Sustainable jobs, sustainable communities | TheUnion.com

Sustainable jobs, sustainable communities

Other Voices
Steve Frisch

Far too often, the debate about sustainability gets framed as a false choice between creating jobs by growing the economy, and improving the environment by protecting natural resources.

At the Sierra Business Council, we work every day to help communities find ways to reject false choices by creating green jobs, growing their local economies, protecting resources and leaving a better planet for future generations.

Though we work on many projects that range from energy efficiency to protecting communities from the looming threat of wildfires, sometimes communities can take steps in the right direction by making responsible decisions on something as simple as a local construction project.

Obviously, we encourage everyone considering a construction project to consider planning a LEED Certified sustainable effort, but even average projects can contribute to sustainability in ways that may be less obvious. In fact, federal and state governments, and the majority of California cities are already doing it — perhaps without even being aware of their contribution to sustainability.

At the Sierra Business Council, we work every day to help communities find ways to reject false choices by creating green jobs, growing their local economies, protecting resources and leaving a better planet for future generations.

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By implementing prevailing wage policies — a wage standard determined by trade and region — governments ensure a host of benefits not just for workers, but for the environment as well.

These policies promote local hiring and top quality workmanship on public construction, as well as ensuring that skilled tradesmen earn a livable wage and supporting vital career training programs. But that is just the tip of the iceberg.

Because prevailing wage workers tend to be from the local area, they spend far less time behind the wheel of their car, reducing fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, a recent study analyzed the effect of prevailing wage in San Jose's five-year capital program and found that it would save approximately 124 million vehicle miles.

More and more often, prevailing wage workers are completing LEED certified building projects, but it's important to note that when a project is completed using prevailing wage policies, the construction — as well as the finished product — are better for the environment. That's because better-trained, highly skilled workers are more productive and reduce job-site waste both in terms of fuel and materials.

Prevailing wage helps the environment and workers, but it is also important to know that it helps the entire economy. Studies have shown that for every dollar spent on a prevailing wage project $1.50 in economic activity is generated in the economy. That means more customers spending money in local businesses — which in turn leads to more middle class jobs down the road.

Last year, a law known as SB 7 was implemented in California. The goal of SB 7 is to encourage more California charter cities to follow prevailing wage standards on their locally funded construction projects — bringing economic and environmental benefits to even more communities.

SB 7 was challenged in court by a small group of cities backed by opponents of prevailing wages. Fortunately, in late August, a court upheld SB 7 in both a tentative ruling and a final ruling, and it appears its headed toward full implementation — and that is a very good thing.

Too often, people become discouraged on sustainability issues because the problems seem too big to solve, but when you focus right in your own neighborhood, the solutions may be simpler than you think. If more cities can build projects that waste less materials and energy — all while employing local workers at middle class wages — that is a step forward in building a sustainable future that all of us should support.

Steve Frisch is president of the Sierra Business Council.

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