Category Archives: Jobs

Crunch the numbers and preservation wins

The following post is by Kathleen O’Brien:

New is not always better.

I have to confess that I’ve been a little put off by local historic preservationists self-righteously declaring that “preservation” equals sustainability and leaving it at that. Yes, yes, I understand that recycling buildings intuitively makes sense, but since sustainability sometimes asks us to think counter-intuitively, I needed more. At a recent Sustainable Cities Roundtable conducted by King County’s Green Tools Program, I got what I needed.

The previous owner used stacks of wooden pallets to keep the ceiling from falling in on this 104-year-old railroad building in Spokane, but McKinstry bought it and spent $20 million to create high-tech office space for its 150 Inland Northwest employees.

Robert Young, PE, LEED AP, is professor of architecture and director of the Historic Preservation Program at the University of Utah, and author of the new Island Press release, “Stewardship of the Built Environment.” He was guest speaker at the Roundtable. Young provided some very satisfying arguments for promoting preservation and building reuse as a sustainability strategy. In making his arguments, he gives equal weight to what he terms SEE (or what some of us have called the “three E’s”): social, economic, and environmental factors, and defines stewardship of the built environment as “balancing the needs of contemporary society and its impact on the built environment with the ultimate effects on the natural environment.”

The Historic Preservationists have been at their best when justifying conservation due to social factors, and Young does speak to this. What I appreciated is that he also addresses environmental and economic factors in an analytical but highly accessible manner. One of the areas he touched on in his talk was the idea of calculating energy recovery as part of understanding the energy performance of preservation vs. new construction. As Young notes in his book, “the argument for measuring embodied energy to justify the retention of a building is (still) met with skepticism.” He claims this is largely because embodied energy is considered a “sunk cost” and therefore not part of decisions about future expenses. I think he would also say it’s because of our societal preference for the glitter of “new” vs. the practicality of “existing,” which may not be part of the accounting equation, but certainly humming in the background.

In his talk, Young used his own home to compare the energy recovery periods required to simply perform an energy upgrade to his home, to abandon the home and build a new one in the suburbs, or to demolish and rebuild in place. When he accounted for the embodied energy in the new buildings (whether in place or in the suburbs), the energy to demolish the existing building, and operating energy required for the remodeled or new building, it became clear that the remodel was the best choice when considering true energy performance. In scenarios provided in his book, energy recovery calculations result in recovery periods that exceed “the expected useful lives of many buildings being constructed today.” And this is without calculating in the transportation energy expenses that are likely to accrue when the new building is built in a greenfield out in the suburbs.

In the economic realm, Young compared the job creation resulting from highway, new, and rehab construction. In jobs per million dollars spent, rehab wins again. Although a small part of the construction activity (Young estimated 5%), rehab creates roughly 5 more jobs per million dollars spent than highway construction, and 2 more jobs per million dollars spent on new construction. If I am interpreting Young’s figures correctly, just by turning our economic recovery lens on rehab and away from highways and new construction we could potentially create between 6-12% more jobs per million dollars spent on construction. (And we might actually reduce the environmental, social, and economic negative impacts of sprawl — even if it’s “green”)!

Young’s talk introduced some great food for thought, but I’m so glad to be reading his book. In his concluding chapter, “Putting it All Together,” he provides a list of “challenges” for stewards of the built environment, ranging from advocating outcome-based codes (since prescriptive codes are based primarily on new construction practices) to presenting project lessons learned (both positive and negative) to “decision makers and policy shapers who mediate building preservation and reuse policies.” Lots to work on.

Kathleen O’Brien is a long time advocate for green building and sustainable development since before it was “cool.” She lives in a green home, and drives a hybrid when she drives at all. She continues to provide consulting on special projects for O’Brien & Co., the firm she founded over 20 years ago, and provides leadership training and mentoring through her legacy project: The Emerge Leadership Project.

