Earth Day and The Trades

For the last several decades April 21 has been marked on many calendars as Earth Day, dedicated to environmental protection. Many communities schedule programs and festivities on that date to draw attention to environmental problems and solutions. One problem in particular stands out.

If you’re not dead, you’ve probably heard about climate change and the need to reduce carbon emissions and other so-called “greenhouse” gases from the earth’s atmosphere. The quest to remove greenhouse emissions promises to give a big boost to the trades.

That’s because buildings are responsible for almost 40% of global energy-related carbon emissions, with homes alone accounting for nearly 20%. This results from day-to-day energy used to light, heat or cool homes and commercial buildings. The carbon produced in these operations accounts for an estimated 27% of all annual carbon emissions globally. This is in addition to “embodied” carbon, which refers to emissions tied to construction, maintenance and any demolition. Overall, embodied carbon is responsible for around 10% of annual emissions, though it will vary depending on the type of building.

Construction is booming all over the world to accommodate a growing world population. One estimate found that an amount of floor space the size of New York City gets added every month and will continue at that pace until at least 2060. The amount of carbon emissions produced by buildings is expected to double by 2050. We aren’t about to go back to living in caves, so we must focus on ways to make construction and operation of buildings more environmentally friendly.

In stories about climate change, the news media tends to focus on the drive toward electric cars to reduce fossil fuel usage. Very little gets reported about efforts underway to reduce the carbon footprint of buildings through more sustainable use of energy and water.

The skilled trades are in the forefront of this movement, from the electrician that installs automated lighting systems, to HVAC technicians who configure energy-efficient heating and cooling systems, to plumbers who help reduce water usage and figure out more efficient ways to produce hot water. A study by Citigroup, parent company of Citibank, found that home energy usage has been reduced by 2% since 2005. However, that is less than a third the amount said to be needed to comply with guidelines of the Paris Climate Change Agreement signed by ours and many other nations.

On Earth Day the news will be filled with stories about activists moaning about environmental degradation and demanding remedies. Yet, all their shouting through bullhorns won’t do a thing to make the earth a cleaner, more sustainable place to live.

Meantime, trade workers will be on the job actually making greener buildings that reduce energy and water consumption and help eliminate greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. If you truly care about the fate of Planet Earth, you can be in the forefront of the green building revolution as a trade worker.