Green businesses gaining interestBy Dana Yates
The seeds of change planted in the building industry years ago are sprouting into a wealth of new jobs at companies doing everything from installing solar panels to designing environmentally sound homes.
"I remember a year and two months ago putting an ad in the paper and not hearing back from anyone," said SolarCity Human Resources Director Juan Aguayo. "We now get 80 to 100 resumes a day."
Solar City is a Foster City-based company that installs photovoltaic panels on residential and commercial buildings. The company had 42 employees last March and now employs 232 people - the majority of which hold green jobs or sales positions, Aguayo said.
The company usually trains their employees in the unique green jobs for which it is hiring. Many new employees are former building professionals such as electricians. Many are out of jobs because of the downturn in the new housing market.
Starting next week, Skyline College in San Bruno will hold its first course in green job training for 16 registered class members. Skyline and Solar City started developing the plan four months ago. The eight-week course will allow another job opportunities for youth and will help solidify the future of a green industry, Aguayo said.
At the same time, SolarCity is considering its own Bay Area training center and is always looking for new employees, Aguayo said.
Industry professionals agree the Bay Area is ahead of the state, and the rest of the country, in creating guidelines for environmentally friendly buildings, which in turn means more green jobs. Depending on who you talk to, the green movement shifted into high gear between six months and one year ago.
The shift to green policy came a year ago while the push for those policies began approximately five years ago, said Brian Gitt, executive director of Build it Green, organization whose mission is to promote energy-efficient buildings in California.
The group had developed the GreenPoint rate system, which allows a third party evaluation of all green buildings based on a set group of standards. It works much like the Good Housekeeping seal, "leveling the playing field" for the building industry, Gitt said.
"It's just so dramatic, about two years ago we were just trying to get state voluntary guidelines. Now [the state] is scrambling for mandatory policies," Gitt said. "Other parts of the state are going to be able to leapfrog and piggyback off what the Bay Area has learned already."
To date, Build it Green has certified 1,500 people - from public agency employees to Real Estate agents. Four years ago the organization had trouble filling its classes and "breaking even." Now classes book well in advance and organizers will not hold a class with less than 100 attendees, Gitt said.
There are 18 cities in the Bay Area with mandatory green building policies, which commonly require compliance with the GreenPoint system. There are 39 governmental agencies currently developing similar polices and by the end of the year all of the Bay Area's 101 cities could be on-board with such policies thanks to the recent support of the Homebuilders Association, Gitt said.
The onslaught of green policies is helping focus the spotlight on green living. The high-level discussions have trickled down to the common consumer who now has a wide range of environmental products to choose from and building concepts to consider.
"We need to make sure we carry more and more products than before," said Terry Pebbles, co-owner and CFO of Nationwide Window and Floors in San Carlos.
New products range from hardwood floors and carpets made of recycled materials to cork and roller shades that help save energy, Pebbles said.
Pebbles has already bought into the idea of environmentally friendly building and products. He even wants Allied Waste to consider a wood recycling section at their San Carlos waste center. A hardwood supplier company has a program in which it will pick up old wood floors, scraps and sawdust from recycling stations to use in making new hardwood floors, Pebbles said.
San Carlos' Nationwide aligned itself with green building products two years ago but saw the shift in consumer needs over the last few months. People know about the products they want and ask about them when they enter the showroom, Pebbles said.
With so many new products and polices, business owners are feeling the pressure to be on top of all things new and green. At the same time, building professionals must test and research the increasing line of new products for their customers. The good news is business owners agree the more products make building green more economical than ever and that consumers now understand the concepts of green living.
Susan Davis is a Green Point certified designer and co-owner of Spectrum Fine homes in Mountain View. She started her business 20 years ago and began "going green" about five years ago and is now almost completely focused on building environmentally friendly home remodels. Approximately 95 percent of Spectrum's inside sales is consumers who want a green remodel, Davis said.
"In the last couple of years, it has exploded. Sustainable design and building green isn't just a product, it is a whole way of living ... it has a lot to do with planning," Davis said.
Davis now holds two-hour weekly meetings at her office with a group of industry professionals who share best practices and ideas for environmentally friendly design and construction. She helped develop guidelines for the National Association of the Remodeling Industry and is an active member of its San Jose chapter.
Davis is among the many experts who agree anyone going green now - whether for a career or home remodel - is putting themselves in a good position.
"I am so glad we started when we did. We are ahead of the game. It is the only way to do it. Soon it will be the only way allowed," Davis said.
Copyright ©2008 San Mateo Daily Journal. Published 04/19/2008.