Seattle’s Office of Sustainability loses Amanda Eichel to New York City and hires Joshua Curtis formerly of Great City

There are a couple newsworthy items related to the city’s Office of Sustainability and Environment. First, it is losing Amanda Eichel, senior climate protection advisor, to the New York City office of Mayor Mike Bloomberg. Second, it recently hired Joshua Curtis, formerly executive director of urban advocacy group Great City. Great City was founded by Mayor Mike McGinn, previous to his political role. Curtis’ title is community power works non-residential grant manager. He was brought on to manage a portion of the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program, funded by the federal stimulus. The role is funded by the grant.

Jill Simmons, acting director of the OSE, said she is reassessing the role Eichel played. Someone else will likely be hired to fill her post.

It’s interesting that Eichel is leaving to work with Bloomberg’s office, which seems to be snatching uptalented Pacific Northwest players. Bloomberg also recently hired David Bragdon, former president of Portland’s Metro Council, as head of environmental policy. There’s an article here about what the switch-up means for New York.

It’s also interesting that OSE is hiring in today’s tumultuous market when so many other city employees risk losing their jobs. In the Department of Planning and Development for example, the city is planning to lay off up to 40 employees in October. The city has had multiple rounds of layoffs since the start of the recession.

Simmons said OSE considered people from other departments for Curtis’ post but he was the best fit. She said the office recently brought someone into the department who otherwise would have been laid off. There is no word yet whether the office will face any layoffs in the coming year as the city’s budget has not been released.

McGinn founded Great City but resigned his post to run for mayor. In May of 2009, Curtis succeeded McGinn. At the end of June, Great City went all-volunteer and Brice Maryman seems to have taken over general duties. Curtis was hired by OSE at the beginning of August.

Simmons wanted to make it clear that the city didn’t hire Curtis because of his past involvement with McGinn’s project. In an e-mail, she said Curtis was unequivocally not hired because of his connection to Great City, and the mayor:

“OSE conducted a competitive hiring process in June and July to fill the EECBG Grant Program’s Nonresidential Sector Manager position. We received nearly 30 applications, and interviewed a number of strong candidates. Joshua was the best of these; he is exceptionally well-qualified to ensure the city successfully implements the ambitious grant program. OSE lost one great talent with Amanda’s departure, but thankfully gained another with Joshua’s hire.”

Seattle hiring manager for energy work – apply quick!

The city of Seattle’s Office of Sustainability & Environment is hiring a sector manager for its retrofit ramp-up non-residential program. But hurry! The closing date to apply for this job is June 25- tomorrow.

Seattle received money through the federal Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant, as part of the federal stimulus. This position will manage retrofit delivery for the non-residential sectors of the grant, in partnership with the grant team, staff from other city departments and the project steering committee. The person chosen will also be responsible for developing a sustainability plan to ensure the programs created through the grant continue after the three-year grant period.

The job is funded for three years. The salary will be between $32 and $48 per hour. Applications are due to Jeanie Boawn, executive assistant in the Office of Sustainability and Environment by 4 p.m. tomorrow. Her email is

Here’s the full job description. Good luck!

Electricians: the next hot profession

Are electricians the next hot profession?

Houston Neal just published an interesting post on the topic at The Software Advice Construction Blog. Neal says “electrical contractors” will transition to “energy contractors” to support the green construction market, and that the profession will grow tremendously.  Neal cites a study by the American Solar Energy Society of Boulder, Colo. that says renewable energy jobs for electricians will grow about 900 percent by 2030, just in Colorado.

Neal calls this “a coming renaissance in electrical contracting.” However to really benefit, he says electricians need to focus on changing now by gaining the right skills, promoting green credentials, and updating their bidding process to win green electrical jobs.

It’s a pretty extensive and interesting post. But it makes me wonder, what other professions this applies to? If there is a coming renaissance for electricians, what other trades or jobs could see huge growth or significant change? What do you think?

Seattle’s Office of Sustainability will be making a new hire soon

Today, I was listening to the Seattle City Council pass legislation that accepts over $6 million in stimulus funds from the U.S. Department of Energy for a multitude of energy upgrades. Among the many things it funds is a new position in Seattle’s Office of Sustainability and the Environment. It will be a “strategic advisor I” post and the person will be hired to handle reporting and requirements of the stimulus grant. The position is funded for two years. The job will likely be posted on the city’s job page here. Other than that, I don’t know any more about the position.