Michigan Green Jobs

The whole world has a bit of a green sheen to it these days, but scratch the surface and another shade is revealed. OK, it's just more green, but it's the kind that spends.

Point being, there is money to be made and – critically for a state like ours – jobs to be created in the world of green. From banking to law to architecture to retail to service, entrepreneurs and established corporations alike are all looking a bit more like Kermit these days.

Michigan's move

Michigan is working to retrain former manufacturing workers through a program, No Worker Left Behind, which is entering its second year with a change in focus.

The Green Jobs Initiative, as it is being called, will invest $6 million into training for jobs that can be classified in one of three emerging Michigan markets:   

Alternative Energy Production and Efficiency, which includes jobs in wind energy; bio-fuels and bio-materials; solar and energy storage; energy efficiency and advanced technology vehicles.

Green Building Construction and Retrofitting, which includes jobs in energy efficient building, construction, and retrofits; energy efficiency assessment serving residential, commercial, and industrial sectors; materials recycling and reuse; architecture and design; land use and site analysis; building materials; and construction/rehab.

Agriculture and Natural Resource Conservation, which includes jobs in food systems (production and distribution); green chemistry; water quality; forest, land, and water management; and Brownfield redevelopment.

Other activities that the state's Department of Labor and Economic Growth, which administers the program, will undertake include the orchestration of a Green Jobs Conference, conducting labor market research and creating a data clearinghouse for the world of green businesses.

Of course, the government isn't going to be first on the train. For years already, companies like United Solar Ovonics, Danotek and Great Lakes Electronics Recycling have been proving that doing good for the environment and making bucks are certainly not mutually exclusive.

Entrepreneurs finding a niche

Steve Harworth is president of Detroit-based Michigan Green Safe Products, which sells non-petroleum based cleaning products and restaurant supplies like carry-out containers.

Green Safe has a solid roster of small local restaurants like Tom's Oyster Bar, Mudgie's Deli, Amici's, Inn Season Cafe and The Emory. "We started with the more earth-friendly spots – the vegan, the organic," says Harworth. "We've really only scratched the surface."

Now his primary targets – those with the most bang for the buck – are stadiums, hospitals and school districts. The company has just landed some of these big clients, namely Ford Field, DTE Energy and Cobo Hall.

In-state competitors? None. "Sysco and Gordon Foods have some products, but no one has a full line of stuff like we do," says Harworth.

The company's biggest competition may be, simply, bottom line cost. Green Safe's Styrofoam substitute is twice as expensive as its petroleum-based counterpart. "With petroleum going up, it's lessening the gap between the products," he says. He's hopeful that, like Seattle, one of Southeast Michigan's more progressive cities will pass a ban on plastic bags and Styrofoam. Then, the two employees he is looking to add might not be enough.

Dollar saver

Dominc Pizzo founded EnerWatch – a company that monitors and controls gas and electricity usage in buildings – in 2007 after spending 20 years in the world of carpentry.

He became frustrated after walking into buildings he was working on and finding the heat turned up or the air conditioning turned down – "And no one was there!" he says. "It was affecting our interior trim work, the flux in temp and humidity."

A practical observation, but Pizzo had another motivation to start EnerWatch: "We felt the need to conserve in any way that we can," he says. "And this is one way we thought we could help out."

Pizzo – whose company employs 10, although he plans to double that number by the end of the year – says his treatment can save customers 15 to 20% on their utilities and appeals to developers, construction companies, banks that find themselves holding onto foreclosed properties and corporations looking to monitor sensitive IT server rooms. Architects and builders looking to build something LEED-certified also call for his services.

Basically, Pizzo, like many other green entrepreneurs, appeals to his customer's financial needs first, environmental ones second. "We usually go in on the financial side, then show what we do on the conservation side," he says. "I believe there is a need for all of us to go green and what we do enables them to get started.

"And as a byproduct, they save money!"

Corporations jumping in the pool

Little guys aren't the only ones having all the eco-friendly fun. Large, established companies – like the law firm of Miller Canfield – are also getting in the act by establishing green divisions.

Miller Canfield has established a climate change practice team at its Detroit HQ, comprised of lawyers and support staff from 14 different practice groups -- ranging from real estate to municipal finance. The three primary areas of focus of the team are green building, renewable energy and carbon finance.

And as would be expected, construction companies and architects are leading the way, with more and more of these professionals being trained in the ways of LEED.

The training starts at home or, in Southeast Michigan, at a local university like Lawrence Tech. The college offers a certificate program in sustainability for architects that have their degrees and want to become specialized in the subject.

Another resource for education in sustainability are local chapters of the United States Green Building Council. They offer LEED accreditation courses and coordinate study groups, as well as host ongoing lectures and exhibits aimed at boosting its member's expertise.

David Knapp is an architect at Detroit-based Albert Kahn and Associates and became accredited in 2006. He has found that having a good number LEED AP's (accredited professionals) helps his firm attract clients, as well as gets him personally assigned to particular ones.

"To have LEED accredited professionals on-staff that can meet the project's design and performance needs are, in some cases, pre-requisites to securing the job," he says. "To be a LEED AP within our firm may help get someone placed on certain projects that require more sustainable [thinking]. Additionally, if we're pursuing a 'sustainable' project, we may put our LEED AP's at the forefront of the proposal."

Green, then, is all about value. It brings value to start-ups, adds value to corporations and even endows individuals that acquire sustainability skill sets with professional value.

Kelli Kavanaugh writes Green Space weekly for metromode and is Model D's development news editor.


Michigan Green Safe Products

Waste not, want not: Enerwatch monitors and controls gas and electricity usage in buildings.

Steve Harworth, president of Detroit-based Michigan Green Safe Products at Detroit's Recyclean facility.

Dominc Pizzo, founder of EnerWatch.

David Knapp, architect at Detroit-based Albert Kahn and Associates.

Photographs by Marvin Shaouni
Marvin Shaouni is the managing photographer for Metromode & Model D.

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