The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

It’s not easy being green

The Clean Energy Jobs Act will likely fail to pass in the Wisconsin Assembly today, but green career opportunities are starting to increase.

The world will not end for environmental activists today when the Wisconsin Assembly will most likely not pass the Clean Energy Jobs Act, but the news will make Earth Day 2010 bittersweet for those who want to power Wisconsin to the forefront of the Midwest’s green movement.

The act was heralded by Gov. Jim Doyle as a bill that would cut consumer costs and create more than 16,000 jobs in the state, but has been criticized by some lawmakers as pushing out business due to costly standards, instead of spurring growth.

Reports on Wednesday showed that the legislation, a high priority for Doyle since 2007, lacked support in the Assembly, and Democrats might fail to secure enough votes to pass the bill by the end of the session today.

“Through the Clean Energy Jobs Act, we will create clean energy that works for Wisconsin and is made in Wisconsin,” Doyle said in an April 13 statement.

The act would have mandated the use of wind, solar and hydropower, requiring that by 2025, 25 percent of energy used in Wisconsin would be from these renewable sources. The bill also likely would have given a financial boost to “green” programs.

Though the bill will likely be pushed aside for now, environmental experts around the state are still optimistic in their outlook for future graduates looking to the ever-growing green movement for jobs.

Blooming opportunities

Erick Shambarger, director of Milwaukee’s Office of Environmental Sustainability, could not comment directly on the pending legislation, but said that in general, environmental opportunities will continue to blossom for college graduates who focus their education on a green field.

Shambarger said “going green” can mean any number of things for a business or institution — from reducing or reusing waste to manufacturing and installing solar panels and wind turbines.

The types of college-educated professionals needed to fill these jobs are varied, ranging from businessmen and administrators to engineers and environmental scientists.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, environmental engineering is projected as one of the fastest growing occupations from 2008 to 2018.

“In general, businesses have gotten over seeing ‘going green’ as adversarial and realized that it is good for their bottom line when done in a smart way,” Shambarger said.

This year, the BLS will begin keeping statistics on specific green jobs, or “jobs involved in economic activities that help protect or restore the environment or conserve natural resources.”

One green project that will directly create jobs within the next few months is the Milwaukee Energy Efficiency (Me2) program, which the Center on Wisconsin Strategy, based at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is ready to start.

The program looks to directly create a number of jobs around the area by repairing energy-inefficient houses, a process known as retrofitting.

The idea behind the program is to provide work to thousands of people locally while decreasing home energy costs and cutting back the excess carbon emissions of homes.

Eric Sundquist, senior associate and policy analyst at COWS, said a pilot program will begin soon, and based on funding and success, it may be rapidly expanded.

COWS officials hope to launch the Me2 program this summer.

“This could create jobs anywhere from the plumbers and insulators working inside the houses to engineers and administrators working to lead the efforts,” Sundquist said.

The group is waiting on a federal grant before it begins “ramping up” the program, he said.

While the funding is currently hanging in limbo, Sundquist said the potential for thousands of blue-collar jobs already exists in the fixing up of local homes.

The potential for college-educated jobs, however, will only come about if the project advances to retrofitting commercial buildings in the downtown area, he said.

Me2 currently relies primarily on private and federal funding. But the likely failure of the Clean Energy Jobs Act may hurt the group’s chance at state funding, Sundquist said.

Engineering the future

Tracey Holloway, a UW-Madison professor and expert on environmental careers, said most companies now have a green element.

Holloway pointed out that even companies like Wal-Mart Stores Inc. are setting environmentally-friendly goals and said that the green components of many fields are growing fastest.

Shambarger said it is important to have a background in science to become involved in the green jobs field.

Shambarger graduated from Marquette in 2000 with a degree in social philosophy and studied in an environmental program at UW-Madison.

“Practical skills and knowledge are important also,” he said. “Get internships in school, make relationships, and in this field, it’s always helpful to have an entrepreneurial spirit.”

Sundquist added that thinking creatively about problems with green solutions further opens a student’s opportunities in the business world.

For example, it might be a good time to start a business that insulates homes because customers are realizing that insulation would reduce lost energy and save them money in the end, he said.

While Shambarger entered the administrative side of the green movement, scientists and engineers have taken the empirical approach and tried to enhance green technology, a lucrative and ever-expanding endeavor.

Mark Federle, Marquette’s McShane Chair in Construction Engineering, said in an e-mail that the College of Engineering is increasingly incorporating green building into its curriculum. He expects this trend to continue.

“Experience in green building through co-ops and internships will help position MU grads for employment after graduation,” Federle said.

Federle also emphasized the importance of engineers striving to earn Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification, a professional certification recognizing a project that uses environmentally sustainable building strategies.

Stan Jaskolski, dean of the College of Engineering, said in an e-mail that green jobs are “what engineering is all about.”

“Green jobs (are) totally about innovation, thinking outside the box, designing new products, processes and/or services,” he said.

Jaskolski stressed the importance of Marquette’s environmental engineering program, which emphasizes water and wastewater treatment along with air pollution engineering.

Marquette also does environmental research, Jaskolski said. Marquette, along with the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, has focused on water quality research and enhancement.

Jaskolski added that the new engineering building currently under construction, the Discovery Learning Complex, will have a solar photovoltaic laboratory on its roof, which will convert sunlight into electricity.

“Engineering has played, is playing and will play a leading role in addressing green jobs, products and businesses targeted to enhancing our standard of living and our quality of life,” Jaskolski said.

Sundquist projected the same optimism for Milwaukee and around the state.

“Looking at the big picture, these jobs are going to be needed, and so this is a field that will continue to grow,” he said.

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