It's not easy being green

Jan. 28, 2010

California continues to push green jobs on employers and require companies to succumb to green certification, despite increasing evidence that the green movement costs jobs and increases the bottom line for businesses.

A 2009 study released by King Juan Carlos University in Madrid discovered that every “green job” created with government money in Spain over the last eight years came at the cost of 2.2 regular jobs. What’s more, just one in 10 of the newly created green jobs actually becomes permanent.

The study compares Spain’s green jobs government programs with the Obama administration’s push for green jobs in America, and the use of stimulus money to accomplish this. President Obama has even used Spain’s green initiative as a blueprint for how the U.S. should use federal funds to stimulate the economy.

Given this, it’s perplexing that California is still pushing companies to be green. What exactly does it mean to be a green employer, and what does a business have to do to become certified?

Most of the green programs available are voluntary, though that’s a moot point for companies who contract with government agencies. In order for a business to bid as a government vendor, there are are a number of factors taken into consideration: the ethnicity or gender of the majority shareholder, union affiliation and, most recently, whether the company holds a “green” designation.

The easiest and cheapest program I found is with Sacramento County’s Sacramento Sustainable Business program. This program promotes energy and water conservation, pollution prevention, solid waste reduction and green building.

To become certified with the county, a company must choose a t least one environmental category, and implement energy-saving measures. Businesses can use the provided choices for compliance, or propose one of their own. Upon completion the company earns a certificate, which the owner can post in the front window. All that, and the Sacramento Sustainable Business Program does not charge a fee.

States as well as local governments have made Environmentally Preferable Products (EPP) certification the criteria for purchasing for most public agencies. The federal government defined the phrase “environmentally preferable products” in 2002 as meaning “products and services that have a lesser or reduced effect on human health and the environment when compared to other products and services that serve the same purpose.” Purchases of recycled paper, environmentally friendly packaging, and natural products are carry the EEP designation.

But EEP has a questionable mission statement. It claims to help the federal government buy green, as well as use the federal government’s enormous buying power to “stimulate market demand for green products and services.” In fact, the trickle-down effect is that small businesses that contract with the government must be certified green, which usually requires substantial out-of-pocket cost and  employee hours.

One of the most stringent green certifications comes from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Government purchasing agents force companies that use wood and wood products, paper, paper products, packaging of graphic design products and printing manufacturers to be FSC certified. Headquartered in Bonn, Germany, FSC has infiltrated much of the manufacturing sector and is used as a kind of green standard in the U.S.

FSC requires participants to adapt their company management and operations to conform to all sorts of requirements. Ironically, these rules and procedures are verified by Accreditation Services International, (ASI) a wholly owned subsidiary of the FSC that’s run by the same CEO.

The costs associated with becoming green-certified vary greatly based on the size of company seeking certification. Simply using the FSC logo can cost a company $3,000 – $7,000, depending on company size, and that’s just for the first year. There are annual renewal fees.

Because nearly every industry now has green brokers, consultants and certification firms, for $45 anyone can purchase a handbook on how to become a green consultant. Breaking Into and Succeeding 
as a Green Consultant is one such book.

“As a beginner, you can expect to earn anywhere from $20,000 to $40,000 annually,” it states. “As your client base grows, you can earn more up to a seven-figure income annually assuming a very successful practice with corporate clienteles.”

Most people respond positively to the burgeoning green industry premise of conservation. Countless businesses have been environmentally savvy for decades; saving valuable resources is not just responsible, it is also fiscally beneficial.

But the costs are unsustainable. Even Senator Dianne Feinstein, (D-San Francisco) seems to agree. This week she spoke out against the cost of the environmental “cap-and-trade” policies given California’s dire unemployment situation, saying that lawmakers instead should focus immediately on jobs and homeownership rather than new energy regulations.

Even with the provision that allows suspension of AB 32 if the state is suffering economically, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Democratic legislators stubbornly insist that California’s version of “cap-and-trade” is still economically viable for the state. In contrast, Assemblyman Dan Logue (R-Marysville) — the leader of the California Jobs Initiative, which would suspend AB 32 until the unemployment in California drops below 5.5 percent — agrees with Feinstein. Until then, most California businesses are just trying to hang on, conserving everything possible.

-Katy Grimes

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