In an economy that continues to teeter on the brink of a second Depression, the government remains the largest employer in the United States. In the private sector, the top two employers are Wal-Mart and McDonald’s respectively, together acting as the last stopgap for unskilled labor. With manufacturing jobs becoming a distant memory for the majority of states, there are few opportunities for a sudden flux of jobs to reduce unemployment levels. One option, which has moved from a ludicrous suggestion from the fringe to a possibility discussed at the highest levels of government, is the development of a green infrastructure.
A policy to embrace rebuilding America as a way to boost economic performance has a strong precedent. FDR’s New Deal has often been championed as the driving force behind America’s recovery from the Great Depression. Whether the facts support that assertion are a topic for a different time, but what is undisputed is that the federal government has the wherewithal and the authority to create thousands of jobs while providing services to everyday citizens.
The opportunities for building green infrastructure are plentiful. They range from the obvious options such as increasing parks and expanding green energy usage to utilizing green roofs to reduce storm water runoff. In contrast, the traditional approach to failing infrastructure is efficiency engineering. Building better, stronger, and more durable solutions remains the out of sight, out of mind answer for most of the country. However, the realization that a holistic low impact development approach is necessary is supported by thirty years of research about the largely unrecognized problems produced by engineering solutions.
The environmental basis for change is sound, however regulatory influences and existing systems are preventing any large-scale embrace of a shift to green infrastructure. Current solutions rely heavily on machinery, cookie cutter solutions, and imported parts. Green infrastructure, with its focus on unique solutions and reliance on man hours for maintenance, doesn’t fit the model that infrastructure improvements and repairs have followed since the integrated infrastructure was built. However, pilot projects are popping up around the nation which have begun to set precedent for emerging markets. Already, the passage of local statues and regulations can be viewed as presaging a larger shift to provide a legislative framework for green infrastructure options.
As green infrastructure is accepted as best practice, and has the legal backup to ensure it isn’t a passing fad, the job market supporting green solutions will expand tremendously. Manufacturing jobs that are currently being outsourced to China, due to their emphasis on green technology, will have greater potential of returning to in-country production as transportation costs increase in conjunction with higher worldwide wages. The expansion of education programs focusing on green infrastructure implementation and maintenance will enable currently unemployed workers to begin new careers and expand options for unskilled laborers.
At the end of the day, the federal government will be responsible for stimulating green infrastructure employment. Through facilitating legislation updating infrastructure development, funding projects to create green infrastructure jobs, and forming public-private partnerships for ongoing maintenance; the largest employer in the country can shift from attempting to update an increasingly obsolete system to supporting a sustainable option that will ultimately give our economy the longevity it needs.
Emily McClendon is an environmental marketing specialist currently working at NeboWeb. She has a B.S. in Applied Biology from Georgia Institute of Technology and is currently pursuing her M.C.R.P. in Environmental Planning, also at Georgia Institute of Technology. She believes that communication and shared knowledge are the most important facets of conveying environmentally friendly practices. After participating in biological research, inter disciplinary planning, and interactive marketing, she is convinced a comprehensive approach is the only solution for creating a sustainable economy.