For better or worse, my social circle does not include too many people in the green industry. But, being that ‘green’ is such a popular buzzword, nobody wants to be a total novice about the latest clean technologies and environmental policies. This leads to many conversations where I am put to the task of dispelling common assumptions about the green industry. In no particular order, here are the top five I most commonly encounter:
1. Renewable energy receives more government
subsidies than the fossil fuel industry.
Amidst the ugly gridlock in Congress about federal budget cuts and the hoopla surrounding whether proposed TALF and TARP spending on green technology is a wise reaction to the financial crisis, a disturbing fact flies under the radar of the general public: Insanely profitable oil companies continue to receive billions of tax dollars. Energy industry lobbying groups argue that these funds go towards securing the jobs of millions or workers, but that defies the simple logic that mature, profitable companies do not need government handouts to survive. According to ‘Americans for Energy Leadership’, an advocacy group for federal energy policy innovation:
“In September 2009, the Environmental Law Institute (ELI) published a report titled “Estimating U.S. Government Subsidies to Energy Sources: 2002-2008”, which to date represents the most comprehensive compilation and analysis of federal energy subsidies. ELI measured both tax expenditures and direct expenditures for fossil fuels and renewable energy from 2002-2008, and their results are represented in the accompanying graphic. Fossil fuels (i.e.
natural gas, and coal) subsidies totaled roughly $72 billion over the six-year window, compared to $29 billion for renewable energy (i.e. wind, solar, biofuels,
biomass, hydro, and geothermal.). And worldwide, “A recent Bloomberg New Energy Finance report calculated global fossil fuel subsidies at $557 billion, compared to $46 billion for renewable energy.” (LeadEnergy.org)
Numbers for 2010 and 2011 are unclear at best, but the overwhelming consensus remains that fossil fuel companies have continued to enjoy the lion’s share of handouts. Support for President Obama’s proposed $4B federal budget cut to fossil fuel industry subsidies has stalled, and the WTO has been largely unsuccessful in its quest for tighter controls on international energy subsidies. The green industry is still growing, and just like the railroads, water and any other maturing infrastructure industry (including fossil fuels 50-100 years ago), it requires tax dollars to speed up the pace of innovation and serve the greater good. It’s hard to see how anybody can object to renewable energy subsidies when tax dollars are still lining the pockets of oil executives.
2. ‘Going green’ requires buying more expensive goods.
sustainability (i.e. buying less and keeping it longer) are the core tenets of the green movement’s mission to preserve the health of our planet. This means making smart purchasing decisions, not just shopping for expensive goods with green labels. Sure,
organic products cost more than their toxic counterparts, but focusing on the incremental cost increase of choosing higher quality goods is missing the point of promoting a lifestyle where quality trumps quantity and substance is valued over style. Also, upfront capital intensive renewable energy projects are exercises in saving money long-term by decreasing reliance on the increasing costs of oil, gas and coal. The same goes for spending on improved insulation and more energy efficient light bulbs and appliances. It’s all about savings, not spending!
Ignore the attention-grabbing flashiness of
solar panels, wind turbines and new-fangled lighting contraptions. The most ‘green’ thing you can do is consume less crap by re-using more goods and exercising your legs instead of riding in a motorized carriage. Heck, just start with eliminating as much plastic packaging as possible for drinking, eating and carrying things around, and see how much it costs you to make this significant change. In the end, an old adage rings true for a new-age phenomenon, thinking of green as expensive is simply “penny wise and pound foolish”.
3. You need to be a scientist or policy wonk to get a job in the green industry.
Getting a PhD in Thermodynamics or Masters in Sustainability is a fantastic route to landing a job in the office or lab of a clean tech company. Whether the company is working towards creating more efficient solar panels, re-tubing the energy infrastructure for the
smart grid or
glazing skyscrapers with double-pane windows, these companies need educated minds that have shown a long-term career commitment to their field. However, like all companies, they also need capable staff for sales, customer service, skilled labor, accounting, marketing and operations. Customer service, marketing and (sometimes) operations positions entail skill sets that are transferrable between industries, which make them highly competitive in such a hot industry, and consequently awarded to the best connected or brightest. If you can compete in that crowd, skip the higher education and get your resume to HR. Otherwise, grab your sales hat or construction helmet, because no business survives unless deals are made and product is moved.
On the sales side, the green industry is not much different than any other. Learn your product and market, then stay positive fighting through objections getting to a Yes. Just show the decision maker a realistic ROI along with a charismatic smile and some pat-on-the-back assurance that they’re doing the right thing. Not fit for sales? Don’t have the corporate chops or desire for an office job? No problem. Specialized green technology installers are some of the best paid contractors out there.
You may already be more qualified than you think. If you have quality experience installing insulation, windows and other
energy efficiency improvements, contact a local energy audit firm letting them know you’ll show up tomorrow ready to work. If swinging a hammer professionally is new to you, look into RESNET or BPI training programs. Many are inexpensive and have job placement programs for graduates.
Another option to make your resume more attractive for just about any job in the
green building industry is to get your LEED credentials. Plenty more info available HERE.
4. Solar and wind are the only promising forms of renewable energy.
Ground or roof-mounted solar (or, industry pros prefer ‘photovoltaics’ or ‘PV’) are usually top of mind when the subject of renewable energy arises, followed closely by wind turbines. Both technologies are simple to understand, already have a high volume of installations and look slick on marketing collateral due to their instantly recognizable imagery. It alsoi helps that the sun and wind are accessible resources that nearly anybody on the planet can harness if properly equipped. We are huge believers in both solar and wind here at GreenTechBuyer, as our financial and physical livelihoods rely on their success, but it is worth noting that they are not the only options helping civilizations worldwide to reduce their dependency on fossil fuels.
Many countries, such as Iceland, already heat the majority of their homes by harnessing the heat of the Earth as geothermal energy. Geothermal is gaining popularity in the US as well, especially in homes previously reliant on propane for heating, where geothermal has the most attractive ROI.
As several recent natural catastrophes have reminded us, water can be quite a powerful force. In theory, there’s enough energy locked in the motion of the oceans to provide virtually unlimited energy. Methods for effectively collecting and distributing hydropower on a mass scale are developing, but using water to power our lives dates back to some of the earliest civilizations known to man.
Another more fringe option picking up momentum is biomass, whereby organic matter such as corn, waste or algae is converted to usable energy. The science for getting this technology to where it is cost effective on a mass scale is slow to progress, but venture capital, private equity and government money has been betting on it big in recent years.
For more info, check out our extensive Green Glossary.
5. The fate of the green industry hinges on winning the ‘
Global Warming’ / ‘
Climate Change’ debate.
It defies faith in the humanity that anybody could deny the negative impact of
pollution on our planet. Regardless, the success of the green industry is assured by financial prudence, not whether we choose to bury our heads in the sand. All elements of the ‘
triple bottom line’ of ‘going green’ - saving money, making a property more comfortable and healing the planet at the same time - aren’t necessary to drive people towards living a more sustainable lifestyle. Saving money through consuming less energy, cheaper energy or both will do the trick just fine on its own. In the end, homes and businesses will operate in a more environmentally friendly manner because it is a simple matter of operational efficiency, not environmental consciousness.
Denying an ‘inconvenient truth’ about the destruction of our planet is despicable, but still to be expected of those who are most gullible or benefit most when the message of denial is so doggedly manipulated by interest groups. Spending more when a reasonable, less expensive option is available is sadly less human.
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