: Eco-friendly occupations seem like a darn-smart way to get the nation back on its financial (and environmental) track, or at least somewhere close to it. In October, Obama said if we build a new energy economy and increase federal spending on wind, solar, and biofuels, we'll create five million new jobs in the U.S. — five million! It's so simple: The more we green our country, the more jobs we create. Economy crisis solved!

But cynics think green jobs won't have the staying power to reverse our slumped market. William Yeatman, an energy policy analyst at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free-market think tank in Washington, says green jobs won't work, for one, because taxpayer money for green-job training will come out of the market economy and take away from producing goods that consumers want. Additionally, Kenneth P. Green, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, opposes Obama's green-job plan because he says it will kill many other jobs. The president-elect will have to slash hundreds of thousands of positions in the coal, oil, gas, nuclear, and automobile industries before placing people in green trades, which he thinks is foolish.

Despite the skepticism, environmental jobs are popping up across the map. San Francisco's not the only innovate place in the nation, after all. Florida, Indiana, Maryland, New Jersey, Oklahoma, and South Dakota adopted green building codes this year, too. And more cities and counties have jumped on the band wagon, including those in Arizona, Texas, Virginia, and Mississippi.

Even Internet companies are getting their piece of this eco-building pie. Not only are labor-intensive jobs opening thanks to new green codes, but also websites are launching to help those laborers get work. lists hundreds of environmental companies and job openings in each state, while the Environmental Defense Fund profiles 200 green jobs in California, lists 45 job types for high school graduates (that pay at least $25 per hour — sign me up!), and provides information on job training and apprentice programs. After surfing these sites, if I didn't know any better, I'd think our economy was in great shape. If you’re looking for work and are willing to get your hands dirty, these websites make green jobs seem like a great option. Yahoo even calls them “recession proof.”

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