Why green business should love government
This post originally appeared on CSRwire.
By the time the next president takes the oath of office, the U.S. will be well into the winter season. The record floods, fires and droughts of summer 2012 will be gone, although many thousands -- farmers, homeowners, and businesses -- will still be dealing with the aftermath. Record heat waves will be only memories.
But others will be facing another annual threat, struggling to stay warm in drafty homes as fuel prices continue their inexorable trend upward. That’s because a critical government program, the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP), is threatened. The program weatherizes homes of low-income families and elderly and provides some assistance for buying heating fuel. It typically results in slashing gas bills by 25 percent and electric bills by 42 percent.
The program not only keeps families warm, it often keeps them together.
This terrific video chronicling the history of the program tells one story about a single mother who was about to lose custody of her three children to the state because she couldn’t afford the fuel to keep her old, inefficient boiler going. Her local WAP program got hold of emergency funds to get her a new, efficient boiler -- and she got to keep her kids.
The WAP was the brainchild of the Carter Administration. Founded on a shoestring in 1975, it was part of the stimulus package of its day: the federal government’s response to the steep recession, high unemployment and high fuel prices of that time. The first jobs in the WAP came through the government-based CETA program (the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act.)
Widely derided by conservatives, the program actually worked, providing high-skilled training tthousands of low-income people, who were then able to get decent jobs. (I was one of the CETA trainees. Trained as a welder, I got a job in 1976 with the Bethlehem Steel Shipyards in Baltimore, Maryland -- one of a tiny cohort of women among a sea of guys. The job eventually led me to a career training workers on occupational safety and health -- but that’s another story.)
Fostering Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Green Building
Many of those early workers in the WAP -- put to work at first caulking the bejesus out of every crack and cranny of the draughty homes they were sent to tighten up -- are still in the business. Only now, they are proud owners of their own weatherization companies, experts in the field. Some became real innovators -- like the worker who designed a portable blower that became the standard for the industry.
Over the years since it was founded, the WAP can be credited with virtually creating the green building industry – and it’s a perfect example of the crucial role government plays in innovation (the Internet being another.) First, spurred by the market government created, the engineers and workers of the program invented new tools, like infrared scanners, and made other innovations in green building science. Just as important was government’s role on the retail demand side, creating the market to support the nascent green building industry.