Is the local economy on the verge of a turn for the better? If so, it might be turning green.
The Thurston Economic Development Council recently devoted its entire 2009 economic update forum to the topic of “Creating a Green Economy.”
The keynote speaker at the forum was Olympia resident Greg Small, who is the executive director of a locally based, nationally focused organization to accelerate practical and profitable solutions to climate change.
Small told the audience of business and community leaders that the clean energy economy is coming at us “like a freight train” and it’s here to stay.
Noting the enormous momentum behind the green economy from the federal level, Small said there is a huge pot of money in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, around $71 billion, for investment in clean energy and energy efficiency.
He believes the Northwest could grab as much as $9.2 billion of that pot.
Thanks to Thurston groups such as the EDC, and others, this area in particular has great potential to cash in on the clean energy movement.
That’s partly because a green culture already exists here. The mountains, ocean and clean air attract people who already have the requisite mind set.
For example, the Olympia Roundtable, a group of influential business people and community leaders, has chosen the green economy and the exporting of green products and services as its current initiative.
All three higher education institutions in Thurston County have programs, majors or whole departments devoted to sustainability.
The Thurston Chamber of Commerce has a program to reward and recognize South Sound entrepreneurs operating green businesses.
Even the Olympia Rotary Club recently presented annual environmental awards to Susan Buis and Ben Alexander of South Sound Native Plants and Joe Lambrix of Plug-in Olympia.
There’s no doubt the market is starting to drive green jobs. But the driving force is not necessarily to save the planet.
Take Bob Metcalfe, for example. He’s an East Coast venture capitalist investing millions into clean technologies, such as the Green Fuel Technologies Corp., which hopes to use algae farms to recycle carbon dioxide.
“I’m not coming at this from the Al Gore school of climate change,” he said recently. “My view is that we need to solve the world’s need for cheap and clean energy.”
Sustainable business practices can be profitable and kind to the planet at the same time.
We have a great example of that right in our own backyard. Big Toys, a children’s playground equipment manufacturer located near the Olympia Regional Airport, uses 100 percent post-consumer high density polyethylene plastic for its slides, decks, roofs and enclosures.
Big Toys owner Tim Madeley estimates the company keeps over 1.5 million milk jugs out of landfills each year.
And even the big guys are jumping on board. Boeing is investing hugely in algae as a future biofuel that could power its jet airplanes.
And yet, the U.S. seems to be lagging behind. Small told EDC members that only six of the top 30 global companies leading the way in solar, wind or battery technology reside in the United States. But with a long-term policy commitment from Washington D.C., private investment dollars will flood to clean technology projects.
On the local level, Small predicts that green building will double by 2013. A recent study showed that green certified houses sell at a 14 percent premium and that figure jumps to 25 percent in Thurston because of the number of leading green builders here — thanks, in part, to the OMB Built Green education program for the construction trades.
Somewhere between 5 percent and 10 percent of new construction is green certified, and it jumps to 16 percent when you take out multifamily housing.
This is demanding a new generation of workers skilled in green building techniques and who are more technologically savvy.
A green economy addresses a complex set of national problems that include job growth, our dependence of foreign oil, national security and climate change. It’s exciting that so many Olympia-Lacey-Tumwater leaders are quickly driving us toward it.
George Le Masurier, publisher of The Olympian, can be reached at 360-357-0206 or firstname.lastname@example.org.