Walking the Walk on Green Tech Growth

Greg Galitzine : Green Blog
Greg Galitzine
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Walking the Walk on Green Tech Growth

A wirestory about the potential of green technology growth to revive California's sagging famed Silicon Valley--as desirable as green innovations and resulting employment and increased prosperity may be--contains a literal and equally toxic whiff of the proverbial 'jogger going to a convenience store to buy a pack of cigarettes.'

The story cites a report by the Silicon Valley Community Foundation and Joint Venture: Silicon Valley Network that shows that employment in the region slipped 1.3 per cent in November and per capita income eroded, decreasing nearly one per cent. 

Overall venture capital investments in Silicon Valley dropped 7.7 per cent in 2008, breaking an upward trend started in 2005.

Yet at the same time green tech investments has climbed 94 per cent since 2005 and employment in the sector has risen 23 per cent during the same years. Some of this has been heading to the Valley already. 

The issue is that the Silicon Valley is not producing the skilled workers needed to fill green technology jobs as the industry grows.

"'We need a strong system of workforce development to support adult worker retraining and transition,'" said Silicon Valley Community Foundation president Emmett Carson.

Now here's where the smoke comes in. More employment locally at jobsites means more traffic, and more pollutants that offset the green benefits from what is being created. 

While Silicon Valley has long had a light rail, bus, and commuter rail system that has been slowly growing, work travel there, like in most metro areas, mostly means cars and roads, the building, operation, accommodation, and maintenance of which damages the environment.

So here's a solution: why not encourage green tech firms--along with every other employer--to institute aggressive telework programs? And not just in Silicon Valley but elsewhere too. That way the skilled people can be found without adding to the 'brown air' emanating from clogged freeways and roads. 

Telework can and does also bring in highly skilled people who would not have otherwise applied for such employment. Those ranks includes the mobility-impaired, like the sadly growing legion of disabled military veterans and individuals who are home-bound such as those who have childcare and eldercare responsibilities. And then there the boomer wave of highly skilled people who are retired/semi-retired who would enjoy working but can't be bothered anymore with the costly stressful hassle of commuting

With telework the green tech companies can save money--$10,000 to $20,000 per person per year--that can go into R&D and manufacturing to get their products to customers--rather than on subsidizing space for warm bodies. 

Walking the walk on green tech therefore puts green back in their pockets, and into the economy. It also saves tax dollars on transportation costs.

Much tech work--except where you need to get hands-on--can be done at home. Some of the physical tasks could be handled there too. After all, that's where much of the famed innovations from Silicon Valley came from: basements and garages.

Yes, this means that some of the people hired will not be from the Silicon Valley, or from other areas seeking such benefits, hence diminishing the local economic benefits.

So what? Who cares where the person is living and working from as long as they are working, which means that they will have money that they will be spending, which in turn creates benefits like employment and more income, and taxes to subsidize road and transit systems?

After all, cleaner air in the Silicon Valley--and elsewhere--helps everyone.

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