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Energy efficiency can help America's economy work for all

October 2, 2019
Op-ed

A strong economy that works for everyone: That's what Americans across the country say they want. Even the nation's top CEOs are acknowledging that corporations can no longer focus on profits alone, but must also invest in their workers, support their local communities and protect the overall environment.

An economy that works for all Americans depends on access to safe jobs that pay well, builds up communities and protects the air we breathe, the water we drink and the climate we live in. And that just happens to describe the fastest-growing jobs sector in the entire energy industry: energy efficiency.

According to a new report by E2 and E4TheFuture, America's energy efficiency industry added 76,000 jobs last year and now employs more than 2.3 million workers. The report, "Energy efficiency jobs in America," finds that in 41 states and the District of Columbia, more people work in energy efficiency than in the fossil fuel sector.

However, many communities, particularly communities of color, have not fully reaped the benefits related to this boom. At the same time, many employers in the industry are having trouble finding enough qualified workers. The Blue Collar and Green Collar Jobs Development Act, which has attracted bi-partisan political support, can help correct this inequity and bridge that gap by increasing training opportunities for women, people of color, veterans and workers transitioning from other energy fields.

Energy efficiency would also help Chicago and other cities reach federal climate goals, such as our goal to achieve a 100% clean economy by 2050. Especially after a summer as hot as this one, the importance of tackling climate change should be crystal clear. Curbing global warming means reducing the use of fossil fuels, which also cuts air pollution, allowing families in Chicago and beyond to breathe cleaner, healthier air.

Looking at our state as a whole, Illinois ranks in the top five states for energy efficiency jobs, employing more than 89,000 people. Energy efficiency jobs pay well and move us closer to a more equitable economy, with community-based jobs that can't be exported.

As E4TheFuture's "Faces of EE initiative" demonstrates, energy efficiency workers report high levels of job satisfaction and pride in their work. They do everything from installing energy-efficient windows to designing and manufacturing energy-efficient appliances, and from developing efficiency software to installing and maintaining efficient HVAC and refrigeration systems. 

At a moment when Fortune 100 companies are acknowledging the need for businesses to do better by both people and the planet; as lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are acknowledging the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and women and people of color are campaigning for access to quality, meaningful careers, ramping up energy efficiency efforts is one strategy that can help us reach all of these goals. Passing the Blue Collar and Green Collar Jobs Development Act would be a great place to start in achieving this shared objective. 

Issues:Energy and Environment